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.
Before writing, I highly recommend that you write an outline for your paper. This is a way to organize your thoughts and to make sure that your structure is logical. It also can make the writing process much faster and easier, since you have a roadmap of where you are heading. The more detailed your outlines, the more they help! This may seem like a waste of time, but I promise you it will save you time in the end.
Thesis – You must have one! A thesis is a clear statement of what you plan to argue. It should be identifiable from your first paragraph. This thesis must be original and supportable. You should be able to connect every paragraph in your essay to this idea. If you cannot connect a passage to your thesis, it is either extraneous or in need of explanation. A thesis is a statement of the idea you will be trying to prove. An essay is an argument, an attempt to prove an original assertion through the use of various types of evidence.
Evidence – In Art History essays, there are several forms of evidence you might rely on. First and foremost, there is the visual evidence of the works of art. You may also contextualize the work with primary source texts (that is, texts from the same period as the works of art you are discussion). Then, you should read secondary sources (texts written by modern historians) about the works of art, their artists (if known) and their periods. Finally, you can read theoretical treatments of the vital themes in the works. This final category is generally not needed for introductory courses, but can be a great help in upper division work.
Argument – Be sure to venture beyond formal description of your images. Provide analysis that considers the meaning or meanings which we may draw from these works. Do not be afraid to offer multiple interpretations of an image or set of images. This can often by very effective, so long as the various interpretations are incorporated into a single, overarching argument. Most importantly, be sure that every sentence of your paper can be connected to your thesis.
Conclusion – Your papers should end with some form of concluding remarks. These need not take the form of hackneyed conventions (ie. “In conclusion, I would like to state…”), and you should avoid grand overstatements (ie. “This work shows how incredible the Middle Ages were.”) but should show the reader where they have just been and why this journey was important.
Formatting – Your professors will all have their own specifics, so be sure to read their guidelines in full. Generally, though, standard procedure is to use Times New Roman, 12-point font, 1-inch margins all around, double-spacing, and page numbers in the header or footer. See here for an example page. Papers must have regular citations. Most Art Historians will ask for footnotes in the Chicago style. The two most important aspects of citation are consistency and traceability. Can your reader easily find the text you are citing? Have you given all the necessary information? Have you been honest in giving credit where it is due?
Proofreading – Don’t rely on your spell-checking and grammar-checking software to do your proofreading for you. Many typos are also words, and therefore not picked up. I once read a paper in which the student referred repeatedly to St. Mark’s loin, intending to write about his symbol, the lion. Such errors are distracting. When proofreading, look for various issues, from spelling and grammar through language to overall essay structure. Ask yourself: Have I presented my argument in the best possible order? Are all of my main points clear and well-stated? Does one portion of my argument flow smoothly into the next? If not, try to fix it!
Title – When you have finished all of this, give your paper a title! This can be descriptive (Images of the Sword in the Bayeux Tapestry) or evocative (Slicing and Dicing) or both (Slicing and Dicing: Images of the Sword in the Bayeux Tapestry).
Images – It is often a good idea to include images of any works of art you discuss at length that are not from your class or the textbook. Be sure to clearly and carefully label your images, and put references to them in your text, as on the Example Page.
For an excellent site similarly dedicated to teaching students how to write about art, see Marjorie Munsterberg’s Writing About Art.