Wikipedia:Manual of Style/Visual arts

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This page sets out some guidance on special issues commonly encountered in writing about the visual arts, and has been developed by members of WikiProject Visual arts. It should be read in conjunction with the Wikipedia Manual of Style. Queries can be raised at the discussion pages here or at the Visual Arts Project.

Helpful Wikipedia links[edit]

Text issues[edit]

Using infoboxes and templates[edit]

There are dedicated infoboxes and some templates for Visual arts articles at Wikipedia:WikiProject Visual arts#Templates, in addition to the standard biography infoboxes and national/cultural templates. There may be a conflict for space between the need to illustrate visual arts articles and the use of infoboxes. This is decided on a case-by-case basis.

Templates at the bottom of the page are usually preferable to those at the side, where they may make it difficult to incorporate proper illustration of a VA article. If so, they are likely to be removed.

Information in an infobox contains basic introductory facts from the article. If something is not substantiated in the article, or would involve over-simplification, it should not be included in the infobox. An alternative to an infobox is to use a normal picture with caption.

Lead section[edit]

In general it is best and safest to use "artist" in the lead of a biography; very many artists were not just painters (many articles are currently defective in this respect). If the artist did significant work in several media, that should be indicated, as, for example:

Edgar Degas (19 July 1834 – 27 September 1917), born Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas (French pronunciation: ​[ilɛʀ ʒɛʁmɛ̃ ɛdɡɑʀ dœˈɡɑ]), was a French artist, who worked in painting, sculpture, printmaking and drawing.

The lead section in articles on works of art should give at least the following information, in roughly this order: Name(s)/title(s) of work, artist, date, type of work and materials, subject, nation or city of origin, present location. A reference to the style, school or movement it or the artist belongs to is usually appropriate, unless the artist is very well known; even then many editors will play safe and say, for example: "by the Italian Renaissance artist Michelangelo". If there is a quotation from a reliable source assessing its general quality or significance, that can be added, but avoid unreferenced assertions of this sort, which are often challenged, even if they are in fact reasonable. An indication of its place in the artist's development, or a larger art historical movement, may be appropriate. Per WP:LEAD the rest of the section should generally summarize, at least for longer articles, the material covered in the other sections, especially if "unexpected" – if the object is widely considered to be a fake, like the Getty kouros, do not save this information for a later section. This is often called the "no surprises" principle – after reading the lead, there should be no major surprises in the rest of the article.

Capitalization and art movements[edit]

Capitalization of art movements and art style names is a complex issue. The College Art Association style guide for Art Bulletin says (or, it seems, used to say):

In general, sharply delimited period titles are capitalized, whereas large periods and terms applicable to several periods are not: e.g., Archaic, Baroque, Early and High Renaissance, Early Christian, Gothic, Greek Classicism of the fifth century (otherwise, classicism), Imperial, Impressionism, Islamic, Mannerist, Middle Ages, Modernism, Neoclassicism for the late-eighteenth-century movement (otherwise, neoclassicism), Post-Impressionism, Pre-Columbian, Rococo, Roman, Romanesque, Romantic period, Xth Dynasty, antique, antiquity, classicism (see above), medieval, modern, neoclassicism (see above), postmodern, prehistoric, quattrocento.

In passing references to details of style, it may be appropriate to use lower-case terms e.g.: baroque, gothic, mannerist, modernist—but always Renaissance, Impressionist, Middle Ages.

A style guide at zeal.com suggests using a dictionary to determine capitalization. However, dictionaries vary on art movement/style capitalization. (See User:Sparkit/capitalization.) The Wikipedia Manual of Style does not touch on art movements and styles in particular, but implies that Wikipedia style is to use lower case. Bringing us back again to using a dictionary. Thus, the question of what to do when dictionaries do not agree with one another may remain.

See Netherlandish for the distinction between this and "Dutch" or "Flemish" in art.

Lists of works[edit]

Lists of works should be used cautiously; they are really only appropriate for major artists with a small oeuvre, like Leonardo da Vinci or Giorgione. Longer ones are best moved to separate articles like List of works by Caspar David Friedrich. If compiled from old sources like EB 1911, there are likely to be inaccuracies as (a) many works in private collections will have been sold and (b) some in museums will have been re-attributed. A short section on notable works is better, although care must be taken to give a worldwide view, not just covering works in the anglosphere.

