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Bridwell|Art Library

Student Guide to the Art Library: Starting Your Research

Use this guide to learn about the Art Library and discover resources related to art history, studio art, and design.

Getting Started

Research begins with gathering general information about your subject of interest -- whether it's the biography of an artist or their exhibition history, a period or movement in the history of art, or design theories and methodologies. This will help you narrow your topic, form research questions, and develop your thesis and argument.

Go beyond Wikipedia and ChatGPT! Consult resources that are subject-specific, vetted by scholars and experts in that field, and updated on a regular basis.

Primary Sources

A primary source is a document or physical object that was written or created during the time under study. Simply put, the author or creator was present at the time of the event and is able to offer a first-hand account. Primary sources include:

1. Original Documents

Diaries, letters, speeches, minutes (notes) from meetings, interviews, news film footage, autobiographies, official records (birth/marriage/death certificates), scholarly journal articles reporting NEW research or findings, newspaper articles (giving first-hand account of an event), government records and documents (laws, reports, statistics, etc.).


  • Complete letters of Vincent van Gogh
  • UKV 5: preliminary report on the excavation of the tomb of the sons of Ramses II in the Valley of the Kings
  • Interview with an artist

2. Creative Works

Poetry, drama, novels, music, artworks, photography

3. Relics or Artifacts

Jewelry, pottery, clothing, buildings, etc. that were used during a particular period of history


  • ancient Greek pottery

Secondary Sources

A secondary source interprets and analyzes primary sources. In other words, a secondary source uses primary sources to contribute to its discussion/analysis of a particular topic.  A secondary source is one or more steps removed from the event.


  • magazine and newspaper articles
  • critical or curatorial commentaries
  • scholarly journal articles
  • textbooks
  • encyclopedias

Oxford Art Online

  • An authoritative, inclusive, and easily searchable online art resource which includes comprehensive overviews of art periods/movements, terminology, and artist biographies with detailed bibliographies

  • Includes the peer-reviewed, regularly updated Grove® Dictionary of Art and the Benezit Dictionary of Artists

  • Includes over 200,000 articles that span ancient to contemporary art and architecture, as well as over 19,000 images of works of art, structures, plans, and artist signatures

Examples of artist and art movement entries:

  • Samella Lewis (from: Benezit Dictionary of Art in Oxford Art Online)

  • Remedios Varo (from: Grove Dictionary of Art in Oxford Art Online)

  • Cubism (from: Grove Dictionary of Art in Oxford Art Online)

Examples of subject guides:

Encyclopedias & Dictionaries

The Art Library has a reference collection located by the journal stacks with encyclopedias, dictionaries, indexes, and other general reference works intended to provide background information on a topic. You'll find essential information on artists, art periods, techniques, and terminology that may be new to you as well as detailed bibliographies for further reading.

Here are some examples from the library's collection:


Image Credits: Screenshot of Oxford Art Online.

Research Help

The UofL Libraries offer self-guided tutorials on the research process, advanced research tips and tools, and information skills for democratic citizenship.

Research DIY: Learn how to start your research assignment, search databases, find sources, use sources effectively, and write your research paper.

Productive Researcher: Advanced research tips for graduate students and faculty covering topics such as literature searches, planning your thesis or dissertation, and managing your data. 

Citizen Literacy: A toolkit for developing key information skills for demographic citizenship covering topics such as algorithmic literacy, lateral reading, and deciphering misinformation.

Getty Vocabularies

Catherine wheel or rose window? Mona Lisa or La Gioconda? Gaochang or Qara-Hoja?

The Getty Vocabularies contain structured terminology for art, architecture, decorative arts, archival materials, visual surrogates, conservation, and bibliographic materials.

The Art & Architecture Thesaurus (AAT) ®
AAT is a structured vocabulary, including terms, descriptions, and other metadata for generic concepts related to art, architecture, conservation, archaeology, and other cultural heritage. Included are work types, styles, materials, techniques, and others.
The Cultural Objects Name Authority (CONA) ®
CONA compiles titles, attributions, depicted subjects, and other metadata about works of art, architecture, and other cultural heritage, both extant and historical, linked to museum collections, special collections, archives, libraries, scholarly research, and other resources. CONA is linked to the AAT, TGN, and ULAN.
The Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names (TGN) ®
TGN is a structured vocabulary, including names, descriptions, and other metadata for extant and historical cities, empires, archaeological sites, and physical features important to research of art and architecture. TGN may be linked to GIS, maps, and other geographic resources.
The Union List of Artist Names (ULAN) ®
ULAN is a structured vocabulary, including names, biographies, related people, and other metadata about artists, architects, firms, studios, museums, patrons, sitters, and other people and groups involved in the creation and study of art and architecture.