Fine Arts Library Offers Inspiration and Support to Student Artist

A woman stands in the center of a long table in a white warehouse room and flips through one of several books on the table.
Lydia Smith flipping through a book in her installation, "Leave No Stone Unturned." Photograph by Brett Davis, 2022.

Lydia Smith wasted no time before visiting the Fine Arts Library as a new Ohio State student.  

“I was eager to spend time at the libraries as soon as I set foot on campus,” said Smith. “Having taken some years off between school, I know being close to so many amazing books is a precious resource. I am sure that even before I had settled into my studio in Hopkins Hall, I had spent some time browsing the stacks.” 

Now a third-year Master of Fine Arts (MFA) candidate in the Department of Art, Smith credits her browsing at the Fine Arts Library as an influence on her artistic practice. 

“One of the books I found was Walking and Mapping: Artists as Cartographers by Karen O'Rourke, which played a heavy presence in my studio my first year,” she said. “Gerhard Richter’s Atlas is also a life-changing project to discover as an artist. Jonathan Crary's Techniques of the Observer is equally influential for me.”  

In addition to her discovery of inspiring materials, Smith has had other influential interactions with the Fine Arts Library, including a 2020 exhibit of her work. 

“The series that I had on display at the Fine Arts Library was titled Memos for Research. This was alongside other work by Mona Gazala and Caryl Gonzalez, who were both also students at Ohio State at the time,” she said. “My installation included three fabric banners which were hung in the study area. I created these while examining the city plans of Columbus and the location of earthwork sites created by Ohio’s Indigenous peoples. Incorporated into each banner was an abstracted map of Columbus with marks that represented the location of sacred spaces.” 

A square, blue cloth banner featuring a pattern and the words "Landscape is not static."
"Memo for Research (Landscape is Not Static)" by Lydia Smith. 36” x 34.5” Banner, Hand Dyed Fabric, 2019

“For this work, I was interested in how installing art in a library might be different than a gallery or any other public setting,” said Smith. “At the time, I was also reflecting a lot on ways in which history and knowledge are made and unmade through the process of research. I think the job of the student is crucial in this process because each time we learn something, we are bringing new, fresh eyes and critical perspectives to a canon that has been passed down for generations. I was excited about having my banners, or memos, sit quietly next to students studying, encouraging them to realize their agency and position in the act of research.”  

According to Smith, her artwork has continued to evolve alongside her exploration of the library. 

“Since coming to Ohio State, I have become more excited about the book as a venue for the display of artwork,” she said. “For my MFA thesis exhibition, I created an installation of 14 hand-bound books. For artists, there is so much to play with in a book form: sequencing, the pairing of image and text, and its ability to easily circulate among a wide audience. While preparing for my thesis project, I spent a lot of time looking at the design and construction of artist books by examining their spines, layout and paper choices. There was no better way to do this than to browse the aisles of the library.” 

Smith also noted that she has found support for her studies, artistic practice and teaching through the Fine Arts Library.   

“Courtney Hunt, the Art and Design Librarian, has been incredibly supportive during my time here,” she said. “Not only has she made space in the library for the display of student artwork, but she also has made a lot of effort to make the collections accessible to students. For example, when I taught a foundation drawing class, Courtney generously visited to talk about how my students could use the collections for a project they were working on. She is someone who I know I can contact if I have a research question and I have also appreciated her feedback about my work.” 

Smith recommended that other students and faculty take advantage of the wealth of information available at the Fine Arts Library.  

“The Fine Arts Library is an encyclopedia of museum exhibitions across time and space. Every time you pull a book from the shelf you can be transported to a new time, location, and network of thoughts,” she said. “Courtney also has great tips for how to use internet databases, such as Artstor, that allow you to zoom up close into drawings and are available to Ohio State students.”  

“Ohio State is lucky to have a whole network of unique libraries, each with its own amazing resources,” said Smith. 

To learn more about the Fine Arts Library including location, contact information, recommended resources and more, please visit our website