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Creating a Bibliography

A woman’s hand with light skin turns a page in an open art catalogue in a domestic space.
Sonya Kelliher-Combs looks through a catalogue in her studio in Anchorage, Alaska, 2018. Photo by Reginald Eldgridge, Jr.

For an artist, a bibliography serves as a resource about you and your work that can be easily shared with curators, journalists, researchers, and others. It is simply a list of books, articles, or other resources that includes enough information for a reader to find and access them.”

Sharon Mizota

In Career Documentation for the Visual Artist: A Legacy Planning Workbook & Resource Guide, art writer, archivist, and metadata specialist Sharon Mizota outlines the steps for artists to create a bibliography. As Mizota notes, the bibliography establishes the notability of your work and career—that others have found it important enough to write about—and situates your work in a larger cultural conversation and context. In the early stages of your career, a bibliography can help demonstrate that your work is relevant and important; in the later stages, it can serve as a useful research tool, providing evidence of sustained interest and engagement with artistic ideas and issues over time.

Mizota explains what typically is included in an artist’s bibliography, how to organize and format it, and tips for maintaining your bibliography. The following list is excerpted from her chapter.

What Publications Should I Include?

Any published material about you or your work or written/created by you can be included in a bibliography. Examples include books, exhibition catalogues, reviews, journals, newspaper or magazine articles, blog posts, documentaries, news media, online videos, etc.

You may choose to leave things out. For example, if there are many articles written about your work, you may want to include only the most prominent or detailed. If there are reviews you would rather not circulate, you don’t have to include them. In such cases, it’s best to acknowledge these omissions by titling your bibliography “Selected Publications” or “Selected Bibliography.”

What Information Should I Include?

Your bibliography should include enough information about each item for the reader to be able to find the publication themselves. This information generally includes author, title, place of publication, publisher, and date of publication. For online resources, it may also include a URL and an access date. (As online content is sometimes taken down, it’s important to document when the online resource was last known to be available.)

How Should it Be Organized and Formatted?

If your bibliography is relatively short, you can organize it as a single list, ordered alphabetically by the author’s last name. However, if your bibliography is quite long and includes many different types of resources, you might consider breaking it into sections by resource type—books, articles, online media, etc.—and then ordering items alphabetically by the author’s last name within each section.

There are many systems for formatting bibliographic entries. Formatting refers to the order, type style (bold, italic, etc.), and punctuation for each piece of information about the publication. Best practice is to pick one system and use it consistently. This way, anyone reading your bibliography will have the same information, presented in the same format, for every entry.

Two of the most common guides for formatting bibliographic entries for art publications are The Chicago Manual of Style and the Modern Language Association Handbook. These style guides address almost every kind of published media and are too detailed to include here. Free, condensed guides to both, including online citation tools, can be found at the Purdue Online Writing Lab.

Graphic titled example of a publication entry. The bibliography listing labels each part: Bernstock, Judith E, Author, Joan Mitchell, Title, New York, Place of Publication, Hudson Hill Press, Publisher, 1988, year of Publication.
A sample bibliography listing, excerpted from Career Documentation for the Visual Artist, chapter 8.

How Do I Update and Maintain It?

Ideally, a bibliography should be updated whenever a new, relevant publication appears. However, if your work is much written about, this may not always be practical. It’s a good idea to at least make a note of new publications or to keep copies of them with their publication information in a single, centralized location, such as a folder, box, or computer directory. Then, schedule a regular time (monthly, quarterly, etc.) to go through the items and update your bibliography.

Mizota provides a worksheet that can be used as a basic template for your bibliography according to The Chicago Manual of Style, with examples of each of the most popular types of sources provided for reference. You can download the worksheet below or read the full overview of bibliographies in our free resource guide.

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Professional Practice