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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, February 26, 2024

Inside the MFA: Using the MFA for research and projects

If you’re searching for artwork for a class project or assignment, the MFA is a great place to get started.

Column graphic for Claire woods “inside the MFA”
Graphic by Camilla Samuel

If you’re anything like me, the thought of starting a long research paper or project is incredibly daunting. I never know how or where to compile evidence. However, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston is a helpful resource for all manner of research projects.

While paintings and artworks aren’t always reliable pieces of evidence for science-based projects, the MFA would probably prove helpful in research within the arts and humanities. If you happen to find yourself working on something that could use arts evidence, look no further than the MFA’s collections.

The MFA’s online collections database showcases the thousands of pieces the museum stores and displays. On the homepage of the database, you can find a select few highlights from each collection area. More likely, though, you’ll want to dig deeper for more specific works.

The database has an advanced search feature that works quite similarly to JumboSearch. You can hone your search based on date, culture, medium and collection. If you were writing an essay about Ancient Egypt, for example, you could easily locate works from the Egyptian region.

Although it’s more common to cite written works and studies in academic papers and projects, citing artworks can be a powerful means of demonstrating a point, when appropriate. Art reflects so much about a culture or society, and many historical projects could benefit from a corresponding image or art piece. Further, your arts-focused projects could be made stronger by utilizing specific works from the MFA. The more deeply you research the MFA’s collection, the more impactful your evidence will be.

We’re also just a train ride away from the MFA, and you may be more excited to study an artwork by sitting right in front of it. If you want to use an art piece in your writing, heading to the museum and spending time looking at the piece in real life can deepen your understanding of the art and artist. You can select the pieces you want to study at the museum ahead of time, as the search tool allows you to see what’s on view.

The MFA is eager to support the plethora of college and university students in and around Boston, and they have a web page dedicated to college and university programming information. There, you can find a list of special events and opportunities for college students, including conservation workshops and guided tours of special collections. If you’re interested in museum studies or conservation, attending MFA events is a great way to gain more experience with any and all behind-the-scenes aspects of a museum.

The docents and staff members at the MFA are endlessly knowledgeable, and any interactions you have with them will give you a greater understanding and appreciation of the MFA’s works. I always leave the MFA wiser than when I came in.

Taking advantage of the museum is an absolute must as a Tufts student. You get to advance your knowledge and look at beautiful art while doing so. If you learned anything from this column, I hope it’s that visiting the MFA is always worth your while!