Articles to write[edit]

There is a need for more articles on non-Western historic art, and on applied or decorative art from all times and places, where coverage is generally very poor at present.

Generally, very short articles (say less than 200 words of main text) on individual works or art are to be avoided, as the information can be included in the main article on the artist, or incorporated with other similar short pieces in a dedicated article, such as Portraits by Vincent van Gogh.

When there is sufficient notability and information to merit an article on an individual work of art, all pertinent facts as specified in Image captions (below) should be included, as well as relevant material covering the content, iconography, style, significance in the artist's oeuvre and provenance.

Shorter articles on artists (i.e. a stub) are acceptable, provided the subject meets the notability guidelines, and the article meets our standard of verification, with a sufficient number of independent reliable secondary sources (see sources below).

Article titles[edit]

Biographies[edit]

If a biography needs disambiguating then John Smith (artist) is usually the best choice, as opposed to e.g. John Smith (painter) (see Lead section above). For other people John Smith (potter) or "designer", "art historian", "silversmith" may be appropriate. For movements, techniques and the like add (art) or a more specific term such as (sculpture) if this is appropriate.

Works of art[edit]

For articles on individual works of art:

  • The title of a work of art is italicised in text, as well as the article title itself (use {{Italic title}}). Other artworks may have names (unitalicised) rather than titles, a fine distinction. These include illuminated manuscripts (except where they are the unique manuscript of a work whose title is the name for the manuscript) and other objects that are of some practical use, or archaeological artefacts, which are not italicised in any context: Royal Gold Cup, Sedgeford Torc etc. For a title with no owner's name or location in it to be italicised, it has to be plausible to some degree that the creator would have considered the name we know an object by as its title.
  • If the title is not very specific, or refers to a common subject, add the surname of the artist in brackets afterwards, e.g. Reading the Letter (Picasso). It is generally better to disambiguate by the artist's name than by medium, as there may be other paintings or sculptures of the same name by other artists. If the artist painted several works with the same, or very similar, titles, add the location of the work if it is in a public collection. For example, Annunciation (van Eyck, Washington), as van Eyck painted several Annunciations. A title such as Madonna and Child (Raphael) is of little use (see Category:Raphael Madonnas). The names of less well-known artists may not be suitable disambiguation terms.
  • Avoid the construction "X's Y" (e.g. Botticelli's Birth of Venus). It only works in a small minority of cases, such as Dürer's Rhinoceros, where the work is very well known by that title and the alternative (The Rhinoceros (Dürer)) is considered too far from common usage.
  • Where there are several variant titles, preference is usually given to the predominant one used by art historians writing in English, and if this is not clear, the English title used by the owning museum. Few old master paintings had specific titles when they were painted.
  • Objects such as excavated artifacts or illuminated manuscripts usually known by a name combining a previous or current owner, location, or place of discovery, followed by the type of object, should normally be treated as proper names for the object, and all words capitalized, but not italicised, as these are names not titles. Examples: Rosetta Stone, Cloisters Cross, Batllo Crucifix, Berlin Gold Hat. If in doubt, the name used by the owning museum is persuasive, although the name used in most commonly in recent scholarly references is the ultimate criterion; there are odd variations - both Berlin Gold Hat and Mold gold cape seem the best established capitalizations.
  • Set up redirects for variant titles, such as the original language title for modern works or variant translations. Often a redirect with or without an initial "The" is likely to be useful.
  • Avoid "Portrait of Fred Foo" titles, if the individual is named – just use "Fred Foo", with disambiguation as necessary, even if the museum uses "Portrait". But titles such "Portrait of a Man" are all right to use. There are exceptions, especially modern works where the title is given by the artist, and others such as the Arnolfini Portrait.
  • Many works have names by which they were well-known, but which are now falling out of use, as the museums who now own most tend not to use the former name. The Rokeby Venus is still sufficiently well known by that name to justify using it for the title, even though the National Gallery, London, uses the title The Toilet of Venus ("Rokeby Venus"). But in the same museum, a work formerly known as the Burlington House Cartoon is now called The Virgin and Child with St Anne and St John the Baptist. The institution's preferred name for the work is now more familiar than the older one, and is therefore used as the article title. In cases such as this the older title should be set up as a redirect and mentioned as a variant, but not used for the article title.
  • Foreign language titles are generally only to be used if they are used by most art historians or critics writing in English – e.g. Las Meninas or Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. In that case they should be used in the form used by most art historians writing in English, regardless of whether this is actually correct by the standards of the other language. It is not necessary to give the original language version of titles of standard religious scenes or portraits, but for other titles this may be desirable, for example:

