1. How to search for information about people

Table of contents:

1.1 About personal information

How to conduct research depends on what kind of information you are looking for and what you want to do with that information. Are you researching an artist? An art critic? Is the person alive or deceased? Are you trying to contact the person or learn about his or her life?
To research a person of interest at the MOMAT Art Library, as well as searching the person’s name in the MOMAT OPAC, it may also be useful to search using reference books.
Whether searching in the MOMAT OPAC or in a reference book, your search will be more efficient if you check the name of the person (including the kanji used for Japanese names/spelling for foreign names), active periods, and relevant genres beforehand.

1.2 About reference books

Put simply, reference books are the basic books used when conducting research. Reference books include dictionaries, encyclopedias (including specialized and biographical encyclopedias), handbooks, chronologies, yearbooks, bibliographies, indexes, and other materials. Among these types of reference books, bibliographies are useful for collecting materials.
Bibliographies are lists of books, periodicals, and other literary materials that are documented according to a defined set of rules. They are compiled and arranged based on information such as author, title, subject, and category. Bibliographies are a kind of literary catalogue.
They are essential when you want to learn what kind of information is contained in a work you need, where a document is kept or located, or when you want to search for additional literature that you require. Literature compiled in a bibliography are primary sources. Bibliographies are secondary sources, as they contain processed and compiled information from the primary sources. Recompilations of secondary sources such as bibliographies are tertiary sources. These are “bibliographies of bibliographies.”

Nihon shoshi no shoshi: a Japan bibliography of bibliographies is a compilation of individual bibliographies as well as bibliographies found within books or periodicals. This compilation is divided into Supervisory bibliographies, Subject bibliographies I and II, and Biographical bibliographies I. Subject bibliographies II and Biographical bibliographies I pertain to the fields of art, language, and literature. Subject bibliographies II and later are published by Nichigai Associates.

A further bibliography, Subject bibliographies III: social sciences edition, was published in 2006.

The following are also bibliographies of bibliographies.

National bibliographies and nationally sold bibliographies that are compiled with comprehensiveness of materials in mind are called primary bibliographies. In contrast, bibliographies created with some kind of selection standard or restriction on the scope of the subject matter are called secondary bibliographies. Selective bibliographies and subject bibliographies are secondary bibliographies. Biographical bibliographies are also secondary bibliographies.

Biographical bibliographies include individual bibliographies that cover one person and collective bibliographies that cover multiple people. Literature compiled in both individual bibliographies and collective bibliographies includes works written by the person(s) in question, as well as literature written about the person in question, such as biographies, critical biographies, essays, and studies.

Japanese sources on visual artists: a bibliography of bibliography: from Sesshu to Tabaimo, Van Eyck to Lee Bul is a selection of 2,600 individual biographical bibliographies compiled from art bibliographies written in Japanese.

Bibliography of Japanese artists, a biographical bibliography of 3,899 Japanese artists, is a compilation of documents published in Japan between the years of 1991 and 2010. Bibliography of foreign artists, a biographical bibliography of 1,886 artists from overseas, is a compilation of bibliographies published in Japan between the years of 1980 and 2010.

1.3 Finding readings

1.3.1 Authority files (check these before using an encyclopedia)

Use these materials to learn a person’s date of birth and death and how his or her name is written and read, or to identify a specific person. Names of foreigners may be written in multiple ways when converted from the original spellings intokana. Furthermore, you may be unable to identify a Japanese person if you do not know the correct kanji or reading of the person’s name. If you write a person’s name incorrectly, you will not be able to research the person efficiently.
The following are representative authority files that contain names of people. The union list of artist names can be searched online from the Getty Foundation website.

1.3.2 Sources for readings

Use this when you are unsure of the reading of someone’s full name.

This is a convenient dictionary for checking the original spellings of foreign names that have been transliterated into kana.

1.4 Finding topics

1.4.1 Encyclopedias

Encyclopedias are comprehensive collections of information on topics and events. For well-known topics, a regular encyclopedia may contain a more detailed entry than a specialized encyclopedia. When conducting research, it may be useful to look in a regular encyclopedia before checking a specialized encyclopedia. You may be able to obtain all the information you need from one encyclopedia, or at least get an overview of the person or topic that you are researching.

1.4.2 Specialized encyclopedias

Specialized encyclopedias contain entries related to specific topics.

1.4.3 Biographical dictionaries

Biographical dictionaries are reference books about people arranged in a specific order that use names of people as headwords for the biographical entries.
A personal directory (name book) refers to a list of people used for social purposes that contains information such as date of birth, birthplace, field of specialization, current occupation, associated organizations, and address. Personal directories only include people who are living at the time the record is made. Due to the fact that art-related dictionaries are compiled mainly by artists, there is a possibility that critics and curators are not mentioned. However, such people may be listed in general biographical dictionaries, so a thorough search may be necessary. The following materials are art-related biographical dictionaries.

Bijutsuka jinmei jiten published by Nichigai Associates is a biographical dictionary with entries categorized by field, from ancient to modern. It consists of three volumes, one for painters and printmakers, another for crafts, and another for architecture and sculpture.

Nihon jinbutsu jōhō taikei. 68, Shogahen. 8is a collection of reprints of important documents related to painters and calligraphers that were published between the Edo period and the Showa era.

The following are biographical dictionaries related to specific subjects such as photography, videos, prints, and comics.

The following are general biographical dictionaries.

