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Art History: Step 3: Develop Your Argument

This guide demonstrates the Art History research process, gives examples of art theories, searching strategies, and links to citation help.

Have an Opinion

You are now an expert on this piece. You should have something to SAY about it.

  • How does it make people feel, think, react?
  • How does it contribute to, affect, or reflect upon society or communities?
  • Brainstorm your opinions down in a mind map (also called a concept map).
  • Attempt to phrase your opinions about the piece into a question. 

This is your research question!

Organize Your Thoughts

  • Make a logical sequence of arguments that support your opinion or answer your research question.
  • Create an outline from your arguments.
  • Explain why this piece has the effect it does
  • Be sure any "sub-arguments" directly relate back to the main thesis or research question.

Reference Credible Sources

Depending on the piece you chose, there may not be a lot of scholarly research about the artist or the piece itself. So how do you find sources about it? There are several strategies that can help when you're struggling to find sources on the piece itself. Think back to the first two stages of your process and the questions you asked about the context of the piece or the artist, as well as the design elements of the piece itself. 

Here are some ideas about what you can research if you're having trouble finding scholarly sources about your artist or piece:

  • the time period in which it was created
  • the creator's background and/or culture
  • the design principles of the piece
  • the symbols you see in the piece and how they have been used in other pieces or artifacts
  • ....and more!

If you're having trouble, be sure to make an appointment with the Art Librarian. They can help you with search strategies for your specific piece and construct your argument.

Creating Your Concept Map

Follow these seven steps to make a concept map to help develop your research argument.

Best Resources for Art History Research