UCB Libraries

Subject Guide: Art & Art History

  • Intro
  • Reference Works
  • Books
  • Articles
  • Images
  • Evaluate & Cite


What is art? What is art history?
This guide will help you find information about fine and applied arts as well as the history of art, including books, articles, images, and more.

"We do not know how art began any more than we know how language started."

E. H. Gombrich, The Story of Art, orginally published in 1950. Available in the Art & Architecture Reference Collection, N5300 .G643 1995

If you need additional assistance, please use Ask Us to contact a librarian via phone, email, IM, text message, or in person.


Keywords: 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. Think of similar words that express the same concepts, broader and narrower terms, and important contextual information.


Your list of keywords might include:

  • name of creator or culture
  • title and alternative names
  • type of object, medium, material
  • associated location(s)
  • era or time period of creation
  • style and/or materials
  • notable related events or people

In addition to generating a list of keywords, take time to think about how those keywords are related. In general, using broader terms will help you find books, while narrower terms will be more useful for finding articles.




Guide to the Literature of Art History 2

Art & Arch REF Z5931 .M374 2005

Comprehensive listing of research resources for a number of subjects, including sales and auctions, iconongraphy, historiography, methodology, theory, works in all major media, decorative arts, patronage, collection, and more.


Guide to the Literature of Art History

PASCAL Z5931 .A67

Earlier edition of the work above. Includes material published up to 1977.


African American Visual Artists: An Annotated Bibliography of Educational Resource Materials

Art & Arch REF Z5956.A47 F79 2001


Art Books: A Basic Bibliography of Monographs on Artists

Art & Arch REF Z5938 .F73 1997


Women Artists and Designers in Europe since 1800: An Annotated Bibliography

Art & Arch REF Z7963.A75 M33 1998


This is a small sample of the bibliographies available. Check the end of the Art & Architecture Reference Collection (in the Z call number range) to find many more bibliographies of individual artists, specific media, cultural groups, and historical periods.


Major Biographical Dictionaries

Allgemeines Künstler-Lexikon: die bildenden Künstler aller Zeiten und Völker
Comprehensive multi-volume dictionary of artists.
Art & Arch REF N40 .A63 1992


Dictionnaire Critique et Documentaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs / English edition of the work known as "Bénézit"
After Theime-Becker, this is the most useful universal dictionary of artists. Contains over 300,000 biographies of artists who have worked from the 5th century BCE to present times. The length of individual entries varies from a few lines to essays. Frequently includes facsimiles of artists' signatures, prizes received, holding museums and collections, prices realized, and bibliographies.
Art & Arch REF N40 .B4713 2006


Thieme-Becker/Vollmer Gesamtregister / known as "Thieme-Becker"
The most comprehensive scholarly dictionary of artists. Includes, as nearly as possible, all known painters, sculptors, engravers, architects, and decorative artists. Signed articles by outstanding scholars, long bibliographies. Locations of works of art frequently given.
Art & Arch REF  N40 .T45 1996


Dictionaries & Encyclopedias

This is a small sample of available materials. Check the Art & Architecture Reference Collection to find many more specialized reference resources.


Oxford Art Online, including the Grove Dictionary of Art

The most important reference resource for art history. Contains detailed entries on artists, styles, periods, media, geographic regions, theoretical concepts, and much more. Entries are written by scholars and include bibliographies of additional resources. VPN required for off-campus access.


Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion

Art & Arch REF GT507 .E54 2010


Grove Encyclopedia of Classical Art and Architecture

Art & Arch REF N5610 .G76 2007


Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art and Architecture

Art & Arch REF N6260 .G75 2009


Encyclopedia of Italian Renaissance & Mannerist Art

Art & Arch REF N6370 .E53 2000


Grove Encyclopedia of Northern Renaissance Art

Art & Arch REF N6370 .G76 2009


Encyclopedia of Comparative Iconography: Themes Depicted in Works of Art

Art & Arch REF N7560 .E53 1998


Dictionary of Women Artists

Art & Arch REF N8354 .D53 1997


Encyclopedia of Sculpture

Art & Arch REF NB60 .E53 2004


Pompei: Pitture e Mosaici

Art & Arch REF ND2575 .P75 1990x


Art Deco Complete: The Definitive Guide to the Decorative Arts of the 1920s & 1930s

Art & Arch REF NK789.5.A7 D87 2009b


Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Photography

Art & Arch REF TR642 .E5 2006



Where are the art books?