The Third of May 1808 (in Spanish El tres de mayo de 1808 en Madrid; Los fusilamientos de la montaña del Príncipe Pío [1] or Los fusilamientos del tres de mayo) is a painting completed in 1814 by the Spanish master Francisco Goya.

  1. ^ Prado, p. 141: "The third of May 1808 in Madrid; the shootings on Prince Pio hill".

Manuscripts[edit]

These are covered at Wikipedia:Naming conventions (manuscripts)

Describing works[edit]

Museums and collections[edit]

It can be helpful to add the owner of works to texts or captions of works referred to, but is not necessary, except for articles about the specific work. If the owner is not included in the information in the picture file, and is known, it should be added there.

For works belonging to permanent public collections, avoid "... currently resides in", "is currently in the Louvre", "is on display at", "hangs in", "is located in", "is in the collection of", and similar phrases. Just give the name of the collection, "Metropolitan Museum", or say "is in the Louvre", "is owned by", "now in" or "belongs to". Locating in a "private collection" is fine but any specific private ownership needs a recent reference (in particular do not trust old sources like the 1911 Britannica). Once in museums, most works remain there, but not necessarily on display at any particular moment. "Currently" is fine if the work is known to be likely to move for some reason, such as belonging to another institution, although we do not need to reflect loans to exhibitions etc. Use "in the Royal Collection" rather than "at Windsor Castle" or another location, as that is the appropriate link and, for example, most of the works that were at Hampton Court Palace for decades were moved to Windsor a couple of years ago, while their permanent home was being decided on.

Note on Berlin collections: The Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (Berlin State Museums), often just "Staatliche Museen" or "SMB" on their logo, is not a location but the legal and administrative body that administers at least seventeen museums in Berlin, listed at that article. During the division of the city the Western body was known as the "Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation" (German: Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz), which still sits above the Staatliche Museen as a parent body. These names are often credited as the owner or copyright holder for objects or pictures in art books. Now that the post-unification rearrangement of the Berlin museums is effectively complete, where a specific museum for an object is known, that should be used. So old master paintings are normally in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, the Nefertiti Bust is in the Neues Museum, and so on. But where a location is not known, the object should be described as owned by or held by the Staatliche Museen. Western antiquities can also be described as belonging to the Antikensammlung Berlin ("Berlin Antiquities Collection"), a traditional umbrella term for this collection, now divided between several institutions.

Dates[edit]

Avoid "an 1876 painting", use a "painting of 1876" or "his nude Jimbo Wales (1876)" etc.; "from 1876" is best avoided, except in a discussion of a chronological development of style or similar passage. This partly a matter of US/UK style: "an 1876 painting" is more acceptable in US English, but will rarely be found in American academic writing. For a painting that was completed over more than one year, either the range of years, or the year of completion should normally be given, or "completed in 1512", "commissioned in 1623", "begun in 1845" etc.

Measurements[edit]

Measurements should always be given for a work that is the article subject, but are not usually needed in captions (see that section), unless there is a particular point being made, or the size of the object might be thought to be radically different from the real size. Always give measurements in the order: height, width, & depth/diameter etc. if appropriate. Centimetres (very rarely millimetres) are now standard in academic art history, even in the US (though not always in museum captions), but ideally convert by template, as the MOS requires. Measurements are normally at the maximal place, but sometimes an explanation of where the measurement was taken is given in the source, which may need to be repeated in the article. Very full measurements of a painting may give the "visible area" of the framed work, the "painted area", often not exactly rectangular, and the measurements to the edge of the stretcher frame underneath a canvas.

Medium[edit]

Avoid "an oil-on-canvas painting" – it is "an oil painting on canvas" (unless it is actually a panel painting, etc.)

Right and left[edit]

See proper right for ways of unambiguously describing right and left in images.

Prints[edit]

Avoid "copper engraving" etc. (often found in pre-1900 material, or that half-translated from German and other languages where the term remains current)  – just use engraving. Older sources (such as the 1911 EB) may use "wood-engraving" as a term for woodcuts (rather than true wood engravings, only invented in the late 18th century), which is not acceptable now. Original prints, or reproductive ones of before about 1800 could be linked to old master print or popular print (the latter not date-limited), if the technique, such as engraving, etching, linocut etc. is not known. Descriptions of print techniques on Commons descriptions should be treated with great caution; many if not most are inaccurate. "Engraving" is often treated as a generic term for all prints, which is to be avoided. See printmaking for a summary of the techniques, but just use "print" if the actual technique is unknown.

Using images of art[edit]

Basic formatting and size[edit]

The basic formatting code for an image is:

[[Image:Name of image.jpg|thumb|Name of artist. Name of artwork.]]

"Thumb" has four effects:

  1. It allows the caption to display
  2. Default position is on the right of the page (specifying "right" is therefore redundant)
  3. Default size is 220 pixels wide
  4. If registered users have changed the thumb size in their preference settings (anything up to 300 pixels wide) then the image will appear for them at their selected size.

Most images will be left at this default size and not have a "forced" image size. Specifying "225px", for example, means all users are forced to see the image at that size, as it over-rides their preference setting. Another reason for not forcing large image sizes, is that the result can be ugly on some, particularly low res, screen settings. It is therefore a sound practice to look at a page on different screen settings.

There are exceptions to this, when an image size is specified. This might be because there is a lot of detail, or because it is the lead image on the page. In such cases, 300px is a good size to consider, as anything less will have the reverse effect to enlargement for users who have their preference setting at the maximum 300 px.

There are some other options which can be put into the basic image coding:

[[Image:Name of image.jpg|thumb|upright|left|Name of artist. Name of artwork.]]

"Left" positions the image on the left of the page. The default sets the width at 180 pixels, which is fine for images, which are wider than they are tall. Where the reverse is the case, "upright" compensates for this. Even so, some very narrow images, may need a forced smaller size.

Image captions[edit]

The minimum information that needs to be included is:

  • Artist name – linked for at least his/her first caption, except where the article is a biographical one about the artist. The name should not be in bold text.
  • Title of work in italics, – wikilinked if there is an article on the work. This may not apply to older works where there is no original title, and the subject is obvious, such as in a still-life. Include title of the work in English whenever possible, including the title in its original language is unnecessary unless there is no English translation available.

Extra information which can be included:

  • Date of work—usually date completed if it took more than one year,
  • Medium and support, especially if not oil on canvas,
  • Size—particularly helpful for unusually large or small works. There is not usually room to do this in both inches and centimetres, as the MoS prefers. Always put height before width. If they are known, and are not on the image file, please add there, whether or not the caption or article text is giving them.
  • Collection or whereabouts (optional, as should be on image data), linked in most cases.

Note: some editors prefer "Title, Artist" to the other way round. This should be consistent within an article. A short explanatory caption is often desirable, showing why the picture has been included, if necessary at the expense of some of the more technical information. Bear in mind image size preferences when writing long captions – a long caption may look good at 300px, but not at 180px. If any of the above is known, but is not included in the image file details, then it should be added there.

Placing[edit]

In general, portraits and other strongly directional works should face into the page. Remember the issues described in the "size" section above when placing images; at some settings images may either create large white spaces or overlap at left and right, leaving a narrow strip of text in the centre.

It will often be better to place a work by the artist at the top of a biography; this is especially the case for imaginary portraits of early artists, or photographs of more recent ones.

