Drama 111 Course Guide: Introduction to the Principles of Design
Reference images are crucial to theatrical design. You will want to see both historical and theatrical images.
When you find an image, it is important to look at where it came from. Why was it created, when and by whom? If this information is not provided, you do not know whether the image is authentic or not, so its usefulness is severely limited.
Photographs and physical objects are primary sources. This means that they provide direct evidence of the time period in question and are not mediated by another person.
Unfortunately, as you move backward through history, primary sources become more difficult to find. You may, at some point, need to look at secondary sources, that is, evidence interpreted by another person. This includes paintings and drawings. They can provide information about what things may have looked like, but remember that the artist's agenda is not the same as yours and he or she may distort things for effect or even make mistakes.
Looking at secondary sources is fine, but try to back them up with primary sources. If this is not possible, look at as many different secondary sources as you can.
Where to Look
- ARTStor is a digital image database covering paintings, sculpture and three-dimensional objects, including clothing and furniture. Use the Advanced Search to narrow your search by location, time period, or type of object.
- Art Museum Image Gallery
- A database of images from art galleries. Like ARTStor, searches can be restricted by time period or item type.
- NYPL Image Gallery
- Free access to over 700,000 digitized images of all types from NYPL's collection
Queens College Art Library Image Collection
The Art Library on Level Six holds a large collection of images of diverse subjects. This collection is located near the Art Reference section.
Images in this collection are organized by subject.
You can search their titles in CUNY+, but the best way to find an interesting image is to come up to the Art Library and browse.
Books, too, are a good source of images. See the information below about book searches.
Note that if a book is illustrated, its record in CUNY+ will include the abbreviation ill.
Finding Background Information
Reference works can help you understand the context informing your work. Questions about aesthetic movements, particular theatrical strategies such as masks, or important individuals can often be answered with this sort of resource.
The bibliographies of reference works are very useful. You can use them to find books and articles that provide further information.
Reference Works to Start With:
- Gale Virtual Reference Library
- Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion (GT507 .E53 2005)
- Greenwood Encyclopedia of Daily Life (GT31 .G74 2004)
- Oxford Encyclopedia of Theatre & Performance (PN2035 .O94 2003)
- Penguin Dictionary of Decorative Arts (TT857 .F54 1989)
All these works (and many more) are located in the reference collection on Level 3 of the library.
Art and design related reference works are in the reference area of the Art Library on Level 6. You may want to start with:
- The Abrams Guide to Period Styles for Interiors (NK1860 .G87 2005)
- Encyclopedia of Furniture (NK 2205 .A7 1965)
- The Grove Encyclopedia of Decorative Arts (NK 28 .G76 2006)
- A Survey of Historic Costume (GT 580 .T67 1989) (also available in Level 4 stacks)
You may notice that many of the works I've referenced above are not located near each other on the shelves. Although we use the Library of Congress classification scheme, which attempts to group books on the same topic near each other, books that may be relevant to theatrical design are scattered throughout the library.
This is because theatre is concerned with many different aspects of life. The three call numbers above will take you to parts of the library concerned with manners and customs, literature, and handicrafts. You may also find yourself interested in history, architecture and so forth. So, while it is a good idea to check the shelf near any good books you find, you may need to look in more than one place.
Books often include both images and textual information on a subject, so they can be useful both for seeing what something looks like and understanding how it was used.
CUNY+ is the library's online catalog. It allows you to search for books, images, and journals (but not articles).
A good strategy is to start with a general keyword search. If you were interested in masks, for instance, you might use Masks as a keyword.
Some of your results would have to do with theatrical or cultural masks, others with the term “mask” as it is used in technology, and others that include the word “mask” in a figurative sense.
However, if you clicked on one of the relevant results, you would find a list of subject headings that tell you what the book is about, and if you clicked on one of those subject headings, you would find more about the same topic.
You can also begin your search with subject headings. Here is a partial list of subject headings that may be useful to you:
- Architecture, Domestic -- England
- Costume -- History
- Decoration and ornament
- Decorative Arts
- Furniture -- History
- Interior Decoration
- Stage-setting and scenery
- Stage lighting
To search these subject headings, select Subject begins with as you are searching the catalog. This will give you a list of subject related to this one in alphabetical order.
Note that these are only examples to give you some idea of what sorts of words are often subject headings.
Words that come after the dashes often have many possible substitutes. So, Architecture, Domestic -- England is a subject heading, but you can also plug in other countries if you wish.
Since books in the library are organized by topic, according to the Library of Congress classification scheme, you may just want to go up into the stacks and see what's there. Here are some call ranges you may want to try:
- GT 500 – 2370 Costume. Dress. Fashion. (Levels 4 & 6)
- NA 4100 – 8480 Architecture: Special classes of buildings (Level 6)
- NK 1 – 9990 Decorative Arts (Level 6)
- PN 2085 – 2091 The Stage and Accessories (Levels 5 & 6)
- TT 387 – 410 Soft home furnishings (Levels 5 & 6)
- TT 490 – 695 Clothing manufacture. Dressmaking. Tailoring. (Levels 5 & 6)
History books are kept under D, but you will certainly want to narrow that range down to something more specific before you begin browsing.
Notice that these are far from the only call ranges that you may find relevant! Because theatre can deal with any subject matter, almost any call range could hold books that might be relevant to one production or another.