The Art & Architecture Collection is arranged in Library of Congress call number order, and can be found in the northwest corner of the second floor. Relevant call number ranges include:


GT - Costume, Dress, & Fashion (specifically the GT 500-2370 range)

N - Visual Arts

NA - Architecture

NB - Sculpture

NC - Drawing, Design, & Illustration

ND - Painting

NE - Print Media (e.g. printmaking, engraving, etching, litho, etc.)

NK - Decorative Arts (e.g. interior design, ceramics, glass, metals, textiles, etc.)

NX - Arts in General

TR - Photography

TT - Handicrafts, Arts & Crafts

Not sure where to find the book you need? Maps of the Art & Architecture Collection are available online as well as in the stacks.


Chinook - How to Find Books & More @ CU-Boulder

Chinook is the catalog for materials owned by the CU Libraries. You can do a title search for a specific book, or a keyword search if you are looking for books on a particular topic. You can also use MyChinook to renew books, see what you have checked out or on hold, and much more.

Chinook Catalog

When searching Chinook, you can connect your keywords using terms like AND, OR, NOT. You can also used parentheses, quotation marks, and asterisks.




AND: painting AND Renaissance (must find both terms)

Phrases: “art deco” (must find phrase in that order)

OR: ceramics OR pottery (must find one of the terms)

Synonyms: (ceramics OR pottery) AND Chinese

NOT: English NOT language (must find first term and not second term)

Wildcards: classic* will find classics, classical, classicizing, etc.


Prospector - How to Find Books @ Other Libraries in Colorado

If you search Chinook and find that the CU Libraries do not have the item you are looking for (or if the item you are looking for is checked out), you can search Prospector, which is a combined library catalog of many libraries in Colorado and Wyoming.


Prospector is the FASTEST way to get a book if it is unavailable here at CU-Boulder.


WorldCat - How to Find Books @ Any Library

There might not always be an entire book about your research topic, or there might not be many books published on the subject.


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.


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.



Accessing Resources from Off Campus
If you want to use databases like the ones listed below 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.


Choosing a Database

In order to find articles on your topic, you will need to use a database. The library provides access to hundreds of databases, and many of them focus on a particular discipline such art, art history, or architecture.


The Find Articles & More page provides access to all of these resources and arranges them by subject.


General Databases for Art & Art History

Not sure where to start? Try these first!


Art Full Text & Art Retrospective

An excellent general resource for art, art history, architecture, and related topics. Covers a range of media in all periods, with publications going back to 1929 in Art Retrospective.


Art Bibliographies Modern

ABM covers scholarly literature on all forms of modern and contemporary art. Great coverage of new media and non-traditional art.


Bibliography of the History of Art

Strong coverage of articles in foreign languages. Contains material through 2008. Though no longer updated, it remains an import resource for art history.



Full text of articles from major scholarly journals in the humanities and social sciences.


Specialized Databases for Art & Art History

Additional resources for specific subjects


Design & Applied Arts Index

Excellent resource for the applied arts, including design, graphic design, fashion, interior design, furniture, ceramics, glass, and much more.


International Bibliography of Art

A relatively new database, purportedly specializing in non-Western art.


Iter Bibliography

Scholarship on the European Middle Ages and Renaissance (400-1700).


LexisNexis Academic

Full text of national and international news sources. Very useful for finding exhibition reviews.



Image Resources from the Libraries


Over one million images of visual and material culture, covering all geographic areas and historical periods. VPN required for off-campus access.


