Writing a paper for an art history course is similar to the analytical, research-based papers that you may have written in English literature courses or history courses. Although art historical research and writing does include the analysis of written documents, there are distinctive differences between art history writing and other disciplines because the primary documents are works of art. A key reference guide for researching and analyzing works of art and for writing art history papers is the 10th edition (or later) of Sylvan Barnet’s work, A Short Guide to Writing about Art. Barnet directs students through the steps of thinking about a research topic, collecting information, and then writing and documenting a paper.
A website with helpful tips for writing art history papers is posted by the University of North Carolina,
Wesleyan University Writing Center has a useful guide for finding online writing resources,
The following are basic guidelines that you must use when documenting research papers for any art history class at UALR. Solid, thoughtful research and correct documentation of the sources used in this research (i.e., footnotes/endnotes, bibliography, and illustrations**) are essential. Additionally, these Guidelines remind students about plagiarism, a serious academic offense.
Research papers should be in a 12-point font, double-spaced. Ample margins should be left for the instructor’s comments. All margins should be one inch to allow for comments. Number all pages. The cover sheet for the paper should include the following information: title of paper, your name, course title and number, course instructor, and date paper is submitted. A simple presentation of a paper is sufficient. Staple the pages together at the upper left or put them in a simple three-ring folder or binder. Do not put individual pages in plastic sleeves.
Documentation of Resources
The Chicago Manual of Style (CMS), as described in the most recent edition of Sylvan Barnet’s A Short Guide to Writing about Art is the department standard. Although you may have used MLA style for English papers or other disciplines, the Chicago Style is required for all students taking art history courses at UALR. There are significant differences between MLA style and Chicago Style. A “Quick Guide” for the Chicago Manual of Style footnote and bibliography format is found http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html. The footnote examples are numbered and the bibliography example is last. Please note that the place of publication and the publisher are enclosed in parentheses in the footnote, but they are not in parentheses in the bibliography. Examples of CMS for some types of note and bibliography references are given below in this Guideline. Arabic numbers are used for footnotes. Some word processing programs may have Roman numerals as a choice, but the standard is Arabic numbers. The use of super script numbers, as given in examples below, is the standard in UALR art history papers.
The chapter “Manuscript Form” in the Barnet book (10th edition or later) provides models for the correct forms for footnotes/endnotes and the bibliography. For example, the note form for the FIRST REFERENCE to a book with a single author is:
1Bruce Cole, Italian Art 1250-1550 (New York: New York University Press, 1971), 134.
But the BIBLIOGRAPHIC FORM for that same book is:
Cole, Bruce. Italian Art 1250-1550. New York: New York University Press. 1971.
The FIRST REFERENCE to a journal article (in a periodical that is paginated by volume) with a single author in a footnote is:
2 Anne H. Van Buren, “Madame Cézanne’s Fashions and the Dates of Her Portraits,” Art Quarterly 29 (1966): 199.
The FIRST REFERENCE to a journal article (in a periodical that is paginated by volume) with a single author in the BIBLIOGRAPHY is:
Van Buren, Anne H. “Madame Cézanne’s Fashions and the Dates of Her Portraits.” Art Quarterly 29 (1966): 185-204.
If you reference an article that you found through an electronic database such as JSTOR, you do not include the url for JSTOR or the date accessed in either the footnote or the bibliography. This is because the article is one that was originally printed in a hard-copy journal; what you located through JSTOR is simply a copy of printed pages. Your citation follows the same format for an article in a bound volume that you may have pulled from the library shelves. If, however, you use an article that originally was in an electronic format and is available only on-line, then follow the “non-print” forms listed below.
Citations for Internet sources such as online journals or scholarly web sites should follow the form described in Barnet’s chapter, “Writing a Research Paper.” For example, the footnote or endnote reference given by Barnet for a web site is:
3 Nigel Strudwick, Egyptology Resources, with the assistance of The Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences, Cambridge University, 1994, revised 16 June 2008, http://www.newton.ac.uk/egypt/, 24 July 2008.
If you use microform or microfilm resources, consult the most recent edition of Kate Turabian, A Manual of Term Paper, Theses and Dissertations. A copy of Turabian is available at the reference desk in the main library.
C. Visual Documentation (Illustrations)
Art history papers require visual documentation such as photographs, photocopies, or scanned images of the art works you discuss. In the chapter “Manuscript Form” in A Short Guide to Writing about Art, Barnet explains how to identify illustrations or “figures” in the text of your paper and how to caption the visual material. Each photograph, photocopy, or scanned image should appear on a single sheet of paper unless two images and their captions will fit on a single sheet of paper with one inch margins on all sides. Note also that the title of a work of art is always italicized. Within the text, the reference to the illustration is enclosed in parentheses and placed at the end of the sentence. A period for the sentence comes after the parenthetical reference to the illustration. For UALR art history papers, illustrations are placed at the end of the paper, not within the text. Illustration are not supplied as a Powerpoint presentation or as separate .jpgs submitted in an electronic format.
