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How to Write a Bibliography for a Picture


Writing a bibliography for an online or offline image is simple once you understand how to properly format your references section. Typically, essays written for the arts and humanities will be in Modern Language Association (MLA) format, whereas essays in the social sciences will follow American Psychological Association (APA) format. Most science professors will prefer APA as well, though some don't have a preference. If you are uncertain which format is required, consult with your professor.

MLA Format: Works Cited

Your Works Cited section should appear on a page separate from the body of your essay. Title the page "Works Cited" in Plain Text, but keep all other information, including your name and the page number, as it is in your essay. Most of your settings, including one-inch margins and double-spacing, will remain the same. The only exception is the indentation. Format your references so that the first line is left-justified and all subsequent lines are indented by 1/2 inch. Separate each piece of information in the citation, such as the artist and the title, by a period and a single space.

MLA Format: Offline Image

If you are referencing a painting or photograph you saw in person, you'll need to cite the museum in which it is displayed. Likewise, if you came across the work in a publication, you'll need to cite the publication as well.

For images in a museum, list the artist's name, the title of the piece in italics, the year completed, the medium and the institution that displays the painting:

Van Gogh, Vincent. The Starry Night. 1889. Oil on canvas. Museum of Modern Art, New York.

For images included in printed sources, write the reference as listed above, followed by the source's title in italics, author or editor, publisher, the page featuring the image and the word "print" to indicate that the image was reproduced in the printed source:

Van Gogh, Vincent. The Starry Night. 1889. Oil on canvas. Museum of Modern Art, New York. Vincent van Gogh: The Starry Night.Thomson, Richard. New York: The Museum of Modern Art. Cover. Print.

MLA Format: Online Image

To cite an online image source, follow the same basic format for image citation. Follow this with the name of the website in italics, the word "web" and the date you retrieved the information by day, month and year. Note that as of 2009, the MLA no longer requires the url, as these tend to change every time a website undergoes an organizational change:

Van Gogh, Vincent. The Starry Night. 1889. Oil on canvas. Museum of Modern Art, New York. MoMA. Web. 23 July 2013.

APA Format: References

Your cited works should appear on their own page at the end of your essay. Title this page "References" in plain text. Retain the one-inch margins and double-spacing from the rest of your essay, but be sure to leave the first line of each reference left-justified and to indent all subsequent lines by 1/2 inch. While the APA doesn't have a set format for citing art, their blog provides instructions on how to properly cite images.

APA Format: Offline Image

The APA Style Blog recommends providing the basic information about the artwork, including the artist, the year it was completed in parentheses, the title of the work in italics, the medium in brackets, the city and, if applicable, state in which it is displayed and the museum. Note that APA requires brackets and parentheses where MLA does not.

Van Gogh, V. (1889). The Starry Night [Painting]. New York, NY: Museum of Modern Art.

If you found the work in a book, APA recommends simply citing the book in APA format:

Thomson, R. (2008). Vincent van Gogh: The Starry Night. New York, NY: Museum of Modern Art.

APA Format: Online Images

Unlike MLA format, APA format still requires that references contain the complete URL for online resources. To cite an image found in an online resource, omit the city and the name of the museum. Introduce the website itself with "Retrieved from:" and the complete URL. When possible, cite the institution's website. If the museum hasn't made the image available online, cite an online scholarly resource instead.

Van Gogh, V. (1889). The Starry Night [Painting]. Retrieved from: http://www.moma.org/collection/object.php?object_id=79802

About the Author

Since 2003, Momi Awana's writing has been featured in "The Hawaii Independent," "Tradewinds" and "Eternal Portraits." She served as a communications specialist at the Hawaii State Legislature and currently teaches writing classes at her library. Awana holds a Master of Arts in English from University of Hawaii, Mānoa.

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