Research topics in art and art history can be rich combinations of influences and subjects. You can begin to develop your topic with a specific material in mind, such as porcelain or bronze, or specific techniques such as photogravure or encaustic painting. Combining materials and styles in a particular place or period of time is a common way to develop a more complex research topic. For example, what are some of the key features of Abstract Expressionist painting? What materials have been used in feminist body art? Are there common motifs used in Scandinavian weaving and embroidery?
It is easy to develop complex topics further by also considering a specific time period, a specific location, or specific practitioners. Who are some of Mexico's women photographers and what are key features in their work? What are differences in the graffiti art of Los Angeles and New York City? Is there a Pacific Northwest style of art?
In the study of art history, styles and periods are central concepts in the discipline. Distinct historical time periods such as Baroque, Mycenaean, and Renaissance are organizing concepts used to describe significant periods artistic activity. Other important organizing concepts refer to stylist attributes, such as Mannerist, Gothic, or Moderne. Sometimes specific groups of artists give rise to a school of work that refers both to stylistic or philosophical tendencies called movements or genres. Dada, Bauhaus, and Postmodern are examples of this.
Before you begin your research, brainstorm keywords that will help you locate relevant material.
Examples of materials and techniques:
Examples of movements and genres:
Examples of periods and styles:
Lorenzo Costa, Portrait of a Cardinal in his Study, circa 1519. Image from The Minneapolis Institute of Art.