catalog your work


Week 2

Amon Carter Museum Archives, Fort Worth, TX

Amon Carter Museum Archives, Fort Worth, TX


what to tackle first?

  • Existing work as you complete it. This is the "low hanging fruit" as it doesn't involve sorting through decades of work, or trying to remember the details for a particular piece - everything is fresh in your mind. Number - Shoot - Record!
  • Before starting a big sorting project: create a clean space for sorting and make sure you have a space to sort into. You should never take work out if you don't have a place to move it to. These spaces can be as simple as a clean table for sorting and one or two empty flat file drawers for sorting into.
  • If you work in multiple mediums, start with a medium that you have fewer works of.
  • Sort older work before recording. One plan of attack is to sort one type of work by decade, then by year, before recording each piece.
  • Supporting materials such as project proposals, artist statements, journals, sketchbooks, correspondence, personal photographs. These materials help provide context for your work.
Screen Shot 2018-02-19 at 1.05.01 PM.png

Diagram from Career Documentation for the Visual Artist: An Archive Planning Workbook and Resource Guide, Joan Mitchell Foundation, 2015.

Stage 3: Creating records

Things to consider when choosing a Record-Keeping system:

  • Is it something that you will use? Buying a fancy database doesn't do any good if you don't use it!
  • How easy and expensive is it to create multiple copies of your records for security purposes? Remember the 3-2-1 rule: 3 copies, in at least 2 different locations, 1 of which is not in the same building as your studio.
  • How expensive are the materials required for record-keeping? 

Handwritten, Word & excel documents or database?

Non-database options are perfectly OK for capturing basic information but become increasingly cumbersome the more information you collect. I strongly recommend using a database if it is at all financially and logistically possible.

Artwork record: What should be recorded?

  • Artist Name
  • Inventory Number
  • Title
  • Date
  • Medium
  • Size
  • Images
  • Location
  • Value/Price
  • Installation Instructions and/or Care
  • Exhibitions
  • People and Institutions
  • Notes

This may seem like a long list but consider what other information is not listed that might be helpful. Either make sure the system you use includes these extra fields or use the Notes section to capture it. Just remember to BE CONSISTENT - a little forethought on what you want to record will save you time once you start recording.

  • copyright, trademark, & other intellectual property records
  • Does size mean paper size? image size? framed size? or do you record all 3 if appropriate?
  • Is the piece mounted? matted? framed? 
  • What is the frame color?
  • Is the piece signed? and if so, where?
  • Does price mean wholesale? retail? unframed? framed?
  • What types of material were used?
  • Where was the piece created? was it during a residency or workshop? 

Exhibition record: what should be recorded?

  • Title
  • Dates - Opening, On View, Reception, Artwork Drop-off and Pick-up
  • Institution including physical address
  • Curator(s)
  • Juror(s)
  • Installation Images
  • Artwork Exhibited
  • Exhibition Materials including catalogs, flyers, posters, and other ephemera
  • Press
  • Notes

Contact record: what should be recorded?

Contacts cover a number of different types of people who are connected to your work - other artists, galleries, curators, jurors, dealers, collectors, and staff at supporting businesses. If you have gallery representation, speak with them about their policy on sharing contact information with you. 

  • Name - First and Last
  • Institution
  • Physical Address
  • Email
  • Website
  • Phone Number
  • Notes

supporting material: what should be recorded?

Supporting material provides historical context to your work. It is also useful to have copies of past projects and proposals when filling out current applications.

Supporting materials include:

  • Projects
  • Proposals
  • Grant and Residency applications, even if you aren't awarded them
  • Artist Statements
  • Awards
  • Press - exhibition reviews, interviews, 
  • Sketchbooks
  • Notebooks
  • Inspirational Materials - photographs, research for a body of work
  • Correspondence
  • Personal Photographs

What to record:

  • Name/Title
  • Type of Material
  • Date
  • Location
  • Individual/ Institution
  • Related Artwork
  • Exhibition
  • Notes

Stage 4: Connecting records

One of the biggest benefits of using a digital database is that the software connects the records for you.  

Getting help

Help doesn't have to mean you pay someone. The idea is to have a support system that helps you achieve your goals.

  • Exchange contact information with members of this class
  • Get a friends or family to help tackle larger projects
  • Have a cataloging buddy or group to share progress and frustrations with
  • Work with an intern or student volunteer - specific, short-term projects that ideally should provide a learning opportunity for the intern or student volunteer
  • Hire an artist's assistant
  • Hire a specialist

Sources for interns, student volunteers and artist's assistants:

  • Local universities with Art, Art History, and/or Conservation programs (CCA, Mills College, SFAI...)
  • Art centers such as Kala, that have a pool of residence
  • Post a help wanted ad in places like the Bay Area Art Grind and SF Art News

"You need someone who is knowledgeable about art, but also someone who is committed and has an interest in what the job entails. You have to work with the assistant even if it is a limited amount of time, and even though I hate to supervise other people, I think it is necessary to make sure that the work is being done in a way, that when it is finished, it makes sense to you."
— Freddy Rodriguez, CALL Career Documentation for the Visual Artist, emphasis mine

Photographing your work

Week 1