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Finding and Using Images: Getting Started

Use this guide to help you find images for your art history, studio art, and design courses. (Originally written by Heather Lowe of the Visual Resource Center.)

Deciding where to look

Finding images is easy. Finding the right image can be difficult. This guide will help you develop search and evaluation strategies that can make finding the perfect image a lot easier.

Deciding where to look

Where you look for an image will really affect the results you get. You probably wouldn’t want to go to Flickr to find an image of Picasso’s Guernica. And likewise, you wouldn’t go searching a museum’s collection for an image to use in your graphic design project. Asking the following two questions can help you determine where to look. The first will help you decide if you need to license the image, the second will help you decide the type of collection you should search.

Do I need this for educational, artistic, or commercial purposes?

  • Educational purposes. In many cases, using images in your school projects will be protected by fair use exemptions to copyright. Unless you are going to publish an image of another artists’ work, you should generally be able to use images of copyrighted material in your school research and presentations.
  • Artistic purposes. Using images in your own work is a much more complex issue. Fair use guidelines suggest that many reuses of copyrighted material in original, noncommercial work might be considered fair. You may want to take a closer look at information on artists and copyright in resources like The Business of Being an Artist, by Daniel Grant to decide whether you can use another’s image in the way you wish.
  • Commercial purposes. Any commercial reproduction of an image, even if you somewhat alter the image might be a copyright violation. If the image will play a large role in your design, you will most likely need to license the image. You’re also much more likely to be scrutinized by copyright holders and the legal system if your design is used commercially.

What is the general content of the image?

The type of image you’re looking for will also have a big impact on where you should look for it. For example, if you’re working on a painting and need a reference drawing of the human skeletal system, you might want to search a medical image resource rather than an art image resource.

If you’re looking for certain types of artwork (minimal, political, etc), you might want to find a gallery or museum that exhibits work in that category.

If you need a large, high resolution image for a graphic design project, your best bet may be the Creative Commons or a stock image database.

See the list of Image Resources in this guide, or try the Art Resources library guide for suggested databases.

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