Database Review: ArtStor


  • Description: ArtStor was originally founded by the Andrew Mellon Foundation to support the digitization of art objects for education and research.  It has grown considerably to encompass “approximately 300 collections composed of over 2.5 million images (and growing).”  It is primarily used by teachers as a source of images for classroom and online pedagogy, as well as by scholars for research activities.  An annual membership fee is charged to a host institution to allow its faculty to access the site; most images are limited to classroom or pedagogic use.  The site does have a collection of open-access images that can be used freely. A not-for-profit organization, Artstor is now a part of ITHAKA, which also operates JStor.
  • Overview: Search Options/Information on Digitization:  Search options in ArtStor include by collection or the source of the imagery  (at GMU, this includes GMU collections), personal and public collections, and “groups,” broken down by “institutional” (indicating particular art classes taught at GMU), and “ArtStor curated,” which includes usage categories like “AP Art History” and also broad subject areas (“Paintings”).   You can also search by broad categories of types of art or “Classifications,” (“Architecture and City Planning”; “Film, Audio, Video, and Digital Art”), “Geography” (countries and regions), and “Teaching Resources,” a grab bag of selected images by common teaching focusses, including individual artists, types of art, etc.

ArtStor also supports search by Keyword; Creative Commons Zero License; Public Collections (collections that are open for free usage); File Type; Wildcards and Punctuation; and File Type.

ArtStor provides only general information on the digitization of its contents, saying it provides “high-quality images for education and research.”  It notes that it provides “high-quality metadata from the collection catalogers, curators, institutions, and artists themselves.”  However, the term “high quality” is not defined in concrete terms for the overall collection.

  • Facts
    • Date range:  No specified date range on the site, but digitized items date back to prehistory to today.
    • Publisher: ITHAKA, a not-for-profit organization helping the academic community use digital technologies to preserve the scholarly record and to advance research and teaching in sustainable ways.
    • Publisher About page:
    • Object type: Digital files with metadata
    • Location of original materials:
    • Exportable image?: Yes, within the terms of usage that limit to use for educational purposes within the host institution.
    • Facsimile image?: Yes.
    • Full text searchable?: No.
    • Titles list links: Yes.
  • History / Provenance:
    • Original catalog?:  ArtStor was originated by the Mellon Foundation as a means of digitizing art images for use in arts education.  It was born as an online database.
    • Digitized from microfilm?:  Individual images come from various collections and each may have digitized from various sources, including microfilm.
    • Original sources:  See above; the sources digitized depend on the provenance of each collection.
  • Reviews: Although several articles discussing ArtStor and its features were located, most were 10 years old or older.  Because of the changing nature of both its features and the growth of its collections, these reviews have their limitations but still raise important issues.  The following are listed in reverse chronological order.
    • Slobuski, Teresa. Digital Image Databases: A Study from the Undergraduate Point of View. Art Documentation, Fall 2011, Vol. 30, No. 2 (Fall 2011): 49-55,  Author compares ArtStor with the commercial art database, Bridgeman Images.   While the reviewer found that ArtStor had more images, Bridgeman had better search capabilities for the content of images, and often turned up more relevant images on the first results page.  Also critiqued was ArtStor’s “hands off” approach to Metadata, meaning there was a great variety in tagging of search terms among its many collections.
    • Schroeder, Eunice. ARTstor Review.  Notes , Second Series, Vol. 65, No. 3 (Mar., 2009): 546-549, Reviewer focuses on the musicological-related images in the database; criticizes the difficulty of using the site’s search interface due to inconsistent data provided by each collection, and variety in the quality and resolution of scans; but praises its ease of use.
    • Caviness MH. Reproducing Works of Art Held in Museums: Who Pays, Who Profits? Diogenes. 2006;53(3):45-52. doi:10.1177/0392192106069011:  Caviness discusses the need for scholars to have free access to reproductions of artworks.  Caviness approves of ArtStor’s promotion of the idea that museums profit from scholars’ use of their images, although she does note that the service charges universities a usage fee by year.
    • Parsons, Sarah. Beyond the Slide Library?: Facing the Digital Future of Art History. RACAR: revue d’art canadienne / Canadian Art Review , Vol. 30, No. 1/2, (2005): 114-25,  This reviewer focuses the initial resistance to art professors’ switching from traditional digital slide libraries to online sources.  Concerns over quality, accessibility, and range of available images.  Author generally praises ArtStor, particularly the ability to download images for class usage, and finds that its breadth of material and teaching tools are useful.  Sustainability and non-commercial status of the resource were also praised.
  • Access:  The site’s terms and conditions can be found here: An annual subscription fee is required to access the full collection through a school or institution.
  • Info from Publisher:
  • Citing:; ©2000-2020 ITHAKA. All Rights Reserved. JSTOR®, and Artstor®, ITHAKA® are registered trademarks of ITHAKA.

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