13 Free Online Resources for Art Lovers

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Studying art history isn't just about memorizing names and dates - the Web is full of dynamic, engaging and FREE ways to learn about contemporary art and art history. From video and podcasts to Open Courseware and interactive textbooks, these sites will help you satisfy your passion for art outside of the classroom.
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Sandro Botticelli Primavera

Alessandro Botticelli, 'Primavera,' 1482

Online Courseware

These websites offer a variety of educational tools to help you begin your art historical studies, including video, podcasts, annotated essays, syllabi and other free course materials.

1. Art:21

Art:21--Art in the Twenty-First Century is a television series that deals with contemporary art. Each episode discusses several artists whose work is loosely related to a particular theme, such as identity, spirituality or humor, and they're all available for free on the PBS website. The program also produces a podcast featuring in-studio interviews with many famous artists.

2. Art Through Time: A Global View

Education group Annenberg Media presents Art Through Time: A Global View. This 13-part video series connects works of art from around the world and from many different eras with themes such as converging cultures, history and memory and the natural world. The videos can be streamed for free online and include accompanying texts and guides.

3. National Gallery of Art Podcasts

The National Gallery of Art (NGA) offers a broad selection of audio and video podcasts in three programs: Art Talk, which offers 'engaging conversations between top cultural figures,' Backstory, which gives listeners a behind-the-scenes look at the museum and Notable Lectures, which collects gallery talks given by historians, curators and authors.

4. OpenCourseWare

Many colleges and universities offer free course materials on the Internet through the OpenCourseWare (OCW) project. This Learning Path page provides a list of free online art history courses from schools such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the University of California Berkeley and Open University.

5. Smarthistory

The Webby Award-winning Smarthistory was created as an engaging multimedia alternative to the 'large, expensive art history textbook.' The site bills itself as a 'web-book' that offers guided video, articles and other content that is dynamically updated by contributing educators from around the world.

6. Social History of Art

This recently launched site features hundreds of essays, articles, conference papers, bibliographies and syllabi collected and organized by a Connecticut College professor of art history. Primarily focusing on the late Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque eras, the materials can be sorted by period or theme. The site avoids academic jargon in order to make art history accessible to a 'larger, educated public.'

7. Tate Study Days

London's prestigious Tate Modern and the Open University have teamed up to offer 'study days' exploring topics in art history that typically relate to exhibitions at the museum. Although there's a fee to attend the classes in person, they offer video and other course materials for free on Tate Modern's website.

Damien Hirst For the Love of God Skull Diamonds
Damien Hirst, 'For the Love of God,' 2007

Reference Tools

Looking for a less guided experience? These sites offer a variety of in-depth and easy-to-use art historical resources for self-learners, including encyclopedias, timelines and expert Q&As.

8. AllExperts - Arts & Humanities

Users of AllExperts.com can ask a question about any subject, including visual arts, fine arts and many related topics, and have it answered by one of the site's hundreds of expert volunteers.

9. Artcyclopedia

'Artcyclopedia: The Fine Art Search Engine' - the site's name says it all. Search for any artist, or browse by name, medium, subject, nationality, era or gender. Pages include brief blurbs on the artists, cross-referencing information and a compendium of links to museums and galleries that carry their work.

10. Art in Flux

This is the starting place for online research in contemporary art. Hosted by Boise State University, the site includes artist, museum and theory directories, as well as an excellent collection of research tools and reference materials.

11. Art in the Picture

Art in the Picture is one of the most user-friendly and web-savvy art resources on the Web. It features text, images and video on thousands of artists and artworks, as well as artistic styles and movements. This site is a great place to learn the basics of different eras and explore how art historical scholarship categorizes your favorite works of art. Search by artist name, movement, country, century or keyword.

12. The-Artists.org

If your passion is contemporary art, you'll love spending hours digging through this site. It features in-depth info, pictures, print sales, links and facts on hundreds of modern and contemporary artists. Become a member (for free) to post comments and add more information on your favorite artists.

13. Timeline of Art History

The Metropolitan Museum, better known as the Met, is one of America's - and the world's - premier museums. Their website offers a 'chronological, geographical, and thematic exploration of the history of art from around the world,' extending from prehistory to the present day.

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