Nasher Museum of Art

How can I research and write about visual materials?

This site has a number of guides to help you get started looking at works of art and objects. Each guide features background information, questions, and additional resources. You can start with the “Looking,” or begin with more specialized topics, looking by medium (the material), genre, culture, and/or time period. You can also look more broadly, asking questions about exhibitions and/or collecting. There is even a guide to help you look using various methodologies, or approaches.

Check out the links below for tips on finding, citing, researching, and writing about visual materials.

Links to Find Images

Explore the Nasher Museum’s Online Collection

Search the Duke Libraries’ Image Resources

Discover Duke Digital Collections

Visit Documentary Arts, a website featuring the photo collection from Duke’s Rubenstein library.

Links to Cite Images

Find examples on the Duke Libraries’ Visual Literacy Page

Guides to Researching and Writing about Images

Duke LibGuides

Visual literacy
Researching works of art
Citing Images
Visual Studies

Thompson Writing Center Guides

Art history and visual studies
Visual analysis (pdf)

Sources on Visual Literacy

Visual Literacy Bibliography (pdf)

Formal Analysis (understanding the visual makeup of an image)

Art Criticism and Formal Analysis

Visuals and Design

Dictionaries of Art Terms and Symbols

Clarke, Michael. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Art Terms. Second edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Hall, James. Dictionary of Signs and Symbols in Art. Boulder: Westview Press, 2008.

Lucie-Smith, Edward. The Thames & Hudson Dictionary of Art Terms. London: Thames & Hudson, 2003.

Oxford Art Online database (includes Grove Art Online, Benezit Dictionary of Artists, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Art Terms, Encyclopedia of Aesthetics, and The Oxford Companion to Western Art). NOTE: You must be connected through Duke’s internet server for the link to work. 

Pierce, James Smith. From Abacus to Zeus: A Handbook of Art History. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education, Inc., 2004. 

Selected Bibliography on Art and Visual Literacy

Beall-Fonfana, Barbara A. Understanding the Art Museum. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2006.

Berger, John. Ways of Seeing. New York: Penguin Books, 1977.

D’Alleva, Anne. Look! The Fundamentals of Art History. Third edition. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2010.

Elkins, James, ed. Visual Literacy. New York: Routledge, 2008.

Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Hill, Jason E., and Vanessa R. Schwartz, eds. Getting the Picture: The Visual Culture of the News. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015.

Jones, Rachel Bailey. (Re)thinking Orientalism: Using Graphic Narratives to Teach Critical Visual Literacy. New York: Peter Lang, 2014.

Learning to See & Understand: Developing Visual Literacy. San Francisco: Kanopy Streaming, 2015.

Livingston, Margaret. Vision and Art: The Biology of Seeing. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, 2002.

Mirzoeff, Nicholas. An Introduction to Visual Culture. Second edition. New York: Routledge, 2009.

Mirzeoff, Nicholas. The Visual Culture Reader. Third ed. New York: Routledge, 2013.

Seppänen, Janne. The Power of the Gaze: An Introduction to Visual Literacy. New York: Peter Lang, 2006.

Serafini, Frank. Reading the Visual: An Introduction to Teaching Multimodal Literacy. New York: Teachers College Press, 2014.

Smarthistory at Khan Academy.

Sturken, Marita, and Lisa Cartwright. Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture. Second ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Tucker, Amy. Visual Literacy: Writing about Art. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2002.