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FYS 199-21 Science & Art (J.Bayline) Fall 2023

Primary Sources for Art Historical Study


Primary Source: First Hand, from the time the event took place

Eg. Notes, Letters, Photos, Interviews, Newspapers, Art, Film

Secondary Source: Second Hand, an analysis of events

Eg. Books, Editorials or Analysis in Newspapers, Web pages, Biographies, Dissertations, Documentary Films.


In the study of art primary sources are the artworks themselves and unpublished materials such as letters and memos, draft documents, internal reports, technical drawings, and other forms of direct documentation (moving images, sound recordings, transcripts, photographs). Primary source materials are generally collected by archives and inventoried in finding aids. 

To discover archival collections, consult ArchiveGrid, a database of primary-source collection finding aids. Archival collections and finding aids are also readily discoverable through Google searches.


Secondary sources are published materials such as books, journals and newspapers, press releases, and authoritative web sites. Secondary sources are generally collected by libraries and are inventoried in catalogs such as the Library Catalog. Catalog content may be limited to simple citations (directing you a physical object such as a book) or it may be fully integrated with digital content such as databases or full-text journals.

Source: MoMA Library 


Example Artists Use of Archives - John Baldessari

Top Online Resources for Art at a Glance

See Databases A-Z to search for databases. Most databases are paid for by the library, but some are freely available to all. 

Specific Databases, Museum websites and Art Encyclopedia's to try, starting with the top four for beginning your study: