There are some tools that are related specifically to Black artists and then there are other tools that may not be race specific, but will contain information on a small number of established Black artists. In seeking information on those artists who may not be widely cited in the literature or who have yet to appear in indexed print sources, we still have ways to capture information on them, but the challenges are greater. A brief discussion such as this does not lend itself to in-depth coverage of the literature, but allows me to touch upon some classic tools that readily come to mind. However, keep in mind that there are many other sources and the ultimate selection of any resource is based on the level and depth of information that one seeks. I will mention just a few historical and current sources that can get the average person to biographical information and samples of an artist’s work and these sources will appear in most library collections. Keep in mind that the local public library, an academic library if services are extended to you, and the local museum libraries are all points at which you can explore and discover the world of Black art/artists. As your needs expand, there are other sources to which your local librarian can direct you.
Afro-American Artists: A Bio-bibliographical Directory by Theresa D. Cederholm is a 1973 classic source that lists personal information, including exhibition history, selected works, print sources with reviews and other information on artists.
250 Years of Afro-American Art: An Annotated Bibliography by Lynn Moody Igoe (1981) is a comprehensive source that consists of 3 bibliographies: The Basic Bibliography is an annotated bibliography of books, exhibition catalogs, and periodical/newspaper articles that refer to more than one artist or Afro-American art in general. The Subject Bibliography is an annotated bibliography of references to selected subjects in Afro-American art. The Artist Bibliography contains individual bibliographies for artists and it includes references to specific artworks that are reproduced in the literature cited in this particular book.
St. James Guide to Black Artists is a biographical source (1997) that includes personal information, a biographical sketch, exhibition history, publications that include the artist, collections in which the artist is a part of, and in some instances there may be a few illustrations.
In order to locate the most recent information about an artist, one can explore general as well as art specific databases such as the following:
- Biography and Genealogy Master Index is one of the best sources to begin a search for information about individuals from any field. It's an index to current, as well as important retrospective works, and it is international in coverage.
- Art Index is in both paper and electronic formats. The paper format is a monthly publication. The electronic database, which is updated daily, provides ease of use and can cover an extensive number of years based on your search parameters. This is a critical resource for any type of art research. Its broad coverage of contemporary art around the world includes new artists, exhibition reviews, non-western art, feminist criticism, and Black artists when they are featured totally or part of an article. Currently, over 377 international art publications are indexed. Art Full Text (electronic) offers full text plus abstracts and indexing of publications, covering 1984 to the present. Also, there is Art Index Retrospective (electronic) that is an accumulation of citations to Art Index volumes 1-32 of the printed index, covering the years 1929 through 1984.
The Local Artists File is a file created by the Art Division of the District of Columbia Public Library in which they collect supplemental and ephemeral material about artists of the Metropolitan Washington area, especially those associated in some way with the District of Columbia. The file consists of exhibition catalogs, pamphlets, gallery announcements, newspaper clippings, and any other information that is located in the literature or donated by artists. This is a particularly strong source for information on individuals who are not yet published in standard books, etc.
Another important feature when researching art/artists is to determine the auction history or ascertain whether an artist has had any auction history. It is this history that will often determine cost on the secondary market.
- AskArt http://www.askart.com/ The uniqueness of this electronic resource is its accessibility to auction records for those artists who have auction history. In an unfortunate sense, the records from this source do not include prints or photography. This is a fee for service site.
- Gordon’s Print Price Annual has a vast number of international auction results, covering 50,000 prints (2005 ed). Also, there is a Gordon’s Photography Price Annual International.
- Davenport’s Art Reference and Price Guide is easy and fast to use with a very comprehensive artist index. There is price information for over 275,000 artists. However, keep in mind that the prices are an approximate indicator based on an average of what an artist’s works are worth.
Finally, for artist’s who are deceased, there are sources to consult to authenticate the artist’s signature. The most widely known of these are in a series by John Castagno. There are the American Artists Signatures and Monograms from 1800 (two editions) and Abstract Artists: Signatures and Monograms, an International Directory.
These sources should get the researcher started on his/her path to explore and discover Black artists. For more specific questions, see your local art librarian. Start your search at the public library and the experience itself will be a reward. That starting point for District of Columbia residents at the DC Public Library would be by phone at 202/ 727-1291, or visiting at 901 G Street, NW (MLK Memorial Library), Room 209. If the information is not readily on hand, the librarian will make appropriate referrals.
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