Edvard Munch’s painting The Scream, dated 1893, represents a highly personal, expressive response to an experience the artist had while walking one evening (Figure 1).
The caption that accompanies the illustration at the end of the paper would read:
Figure 1. Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1893. Tempera and casein on cardboard, 36 x 29″ (91.3 x 73.7 cm). Nasjonalgalleriet, Oslo, Norway.
Plagiarism is a form of thievery and is illegal. According to Webster’s New World Dictionary, to plagiarize is to “take and pass off as one’s own the ideas, writings, etc. of another.” Barnet has some useful guidelines for acknowledging sources in his chapter “Manuscript Form;” review them so that you will not be mguilty of theft. Another useful website regarding plagiarism is provided by Cornell University, http://plagiarism.arts.cornell.edu/tutorial/index.cfm
Plagiarism is a serious offense, and students should understand that checking papers for plagiarized content is easy to do with Internet resources. Plagiarism will be reported as academic dishonesty to the Dean of Students; see Section VI of the Student Handbook which cites plagiarism as a specific violation. Take care that you fully and accurately acknowledge the source of another author, whether you are quoting the material verbatim or paraphrasing. Borrowing the idea of another author by merely changing some or even all of your source’s words does not allow you to claim the ideas as your own. You must credit both direct quotes and your paraphrases. Again, Barnet’s chapter “Manuscript Form” sets out clear guidelines for avoiding plagiarism.
Art history research paper topics and their writing processes differ from other college and university academic papers that students are assigned to write. In such papers you make the necessary arguments concerning the things you see; to be more precise you interpret visual information into verbal information. To write a really good research paper on art history, you should be familiar with the terms needed to describe the work of art and it is extremely important to choose appropriate art history research paper topics.
Art History Research Paper Topics: Types
You can cover your art history research paper in 2 ways:
- Narrative – the description of the facts concerning the topic, which is based on opinions and facts.
- Analytical – the presented argument should be supported by the evidence.
Art History Research Paper Topics: Renaissance
Choosing the Renaissance period as their art history research paper topics, students usually pay special attention to Michelangelo’s style. You can compare several of his early works with his later works and discuss the factors which changed his style of painting.
It is also recommended to evaluate Leonardo Da Vinci’s career and his influence on art.
Art History Research Paper Topics: Far East
The Buddhist architecture and Indian sculpture and painting are inexhaustible topics for research papers on art. You can compare Indian, Japanese and Chinese visual arts and point out differences and similarities between them.
Art History Research Paper Topics: Middle Ages. Gothic and Romanesque
This is a large field for discussions and descriptions, for example, you can compare buildings of the Romanesque architecture, explain the role of illuminated manuscripts in art, etc.
Art History Research Paper Topic Examples
- Main similarities and differences between the Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles.
- Features of sculptures in ancient Greece. The influence of science on sculptures.
- The role of Mughal paintings in forming the image of the Mughal kings in India.
- Biblical motives in Leonardo da Vinci’s early paintings.
- Surrealism in Salvador Dali’s sculptures.
- The origin of the traditional Japanese and Chinese costumes and their impacts on culture.
- Key changes in methodology in paintings at the epoch of Impressionism. The differences in paintings of two impressionists: Edgar Degas and Claude Monet.
- The main features of late Baroque architecture (c. 1660 – c. 1725)
- The history of creating The Death of Sardanapalus and its place in Eugène Delacroix’s paintings.
- Different mannerisms in Pablo Picasso’s paintings, from Art Nouveau to Cubism: evolution, or just separate periods in his oeuvre?
- The combination of different art styles in the extraordinary painting The Kiss by Gustav Klimt.
- Various interpretations of The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh.
- Ancient Greek motifs in Michelangelo’s sculpture, David.
- The psychology of color in Kazimir Malevich’s works.
- Realistic and artificial motifs in Jasper John’s Flag.
- Why was Renaissance art so overwhelmed with Christian symbols and themes?
- Was Hitler’s artwork actually good?
- Is the majority of modern art a scam?
- What was the influence of the Industrial Revolution on art development?
- What is so special about the carving The Veiled Virgin?
- What were the main reasons of the Roman artistic style shift in the 4th century?
- How were Victorian beauty standards depicted?
- What is so special about the light in Monet’s Sunrise?
- What were the primary aims of the camera obscura and how did it change throughout the years?
- Compare the critiquing styles of Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg.
- What are the peculiar features of Art Deco hotels in French Indochina?
- Was sculpture art the main business in Venice?
- The connection between French caricatures of the 19th century and Goya’s prints.
- What is so unusual and unique in Russian icons?
- The evolution of the uncovered body in paintings of various periods and countries.
You may also be interested in other research paper topics that cover various disciplines.
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