Available templates[edit]

Too many pictures, too little text?[edit]

Solutions:

a) Write some more text.
b) Use a gallery
c) Link to specific works, either by a piped link in the text, or from a footnote. This is especially useful as the links can go to Commons or the web in general, although generally web links should be in the notes.

Try to avoid just stringing images down the side opposite white space (although some white space may occasionally be necessary at the end of a short article, depending on screen size and file settings).

Galleries[edit]

Articles which are galleries (i.e. a page of pictures) were once common, but are largely deprecated, being either deleted or having their contents moved to the Wikimedia Commons, which is an image repository for the use of all the different language Wikipedias.

Galleries are often necessary within the body of a VA article. These galleries should relate clearly to the text, be proportionate to it and provide adequate information in the captions. Galleries are important, not just for decoration, but to reinforce and amplify the meaning of the article and to demonstrate meaning and nuance, which cannot be made by words alone.

A Wikipedia article gallery should not just replicate a Commons gallery for the sake of it, but needs to use the images with editorial judgement, as with the text, with the validity of inclusion of each image considered. See WP:IG for the policy from the Wikipedia Manual of Style.

A particular image may be better used as a stand-alone one in the body of the text, because:

  • It is an outstanding example of work
  • It is specifically referred to in the text
  • It demonstrates an aspect (e.g. a particular period or style feature) referred to in the text: make this clear in the image caption.

Small galleries can be inserted in the body of the text: this is useful for general topics, such as Western painting. In a single artist biography, it may be more appropriate to include one gallery at the end of the article, such as in Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Claude Monet has two galleries within the text, one for earlier and one for later works. Self-portrait has both section galleries and a general gallery at the end. Mostly a gallery will be arranged chronologically.

There are options in formatting galleries which make them appear wider, or alter the number of images in a row, but these can cause visibility problems with different screen resolutions and should normally be avoided.

Image rationales[edit]

Rationales should be added to the file for all Fair Use images used, detailing the reasons why the image is needed for each article in which it appears.

Uploading[edit]

Where possible upload to Commons, and remember to categorise as thoroughly as possible (not always easy there – look at comparable images and see what categories they are in). Images available for Fair Use only cannot be uploaded there however, which affects many 20th century images, and those of three-dimensional objects.

  • Before you upload an image of art, know the following:
    • The source of the image. Usually the URL from which you downloaded it.
    • Who is the artist(s)?
    • The name of the piece?
    • When was the piece completed?
    • What are its dimensions?
    • What is the medium (oil and canvas/marble/mixed media ...)?
    • Where is it displayed?
    • Copyright status – Is it copyrighted? By whom? If it is copyrighted and not by yourself, prepare a fair use statement.
  • Upload the image.
    • Include all of the above information when uploading or add it to the image page after you've uploaded the file.
    • Using the {{Image information art}} template for the above information formats the data easily.
  • Add the image to an article.
  • Add {{commonscat}}, or {{commons}} in the External links section to provide a link to the commons gallery or article.

Image resources[edit]

  • Commons – very large, rather chaotic, and with very many washed-out old scans (from out-of-copyright books). Everything on Commons can be used without further worries.
  • Google Images – can be very good, especially for portraits etc.

Sources[edit]

References are essential[edit]

Many articles, particularly on contemporary artists, groups and "movements", are deleted for failing to demonstrate notability by providing viable references from secondary sources, independent of the subject—i.e. not just the subject's own website or postings on other web sites. There is a guide to Wikipedia format at Referencing for beginners.

Useful external resources[edit]

Unfortunately, 19th century books available online are likely to be seriously out of date, and often contain serious errors, so should generally be avoided.

External resources for writing about art[edit]

Issues to discuss[edit]

Notes[edit]

Example image and caption[edit]

Enter:

[[Image:Francisco de Goya y Lucientes 054.jpg|thumb|[[Francisco Goya]], 
''Charles IV of Spain and His Family''. 1800–1801. 
280 × 336 cm. Oil on canvas. [[Museo del Prado]], [[Madrid]].]]

Result:

Francisco Goya, Charles IV of Spain and His Family. 1800–1801. 280 × 336 cm. Oil on canvas. Museo del Prado, Madrid.