A primary source is an original document or a record of a firsthand account of an historical event. Primary sources include original manuscripts, correspondence, diaries, memoires, photographs and film footage, statistics and legal records. Primary sources may also include drawings, posters, inscriptions on monuments or tombstones, and writings by observers.
This site gives more information on identifying primary sources: http://www.sccollege.edu/Library/Pages/primarysources.aspx
A primary source is one written during the lifetime of the artist, or a document concerning her or his life, such as a contract for a sculpture, a scientific treatise written during the artist’s lifetime to which he or she would have had access, or a letter written by or to him or her. Primary sources are particularly valuable for two reasons:
1) They give you a “feel” for the period—how did people write when your artist was living and what did they write about? What ideas were in circulation when your artist was living? AND
2) They are the raw sources of knowledge and facts from which all “secondary” information derives. To put it another way, whatever facts you read in a book on, for example, Mary Cassatt, will have their origin in a primary source.
Places to start looking:
• Look for mention of one in Janson, and then do a search on Webster’s library website.
• Look for mention of primary sources in general books or encyclopedia entries on the artist.
• Mine the bibliography of our textbook or other books you find on your artist. Many books have appendices of primary source documents.
• Brainstorm for things you might know of, or check textbooks or notes from other classes.
• Look for additional compilations of primary source material of which there are many. One example is the Prentice Hall series “Sources and Documents in the History of Art”, some of which are available in the Webster Library. On the catalogue website, do a keyword search for “sources AND art”. There may even be one on your artist only. Some of these are on reserve for other courses, but they are still available to you to borrow.
• Choose the artist or work you will research based on the availability of primary source material. E.g. choose an artist for whom there is a published volume of letters or who wrote a book, treatise, etc. her or himself.
• Check other suggestions in your notes from the library workshop.