Visual Resources Collection
When searching for images, not only is your search only as good as your search terms, your search is also only as good as the data in the database/website your are searching! It's important to think carefully about your searches:
Don't limit your search to only one search term, BUT don't try too many terms at once.
Avoid unnecessary articles and punctuation! Search algorithms may treat these letters and symbols incorrectly!
Depending on what you are searching for, you might run into alternate spellings, alternate terms, and data in various languages. Abbreviations can also change your search results.
It's helpful to think about your searches in two ways:
Like an arrow: when you want something specific, you should use the most detailed search terms possible
Like a net: when you are not sure what search terms will be best or are not sure exactly what you want, you should start with broader search terms
Need help searching for images for your topic? Contact the VRC with any questions or problems!
Using Authorities for Better Search Terms
When you are not sure of all the possible spellings or terms for your search, it can be helpful to use the following authorities as resources:
Getty Vocabularies, including:
- The Art & Architecture Thesaurus (AAT): The AAT is a thesaurus containing generic terms, dates, relationships, sources, and notes for work types, roles, materials, styles, cultures, techniques, and other concepts related to art, architecture, and other cultural heritage
- The Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names (TGN): The TGN focuses on places relevant to art, architecture, and related disciplines, recording names, relationships, place types, dates, notes, and coordinates for current and historical cities, nations, empires, archaeological sites, lost settlements, and physical features
- The Union List of Artist Names (ULAN): The ULAN contains names, relationships, notes, sources, and biographical information for artists, architects, firms, studios, repositories, patrons, sitters, and other individuals and corporate bodies, both named and anonymous
(Alternate names for Frida Kahlo from the ULAN, accessed 5/7/2020)
Library of Congress (including):
- Library of Congress Linked Data Service: ID.LOC.GOV provides both interactive and machine access to commonly used ontologies, controlled vocabularies, and other lists for bibliographic description
- Thesaurus For Graphic Materials: The Thesaurus for Graphic Materials is a tool for indexing visual materials by subject and by genre/format
Oxford Art Online: Through a single gateway, users can access and cross-search Oxford’s acclaimed, regularly updated art reference works: the Grove Dictionary of Art and the Benezit Dictionary of Artists
VIAF: The Virtual International Authority File: The VIAF® (Virtual International Authority File) combines multiple name authority files into a single OCLC-hosted name authority service
For more background information on Art History topics, see this page on the Art History Guide.
Google Images Search Tips
While the VRC recommends searching Artstor and many of the other resources listed in this guide for more accurate search results, better image metadata, higher quality images, and more information about an image's rights, there are some great ways to drastically improve your Google Images searches:
- Use the Tools feature:
- Use the Advanced Image Search: