Skip to Main Content

Finding out about your work of art: A bibliography of sources in the Clark library: Background/Context

Encyclopedias and dictionaries

Use these sources to find information on an artist, the history of art in a given country or region, artistic techniques and materials, schools and movements and terminology in art, and many other background or contextual facts.  Browse the library’s extensive reference collection for additional resources.


Dictionary of Art.  Jane Turner, editor.  New York:  Grove, 1996.

“One of the most significant art reference works ever produced – a monumental….attempt to encompass the field of art history,” from prehistory to the present worldwide.  The mandate to establish geographical balance makes this work “the most comprehensive coverage of the arts of Asia, Africa, Australasia, and the Americas ever published in one source.”  Entries include biographical material on artists, dealers, art historians, and other figures in the art world; coverage of the history of art in specific countries, cities, and archeological sites; and detailed entries on art theory, movements, art forms, building types, and art materials and techniques.  Articles include bibliographies.  Well illustrated. SEE ALSO the electronic version in Oxford Art Online (available only from the Clark and Williams College campuses).

Reference N31 D48 (34 volumes; on counter)


Dictionary of Art Terms and Techniques.  Ralph Mayer.  New York: Crowell, 1969.

A general one-volume dictionary with succinct definitions of terms that cover painting, drawing, sculpture, printmaking, and ceramics.  Architectural terms are not included.  Especially useful for definitions of technical terms, processes, and materials.  Includes a classified listing of books for further reference.

Reference N33 M39


Dictionary of Twentieth-Century Art.  Ian Chilvers, editor.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Biographical entries on artists and other people in the art world, and on art movements, techniques, media, organizations, and serial exhibitions and publications.  No index or bibliographies.

Reference N6490 A1 C55


Fine and Applied Arts Terms Index, 1st edition.  Laurence Urdang and Frank R. Abate, editors.  Detroit: Gale Research, 1983.

“An alphabetical guide of sources of information on more than 45,000 terms used by museums, art galleries, and auction galleries in the English-speaking world, and by artists, artisans, designers, and professional in associated fields, including words and phrases that describe objets d’art, objets de vertu, bibelots, antique furnishings, jewelry, rugs and carpets, paintings, engravings, drawings, sculptures, as well as designs, styles, periods, influences, motifs, ornamentation, components, shapes, production techniques, materials, and finishes, the entries gathered from standard reference books and auctions catalogs, with sources and illustrations indicated, the whole complemented by a descriptive bibliography of all materials indexed.”   Entries include the sources in which a definition can be found, with page numbers for the definition and for illustrations where applicable.

Reference N33 U72


Oxford Companion to the Decorative Arts.  Harold Osborne, editor.  Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975.

A comprehensive dictionary of the decorative arts, including “major crafts” going back to prehistoric times such as leather-working, costume, metal-working, and glass-making; historically documented arts such as papermaking, clock-making, landscape gardening, and photography; and luxury crafts such as arms and armor, jewelry, toys, lace-making, and tapestry.  Includes articles on specific crafts, on particular periods or cultures, on techniques and materials, on schools and styles, and short biographical articles on outstanding craftsmen.

Reference NK30 O8


The Oxford Dictionary of Art, 3rd edition.  Ian Chilvers, editor.  Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2004.

Deals primarily with Western and Western-inspired painting, sculpture, printmaking, and drawing from classical Greece to the present.  Treatment of the modern period includes conceptual art, video art, and other fields of artistic activity now associated with the traditional fine arts.  Does not include architecture, design, photography, and applied arts.  About three-quarters of the articles are biographical, covering artists, patrons, collectors, dealers, administrators, and writers.  Other articles cover styles, movements, materials, and techniques. Includes a chronology that fits Western art into a wider historical context, and an index of galleries and museums.

Reference N31 O81 2004


The Penguin Dictionary of Decorative Arts, new edition.  John Fleming and Hugh Honor.  New York:  Viking Penguin, 1989.

Revised and expanded edition of “the best comprehensive dictionary of the primary forms of Western decorative arts.”  4,000+ entries on “furniture and furnishings” (movable objects other than paintings and sculpture) in Europe from the Middle Ages onward and in North America from the colonial period.  Selective articles on such non-Western arts as carpets and ceramics.  Includes definitions of stylistic and technical terms, accounts of materials and processes, biographies of leading craftsmen and designers, brief histories of notable factories and workshops.

Reference NK30 F44

Winslow Homer, Two Guides

Winslow Homer.  Two Guides, 1877.  Oil on canvas.  Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA.