CA 160 : Finding information about artists

Contact information


If you need help, please contact Sylvia Roberts, Liaison Librarian for Communication & Contemporary Arts at 778.782.3681 or or Ask a librarian.

This library guide is intended to help you research the life, practice and creative works of your assigned artist.

If you do not find what you need, please Ask a Librarian or contact Sylvia Roberts, Liaison Librarian for Communication.

 PPT slides from Sylvia's presentation on finding information about artists.

Start by considering what you already know about your artist

Documentation of artists' work tends to grow with the length of their practice and as their fame increases.  

Initially, their work may be shown as part of group exhibitions or in surveys by country or genre. There may be reviews of these exhibitions in art news publications and local news sources.  As artists gain exposure, galleries (public or commercial) may feature their work in solo exhibitions.

Over time, artists gain fame through solo exhibitions nationally and internationally.  These exhibitions may be documented in exhibition catalogues, containing images and  and writing about a specific group of work.  Libraries treat exhibition catalogues like books and include the artist's name as an author, crediting their intellectual & creative labour in creating the art works.  Any writing that the artist had done, about their own work or other topics, will also feature their name as an author.

Well-known artists may have their work gathered in retrospective exhibitions that present works from an extended period of an artist's activity.  Retrospectives often result in catalogues that survey the artist's work,  including images and in-depth essays by scholars and curators.

As well as exhibition catalogues, artists' work may be discussed in scholarly texts (books, chapters or essays, articles) that provide a critical perspective on individual or groups of artists.  In these cases, the artist's name  is used as one of the subjects of the book or article because it's being written about their work.

As you do research, make notes of what you know and what you learn about an artist, and the sources of this information:

  • What is their nationality and where do they work/exhibit now?
  • Are they affiliated with particular groups of artists or types of practice, either formally or informally?
  • What media do they use?
  • Have they won awards or been featured in international showcases, such as biennales or art fairs?

All of these can serve as leads to other sources of information about your artist. Use the background sources below to get started.

Background sources

Use these sources for background on your specific artists, including biographical details, nature of their practice, affiliations, etc.

Large art museums / galleries that have works by an artist in their collection may provide useful images of the work, as well as details about the artist's practice. 

  • Access images of works by artists held by the Tate Art Gallery in London, England
  • MOMA (Museum of Modern Art, NYC) provide information about artists in their collection or whose work has appeared in MOMA exhibitions

e-flux announcements  e-flux produces and distributes press releases for art exhibitions from all over the world. The announcement archive documents some of the most significant exhibitions that have taken place since 2000. You can search by artist's name to find relevant announcements for exhibitions, projects, book releases and other leads to information.

In-depth information: Books

To find print or e-books on your artist, search the SFU Library catalogue. In the library catalogue, "books" can include critical works by scholars, exhibition catalogues, biographies, etc. You can limit your search by media type to find only slides, sound recordings, films (see below for details).

Search the name of the person by keyword to find any published writing at SFU that refers to the artist as a author or creator of a work (books, slides, music), as the subject focus of the book, or if they're listed in a contents note as the focus of a chapter.

To focus your search, browse the artist's name as author or subject, to look for only books at SFU Library.

If you do not find enough results when searching for your artist's name in the library catalogue, use the background information you've found to search for related books that focus on artists from a particular country, engaged in a specific type of art practice or affiliated with a specific art movement or group. 

Use the table of contents or the back of the book index to find the pages that make specific reference to your artist.

Journal articles

Use the following recommended indexes or databases to find information on your topic in scholarly or critical studies journals.  Many of these databases include the full text of journal articles or provide a link to the article online. Click on the link to "Where can I get this?" to see if the article is available in electronic and / or print format at SFU Library.

  • Art Full Text [Art Index] (1984-  )
    Scholarly and research journals on all aspects and periods of art & related topics. Many full text articles.
  • Humanities & Social Sciences Index (1983 - )
    Index to scholarly journals in the humanities and social sciences. Good coverage of the performing arts (music, film, theatre, dance) and related topics.
  • Academic Search FullText Elite (EBSCO)
    Scholarly and popular journals on all topics. Many full text articles.
  • Google Scholar
    Searches for scholarly literature across many disciplines and sources. Be careful to evaluate what you find on the Internet.

Art magazines

Current issues of the following art news magazines are available in print format at the Belzberg Library. There are also links to digital content available from the magazine.

