Why is artist research so difficult?

I love learning about new artists; new ways of doing things, what was going on culturally at the time, interesting personal lives etc. But recently I’ve realised that my enjoyment of artist research is built on many years of accumulating knowledge and that much of the vocabulary and contextual background that I take for granted is pretty niche. I think it is partly as a result of this gulf between a young person’s experience and the richness of a truly expansive understanding of an artist’s work that the subject of ‘artist research’ in art classrooms can be so challenging.

Artist research tips

To bring an understanding an artist across to students is certainly a difficult art in itself, and I have found that shortcuts are rarely helpful. However, a few approaches seem to be successful in engaging students and developing their confidence;

  1. Tell a story: by making a narrative and picking out the interesting elements of an artist’s life you can get them hooked – then they’ll be ready for more!
  2. Work on vocabulary: try and be specific and use accurate vocabulary where possible – young people love adding words to their repertoire when the meaning is broken down in a clear and accessible way.
  3. Try to avoid pastiche: this is a tricky one – and some people might disagree – but I find that getting students interested in the ideas or skills and then pushing them to use their own creativity to pursue that is more successful in the long run than asking them to do ‘their own version’ of another artists work. I guess it boils down to training them as artists right from the start and they respond well to that.
  4. Link to practical work: the most successful and interesting artist research supports and extends practical work – by making work themselves students seem to understand so much more of the creative process
  5. Develop research skills: be explicit about what is expected…
    • no copying and pasting from the internet
    • key information on the artist
    • student’s own opinions
    • taking care to be aware of the artwork as object (materials, scale, date of creation etc.)

Artist research guide

So, with point 5 in mind, I have put together a poster to have on hand to guide students through their artist research… Completing this reminded me that I am also in need of a word bank of some kind, so I’ll be getting on to that soon…

artist research handout

You can download the PDF from the felt-tip-pen resources shop by clicking on the image above.

I’ve listed a couple more artist research resources which may be helpful to you below. The first can be printed for display or smaller as a bookmark. Find the resource in the felt-tip-pen resource here.

Artist research steps

And the second is a powerpoint for a bit of ‘chalk and talk’… You can download this one by clicking here.

Hopefully these may be of some use. I’d love to hear your tips and tricks for improving the quality of your students’ artist analysis.



7 Replies to “Why is artist research so difficult?”

  1. […] You might also find my artist research poster / template useful: click here to check it out. […]

  2. […] I hope they are useful to you – perhaps for the odd cover lesson, extension task, or independent learning? Let me know what you think – I’d love suggestions for other artists… (you can find a general artist research template here) […]

  3. […] artist research template […]

  4. […] Artist research template […]

  5. […] you can find a free download resource on contemporary printmaker, Angie Lewin, here, which gives you an idea of the resource […]

  6. […] Some of the handouts I have put together to support students particularly with literacy in art can be found here and here. […]

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