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Course: Civ 2021 Political Art: Finding your focus piece

Fours steps to finding your focus piece

Start by finding a few options for your focus artist and piece, then narrow down to the one you will research for this project. On this page, you'll find four steps to assist you in finding a good focus piece for your paper.

  1. Find an artist connected to your location and time period whose works have political themes. Explore various media: look at painting, sculpture, architecture, photography, etc.
  2. Get some options for your focus piece.
  3. Locate a copy of your focus piece.
  4. Explore if it is a good piece to focus on. Is there enough information about the piece and the artist? Does it reflect the political and historical context?


Step one - find a political artist and artwork

Emory DouglasGrove Art Online (also known as Oxford Art Online) 

Everyone should look in Grove Art (also called Oxford Art Online) to get information about the art of the era in your country.

The first thing you should do is look up your location. For example if you have 19th Century Spain, search Spain - you shouldn't add dates or anything else. Just Spain - that's it!

Grove may not specifically say someone was a political artist, so you will have to look for keywords that indicate artists or works are political. Look for words/phrases like: patriotic, independence, revolution, government-sponsored.

Don't forget, there might be more than one entry, and each entry will be divided into architecture, painting and graphic arts, and sculpture. Each of these sections will be divided by time period. Read all the relevant sections.

Except it's not always that simple:

Many of the full entries on countries are NOT the first search result. You want to make sure that you are looking at the entry from Grove Encyclopedia of Art. The entry should be long and include a table of contents on the left-hand side.   

For France, search "France, Republic of"

For Ireland, look at both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

While you must look at the entry for your country, a search in Grove with the name of your country + a keyword (eg. revolution, political, etc.) may get you some options!

Step two - get some options for your focus piece

Once you’ve noted some names of artists/patrons, you can narrow down to a focus piece. Try starting by: 

  • Search for the names you found in the above process in Grove Art and read for names of prominent works that would be affiliated with those women.
  • Artcyclopedia gives you links to the works of individual artists in museums and public art galleries. In addition, the number of works available will give you some indication of the importance of an artist.


Step three - finding a copy of your focus piece

You need to find an image to include with your topic proposal:

  • Google Images. There are many images available freely on the web, but make sure that the image is of your piece (often times images that are located near the name of the piece are not the actual piece).

  • ArtStor contains hundreds of thousands of high resolution images.

Step four - is this a good piece to focus on?

Find out a little about the artist

  • Was this person famous at the time they created the piece?
  • Have you heard of this person? If no, investigate whether they are still well-known?
  • Was this person known for things other than their art (i.e. their politics, their religious beliefs)

Investigate the piece‚Äč

  • Was this piece famous at the time it was created?
  • Is this a piece of art, architecture etc. that is still seen as significant?

Even if the artist and piece are not well-known, they can make a good focus piece. However, before you commit to it, it is worth doing some research to check if you can learn more about the artist and their work.