Older issues are available at the Bennett Library in Burnaby as bound journals.  Articles can be available online through the databases listed above and/or can be scanned by library staff when requested through the databases or library catalogue.

Interviews and profiles

You can learn much from hearing an artist discuss their practice.  Search for the artist's name in Google video searchYouTube , Vimeo or the Internet Archive to find interviews, artist's talks, panel discussions, tours of exhibitions, etc.

As well as individual videos, you may find playlists or channels created by people or institutions with an interest in contemporary art, for example:

  • SFMOMA's series Artists Working, Artists Talking
  • Art:21 a PBS produced series of books and DVDs that provides profiles of contemporary artists and their work.  The accompanying web site provides additional information about the artists, including biographical information, images, interviews, etc.
  • Digitized artist's talks (Maryland Institute College of Art's Decker Library)

The SFU Library has a large collection of videos and DVDs by and about artists.  To find these, do an advanced search for the artist's name, selecting "Audio Visual" from the resource type box.  This will find any reference to the artist in the catalogue record, whether the whole or only part of the DVD deals with their work.


SFU Library subscribes to several online databases that may provide examples of your artist's work. As well as the images in books and articles, the following sources focus on images:

You can also search the SFU Library catalogue for slides of your artists' works.  Again, search for the artist's name as the author or subject and use the limiters in the left hand column to limit by resource type, e.g. images for slides, audio-visual for DVDs.

Writing and citing

Consult the following sources for assistance in writing your paper and formatting your citations:

Additional notes about how to cite artworks & exhibition catalogues, based on Sylvia's interpretation of the official MLA and Turabian guides:

MLA style

Work of Visual Art in print publications, section 5.7.6

Artist’s name. Title of the work.  Date of composition. Medium of composition. Institution that houses the work (e.g. a museum) or name of the private collection (Collection of…), City where this institution or collection is located.   Complete publication information for the source in which the reproducation appears, including the slide, figure or plate number as appropriate.  Medium of reproduction.

If the collector is unknown or wishes to remain anonymous, use Private collection without the name.

For example, for an image taken from  Canadian Art in the Twentieth Century:

Bélanger, Sylvie.  He; She.  1991.  Colour photograph and sand-blasted glass.  Macdonald Steward Art Centre, University of Guelph, Guelph.  Canadian Art in the Twentieth Century.  Joan Murray. Toronto : Dundurn Press, 1999. Fig. 270. Print.

Exhibition catalogues

MLA treats exhibition catalogues like a book or edited book, with the inclusion of the document type and date of the exhibition.

For example, for an exhibition catalogue held at the SFU Library:

Ai, Weiwei and Mark Siemons.  Ai Weiwei :  So Sorry.  Munich ; New York:  Prestel,  2009. Exhibition catalogue,  Haus der Kunst,  Munich, October 12, 2009 - January 17, 2010.

Videos (e.g. interview or lectures on YouTube or Vimeo )

See the SFU guide to MLA, section on audiovisual works.

Adapted from the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 8th ed. (2016) New York : Modern Language Association of America, 2016. [print]

Turabian / Chicago style

Visual sources, section 17.8.1

Turabian says to cite visual artworks only in notes, including the name of the artist, title of the artwork, date of its creation, name of the institution housing it, with location.   Titles of paintings & sculptures are to be italicized but titles of photograph are to be set in roman type, enclosed in quotation marks. If the source was a published book, give the publication information in place of the institution name.

For example:

3.  Bélanger, Sylvie,  He; She,   1991, in  Joan Murray, Canadian Art in the Twentieth Century [Toronto : Dundurn Press, 1999], 125.

Texts in the Visual and Performing Arts, section 17.8:7: Art exhibition catalogues

Cite an exhibition catalogue as you would a book. In the bibliographic entry only (i.e. list of references), include the name and location of the exhibition, followed by the date.

For example,

Ai, Weiwei and Mark Siemons.  Ai Weiwei : So Sorry.  Munich ; New York:  Prestel,  2009. Published in conjunction with the exhibition “So sorry” shown at the Haus der Kunst in Munich, October 12, 2009 - January 17, 2010.

Videos (e.g. interviews or lectures on YouTube or Vimeo)

See the SFU Library guide to MLA citation guide section on citing audiovisual materials.

Adapted from A manual for writers of research papers, theses, and dissertations : Chicago style for students and researchers by Kate L. Turabian. Chicago : The University of Chicago Press, 2013. [print]