Art & Art History Collection via CU Digital Library

Maintained by the Department of Art & Art History Visual Resources Collection. Provides access to a growing collection of high-quality digital images. VPN required for off-campus access.


Architecture & Planning Collection via CU Digital Library

Maintained by the College of Architecture & Planning Visual Resource Center, this collection of over 46,000 images focuses specifically on architecture, landscape architecture, and the built environment. VPN required for off-campus access.


AP Images

Search for images from the Associated Press. Useful for finding images from newspapers, magazines, wires, etc. Excellent source for contemporary photos of historical sites. VPN required for off-campus access.


Image Resources on the Web

Art Images for College Teaching

Images of art from all periods and regions. Particularly useful for students enrolled in ARTH 1300 or ARTH 1400.


Flickr & Flickr Commons

Note that user-contributed photos vary in quality. Flickr Commons contains images from photographic archives, museums, and libraries.


Google Image Search

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



How to Evaluate a Website

So you've found a website, and it looks like it might be useful. But how do you know if it is trustworthy? Scott Rosenberg has written an excellent guide to evaluating websites. The instructions below are adapted from his "In the context of Web context: How to check out any Web page."


What is the site's top-level domain?

Is it an educational site (.edu)? A government site (.gov)? Or a commercial site that anyone can produce (.com, .info, .net, etc.)? While a .edu or .gov domain does not guarantee trustworthy content, it can give you an indication of who authored the site or is maintaining it.


Does the site have ads?

Are the ads the primary focus of the site? Are they for products and services related to the site's content? Generally, the more ads you see, the less authoritative the website is.


Can you find out who is responsible for the site?

Is an author listed anywhere? Is there contact info or a feedback form? Does the author claim any credentials? Do those check out if you search for more info on the author?


Does the site contain references, sources, or links?

Do those references point to reputable sites? Or questionable ones?


Is the content unique? And does it make sense?

Google a chunk of text. Does it show up word-for-word on other sites? This could be a cause for concern. In addition, if the content is little more than a pile of disconnected keywords, the site might be just link bait.


Scholarly vs. Popular Sources





Original research presented with evidence, critical arguments, and other material.

Discussion includes personal opinions, and typically focuses on material for entertainment or leisure.


Author's credentials are given, usually a scholar with subject expertise.

Author may or may not be named; often a professional writer; may or may not have subject expertise.


Editorial board is listed on cover or near the Table of Contents. Some publications may also note that articles are refereed by peer reviewers.

No editors listed and no referee process described.


Scholars, researchers, students.

General public; the interested non-specialist.


May use specialized terminology.

Vocabulary in general usage; understandable to most readers.

References (Endnotes, Footnotes, etc)

Required. All quotes and facts can be verified. A bibliography is also usually included.

Rare. Little, if any, information about sources.


Contribute to your understanding of the text; could include diagrams, charts, or other technical material.

Often merely provide pleasing visual content rather than support for assertions in the text.

Example Publication


Giant Robot


Citation Styles & Management

For information about citing print and electronic sources in a range of styles, see “How to Cite a Source.”


Using MLA Style? See the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. Using Chicago Style?  See the Chicago Style Quick Guide or the full version of the Chicago Manual of Style.


Writing a longer paper and need to keep track of citations? RefWorks allows you to save citations and retrieve them later using "Find it at CU" buttons. Citations from most databases can be easily exported directly to RefWorks. RefWorks can also create bibliographies in virtually any citation style, and can be used with Microsoft Word to format footnotes and endnotes correctly. Zotero is a similar tool that is available for free.


Need More Help?

Wondering if you're citing something correctly? Or maybe you need help with structuring your paper? Take advantage of the CU Writing Center. Making an appointment with a consultant at the Writing Center allows you to receive one-on-one help with your writing.


Want to speak with a librarian right now? You can contact us in person, via the phone, or even over IM. Use the Ask Us page to chat with a librarian even if you're away from campus.