Public Art at UNM: Writing and Research

Describes some of the iconic public art on the UNM campus


This Public Art guide is in need of an update and a new guide is in the works. The current guide omits discussions about the public art on campus, including the Three Peoples murals in the Zimmerman Library, and omits other public art on campus. You may find images of UNM public art at New Mexico Digital Collections

Public Art

Public art refers to works of art in any media that has been planned and executed with the specific intention of being sited or staged in the public domain, accessible to all. It can be found in outdoor public spaces or within public buildings. Public art is usually, but not always, paid for with public, government funds.  UNM is fortunate to have a wonderful collection of public art. This guide will provide an introduction to writing about art and the process of conducting research on public art.  It will also introduce you to some of the public art on campus.

Writing About Art: How to Analyze a Work of Art

All too often students believe that in order to write about a work of public art it is essential to have biographical information about a particular artist or a book or article on their specific artwork.  This is certainly NOT the case.  While it is nice to have some biographical information about the artist, artworks can be analyzed in many ways. 

Formal Analysis  Consider the artist's use of the formal elements relevant to your work of art.  The formal elements are line, light & value, color, texture & pattern, shape & mass (or volume), and time & motion.  For example, how does the artist use line?  What types of line are used: actual lines, implied lines, contour lines?  Does the use of implied line lead your eye through the composition?  Does line give a sense of movement of emphasis?
Compositional Analysis Think about how the artist uses the principles of composition in your artwork.  These principles include balance, rhythm, proportion & scale, emphasis, and unity & variety.  Thiking about emphasis, for example: When you gaze at your artwork, does your eye always seem to end up in the same place or places?  If so, why?  Is it due to the artist's use of cerain formal elements like line, light, or color?

Other Types of Analysis  There are many other ways to analyze a work of art.  These can include how it reflects the society that produced it, how it relates to history, how people relate to the work, or how it works with its physical environment. Your personal interpretation of an artwork may also be included in your analysis.

The library has many resources that contain information on the anaylsis of art. Using the library catalog, try SUBJECT searches using terms like Art--Textbooks and Art Criticism- Authorship. Two popular sources include Sylvan Barnet's A Short Guide to Writing About Art and Henry Sayre's Writing About Art.

Conducting Research on UNM's Public Art

Conducting research on the public art at UNM can be challenging; you may not be able to locate a book or journal article on a particular artist or artwork.  Some of our public art is by artists who are well researched, having books and articles written about them.  Many of our works of public art are by artists who are yet to be studied and finding information on them can be difficult.  Here are a few research tips:

Wherever you search for information, you are more likely to find information on the artist, rather than the individual artwork.  You can apply information about the artist and their style to UNM's example of their work.  Try searching by the artist's name, e.g., "Luis Jimenez," rather than the title of an artwork.  (The quotes around the name will help you in many searches.

8 Easy Steps: The UNM Public Art Research Process

1.  Many contemporary artists have their own web sites which contain information about the artist and their work; try a Google search. Try searching by the artist's name, e.g. "Bob Haozous" (using quotes). This search may produce a lot of results, one of which may be the artist's personal page.  Be aware that information found on the internet should be critically evaluated to determine if it is appropriate for your research.

2.  Google Scholar provides an internet search of scholarly literature across many disciplines and sources, including theses, books, abstracts and articles.

3.  The Smithsonian Archives of American Art contains many interviews and other information about American artists.

4.  Try our online catalog; search with the artist's name.  This may lead you to books, exhibition catalogs, or videos relating to the artist.

5.  For journal articles, try the Quick Search on the University Libraries home page.  This searches many databases that are good for art research including, but not limited to, Art Full Text, Art Index Retrospective, and Academic Search Complete.  (Please note that a UNM NetID is required for remote access to these databases.)

6.  Newspapers can be helpful in your research, especially for finding local information.  For local artists, try New Mexico Newspapers and New Mexico Newstand databases which include coverage of papers like the Albuquerque Journal and the Santa Fe New Mexican.  To see a list of all of our newspaper databases, go to the University Libraries home page, use the Databases- "by Type" drop-down menu and select "Newspapers."   (Again, a UNM NetID is required for remote access to these databases.)

7.  Think very local. You can search current and past issues of the Daily Lobo in the online archiveSearch UNM is another good site for information at UNM, searching the UNM Depository, Campus News, UNM Today, etc.

8.  For more information and research help contact our Ask a Librarian.