The following are art-related foreign biographical dictionaries.

The following series from St. James Press may be useful for research about artists who are currently active. Editions other than those that are listed also exist.

The following are artist dictionaries compiled by Benezit in France. These useful dictionaries include biographies of the artists, lists of museums where major works are collected, bibliographies, and records of major auctions. The English version was published in 2006. The page layout is the same as the French version. The latest version is an online version included in Oxford Art Online.

Published in Germany, the following dictionary is the world’s largest artist dictionary, known by its popular name Thieme/Becker. This dictionary contains brief biographies and bibliographies.

The following dictionaries are popularly known as AKL and are currently being published as fully revised editions of Thieme/Becker. These dictionaries contain biographies, exhibition histories, bibliographies, and collections of works. In the MOMAT OPAC, the bibliographies are separated due to the large number of volumes.

A biographical dictionary containing information about art historians and museum directors in addition to artists is available online from the Museum Professionals and Academic Historians of Art. As for Japanese figures, Okakura Tenshin can be found in this source.

  • Dictionary of Art Historians (http://www.dictionaryofarthistorians.org/)

1.4.4 Yearbooks

a) Year book of Japanese art

Year book of Japanese Art is a basic tool for learning about art movements from each year. It covers art movements and major news, and more in the art world for each year. Content may vary somewhat depending on the year, but the main topics covered are the annual history of the art world, major exhibitions, art bibliographies, and the deceased. As information on the deceased and the contact information of artists and art-related persons of interest are listed, this source can be used to research personal information.
Year book of Japanese Art, which is currently published by the Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties Art Department, was originally published in 1936 by the art laboratory of the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts. Since the original issue, it has been published every year and contains overviews of art movements from January to December of the previous year. In the MOMAT OPAC, the bibliographies are separated due to the changes in the names of organizations and the large number of volumes.

Furthermore, Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties has made Year book of Japanese Art, articles published about the deceased available online. It covers all the obituaries published in Year book of Japanese Art.

  • Year book of Japanese Art, articles published about the deceased (http://www.tobunken.go.jp/materials/bukko)

b) Others

The Fine Arts Industry Data Book is a yearbook published by Seikatsu no Tomo. It contains basic profiles with information such as the artist’s career history, awards received, sales prices, and more. It also contains additional information about the art world, including information about galleries and museums nationwide, authenticators, and art critics.

Publication of the following yearbooks is currently suspended. They may be used to check information at the time of publication.

1.5 Searching for materials

1.5.1 Searching for works collections, writings, biographies, and more

a) Japanese

The following reference books are useful when searching for literature such as works collections, writings, biographies, and more.

The following materials are about artists involved in art movements since the 20th century listed in chronological order. It contains brief biographies for each artist and a color image of one of their representative works. A chronology, image list, and index of names can be found in the appendix at the end of the book. An English edition was published in 2019.

b) Foreign

We recommend the use of the catalogues raisonnés as they contain extensive information about foreign artists. Please refer to “b) Catalogues raisonnés” in “2.2.1 Books of artworks, catalogues raisonnés, exhibition catalogues

1.5.2 Using indexes

An index makes it easy to find where the information you need is written. There are indexes for names, terminology, topics, and more. The following indexes are useful for finding sources like encyclopedias that contain the information you seek.

The following online database allows you to select materials such as biographical dictionaries that contain name information for Japanese figures from Japanese books and journals collected by the National Diet Library. You can use keyphrases from bibliographies and records to search for information in the database.

  • [Japanese name information index database for Humanities (https://rnavi.ndl.go.jp/jinmei/)

Additionally, the following index can be useful for finding which books contain various chronological records and chronological tables.

1.5.3 Exhibition catalogues

In addition to images of exhibited works, exhibition catalogues (illustrated books) include artist biographies, exhibition histories, descriptions of works, and lists of bibliographies. They are also useful for researching people.

a) ALC

At the Art Library Consortium (ALC), you can cross search the collections of art libraries.

The following twelve institutions are ALC participants (as of December 2022): The Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura & Hayama; National Crafts Museum; The National Museum of Art, Osaka; The National Art Center, Tokyo; National Museum of Western Art; The MOMAT; Tokyo National Museum; Edo-Tokyo Museum; Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo; Tokyo Photographic Art Museum; Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum; and Yokohama Museum of Art; Yoshino Gypsum Art Foundation.

b) Bibliography of exhibition catalogues

The following is a bibliography of catalogues published in 2009. It includes 61,300 catalogues and illustrated books from exhibitions held in Japan during the 128 year-period from 1880 to 2007, collected by seven museums—MOMAT; Yokohama Museum of Art; National Museum of Western Art; Tokyo Photographic Art Museum; The National Art Center, Tokyo; Tokyo National Museum; and the Edo-Tokyo Museum.

For exhibition catalogues, refer to “3. How to find exhibition information”.

1.5.4 Magazine and newspaper articles

During exhibition periods, magazines and newspapers often publish articles and critiques of the artist and works. To find such newspaper articles, you can use reduced-size editions and databases from the newspaper companies.

This section contains tools that may be useful to you to search for art-related magazine articles. The following are tools for finding art-related magazine articles.

For a guide to finding magazine articles, refer to “4. How to find magazine information”.

1.5.5 Oral History

Transcripts of interviews with individuals involved in the field of art can be found at the Oral History Archives of Japanese Art website.

Oral History Archives of Japanese Art (http://www.oralarthistory.org/)

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