UCB Libraries

How to Research a Contemporary Artist

  • Choose Keywords
  • Find Books
  • Find Articles
  • Find Images
  • Web Resources


Contemporary artists and their work can be difficult to research simply because it takes time for a large body of scholarship (books, articles, etc.) to develop around a given topic. In addition, certain media and groups of artists are marginalized or under-represented in traditional research resources like books and journal articles.This guide will help you get started on your research. As always, if you need additional help, feel free to contact your Art & Architecture Librarian via email or phone.


What are you looking for?

Choosing appropriate search terms is an important first step in the research process. Take a few moments to brainstorm a list of keywords that describe your topic. For contemporary artists, this list could include the artist's name or particular groups and movements the artist belongs to. Also pay close attention to art dealers, galleries, or exhibitions mentioned in a resource as these may provide additional clues to locating information on an artist.


For example, if you were interested in the work of Nikki S. Lee (Korean-born photographer and filmmaker, currently active in the US), some of your keywords could include:


Artist's Name: Nikki S. Lee

Other Names: Nikki Lee
Prominent Works: Projects; Parts; AKA Nikki S. Lee

Dealer or Gallery Representation: Sikkema Jenkins & Co.
Media: Photography, Film

Stylistic, Theoretical, or Conceptual Terms: feminism, gender, race, representation


When searching for books, articles, and other material, the artist's name will likely be the most useful search term. However, taking time to think about other aspects (media, conceptual or theoretical concepts, etc.) can be helpful for organizing potential ideas for your paper or project.



How to Find Books

There might not always be an entire book about your artist, or there might be a small number of books on relevant topics.


Given that fact, you will want to use WorldCat instead of Chinook to search for books. WorldCat is an online catalog for over 9,000 libraries in the US and world wide, and it allows you to do a more thorough search than Chinook because you are not limited to only the items we already own. Instead, you are effectively searching the catalogs of most major libraries world wide.


For any books you find in WorldCat, you will be able to see if CU-Boulder owns that item. If you find something in WorldCat that we do not own, you should:

  1. Search Prospector to see if the book is available. If it is, request it via Prospector. The book will typically arrive in a few days, and you'll receive an email when it is ready for pick up.
  2. If the book isn't available via Prospector, you can request it via Interlibrary Loan (ILL). Please be aware that items ordered via ILL can take up to several weeks to arrive. Obviously, if your assignment is due very soon, this will not be an option.


Tips for Using WorldCat

Because WorldCat provides access to such a large number of materials from libraries world wide, you'll want to be careful about how you search, otherwise you might end up with a large number of results that aren't useful.


When searching for books about contemporary art and artists using WorldCat, using the artist's name as your search term is often the best approach.


Accessing WorldCat from Off Campus
If you want to use WorldCat while you are off campus, you must use VPN. For more information about how to download and install VPN, see the library's page on Off Campus Access.



Provides access to journal articles, books, essays, exhibition catalogs, PhD dissertations, and exhibition reviews on all forms of modern and contemporary art.


Lexis Nexis Academic provides access to content from newspapers and magazines, from both the US and abroad. If you are unable to find scholarly articles on a given artist, you will likely be able to find newspaper or magazine articles and exhibition reviews. Lexis Nexis Academic is also useful if you would like to know the reaction of the popular press to an artist's work.


Accessing Resources from Off Campus
If you want to use databases like the Art Bibliographies Modern or Lexis Nexis Academic while you are off campus, you must use VPN. For more information about how to download and install VPN, see the library's page on Off Campus Access.



Nearly one million images of visual and material culture, covering all geographic areas and historical periods. ARTstor has some coverage of contemporary art. VPN required for off-campus access.


Search for images from the Associated Press. Useful for finding images from newspapers, magazines, wires, etc. VPN required for off-campus access.


Use the advanced search options to find larger, higher quality images.


Another very useful source for images of contemporary art. Note that user-contributed photos vary in quality.



And finally... the Internet!

The Internet is often the best place to find information on contemporary art. Look for a website maintained by the artist or a gallery for biographies and bibliographies. Remember to place the name of the artist in quotations to ensure the best results.


If you have found a personal website for an artist that contains contact information, you may consider sending him/her an email of 3-4 carefully constructed questions. This may or may not provide fantastic leads for continuing research.


Artnet provides information about artists, galleries, auctions, and the art market. Want to know who represents a particular contemporary artist? Artnet is often the best source for that information. Short biographies, selected bibliographies, and images of recently sold works are often included.


Wikipedia can also be useful source of information, including a bibliography for many articles. Remember, though Wikipedia can be a useful place to start, you should seek out other resources (books, articles, etc.) for your paper or project.