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Which Style Guide Should I Use?

Writing an Art History Paper

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So, you're happy with the fantastic art history paper you've written, and the time has come to cite your sources. What now? Which style manual should you use to do this?

This question is not as simple as it may seem. In the US, High School teachers almost universally prefer that citations are formatted using MLA (Modern Language Association) style. However, the second one becomes a college undergraduate, art history professors have an overwhelming tendency to require use of the Chicago Manual of Style (abbreviated as CMS, and commonly referred to as "Chicago Style").

Rules of Thumb on Style:

  • Through 12th Grade > MLA Style > "Works Cited"
  • Freshman in college, going forward > Chicago Style > "Endnotes"

Of course, your mileage may vary. Some High School teachers may ask for a bibliography, while some professors may ask for a "Works Cited" page. Or an "Endnotes" page plus a much longer bibliography of recommended sources. Perhaps he or she prefers the word "References." If you have any doubt whatsoever, ask your instructor! Being clear on this is important: students can win or lose big points on citations, and your GPA is at stake.

Common to Both Style Guides

You probably know the drill here, but just in case:

  • Double-space all of your copy.
  • Indent new paragraphs.
  • The font face Times New Roman 12 pt. is your best bet.
  • Use the recommended top, bottom, and side margins. The pre-sets in MS Word > View > Print Layout are usually sufficient.
  • Don't justify the text in the body of your paper.
  • Endnotes and footnotes are indented, while bibliographic entries are outdented.

Using MLA Style in General

There are literally dozens of websites full of details on how to cite sources using the MLA Style, so we won't cover it here. Instead, please see an especially useful MLA Style bibliography tutorial at the About.com Homework Help site. It will show you, in pictures, how to format citations for books, scholarly journals, magazine and newspaper articles, personal interviews, material from collections or encyclopedias, and web sources.

Using MLA Style to Cite an Image

One source that isn't typically covered online is how to cite an image, and this situation will come up (possibly quite often) when writing an art history paper. The MLA format is fairly simple, just include:

  • The artist's name first
  • The title of the work -- underlined -- next, and
  • The owner of the work and the city where he/she/it is located.
  • In this format, the date of the work is optional unless otherwise instructed. If you wish to include the date (and why wouldn't you?), put the year in parentheses after the title/before the owner.

You'll use this basic information and plug it into the standard MLA conventions for the "Sources Cited" page and/or a bibliography.

Using Chicago Style in General

If you are already familiar with the MLA Style, you'll find that Chicago Style citations are a bit different. Most importantly, Chicago-Style is never denoted parenthetically within the text. You will use superscript Arabic (not Roman) numbers in order, and these numbers are placed at the ends of sentences after the punctuation.

Example in Text:

"In fact, the most successful portraits are those that do not concentrate on the sitter's personality first, but instead focus on getting the composition correct by drawing the human form as "a collection of shapes and values."7

Citation of Example as Endnote or Footnote:

     7. Helen South, The Everything Drawing Book
(Avon, Massachusetts: Adams Books, 2005), 211.

Citation of Example in Bibliography:

South, Helen. The Everything Drawing Book.
     Avon, Massachusetts: Adams Books, 2005.

Chicago Style has a sub-style named Turabian, which is simply Chicago style focused on research papers. You can view further examples of Chicago-Style citations by reading this illustrated Turabian Style Guide.

Using Chicago Style to Cite an Image

This format is much more detailed than that which we use for MLA Style image captions. If you are unsure about what, if anything, to leave out, err on the side of caution and include everything you've got.

Image captions are numbered consecutively, again using Arabic numbers rather than Roman numerals. These numbers do not have a period after them. The caption goes in this order:

  • Image number (remember, no period after this)
  • Artist (first name, last name), (<-- comma)
  • Title of work (make sure it is italicized), (<-- comma)
  • Date work was executed, (<-- comma)
  • Medium and support (e.g., "Oil on canvas"), (<-- comma)
  • Dimensions (h. x w. x d.) in inches or centimeters, depending on location. (<-- period)
  • Name of collection, (<-- comma)
  • City of collection (no end punctuation)
  • Finally, any copyright information for either the work itself or the photograph of the work -- and be sure to specify which goes with the copyright notice -- is listed last of all. This will be in parentheses, with no end punctuation.

The above is listed in a vertical column for illustrative purposes only. Here is an example of how the caption would actually look in your paper:

5 Robert Motherwell, Pancho Villa, Dead and Alive, 1943, Cut-and-pasted printed and painted papers, wood veneer, gouache, oil, and ink on board, 28 1/4 x 35 7/8 in. The Museum of Modern Art, New York (work © Dedalus Foundation, Inc./Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY)

In Sum

Congratulations! You now have the basic tools needed to cite sources for your art history paper, including those all-important image captions. As you've seen, knowing which style guide to use is three-quarters of the battle already won. Good luck with your paper, and always remember: if you have any questions don't be shy. Ask your instructor!

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