Free Online Art and Art History Resources
Art history students and enthusiasts have access to a host of online images and articles relating to their field. Whether you're looking for an image to reference or a specific critical essay to read, there are a number of available options.
A totally free, open online resource, Smarthistory (http://smarthistory.org) was founded by a group of academics who were unhappy with increasingly high-priced art history textbooks. Using a multimedia approach, Smarthistory offers roughly 500 videos in a multitude of languages. These videos are intended to contextualize artwork within a specific time, culture, geography and movement. You're likely to find new and interesting facts even if you've been studying art history for decades. The best part of Smarthistory is that it's so easy to use, and like other extensive online knowledge databases, you're likely to get lost in the best way possible.
ARTstor (www.artstor.org) isn't exactly free - schools, libraries and organizations have to purchase a licensing fee for access. But if your school or local library subscribes, it's free for you to use, and that's close enough, right? As an image library, ARTstor is like the visual version of JSTOR, the ubiquitous online collection of academic journals. If you're looking for a specific image to cite or use in an essay or school project, this is a great place to look.
If you can't afford to travel the world in order to see famous works of art in person, technology can help you experience the next best thing. Many world-class museums, including New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (www.metmuseum.org), have websites that grant access to digital archives of works in their collection. These digital archives provide high-quality images and may also include commentary or criticism. The Library of Congress and many national arts organizations also typically offer this kind of access.
A Virtual Field Trip
You can tour museums from the comfort of your home at the Google Art Project (www.googleartproject.com). This fantastic resource allows users to virtually stroll through the halls of some of the world's finest museums, including the Netherlands' Van Gogh Museum and the Uffizi in Italy. In addition to virtually roaming the halls, you can view zoomable, high-quality images of important and famous works, like Rembrandt's 'The Night Watch.'
If religious art is more your cup of tea, the Vatican's website offers virtual tours of many of their galleries and cathedrals. If you've ever wanted a 360-degree view of the Sistine Chapel without the jet lag, this is your chance.
Many reputable university libraries, such as Yale University Library and Harvard Library, have digital collections online. You can peruse a host of images, such as photos of Chinese rubbings, sheet music, architecture photos and images of letters. These digital libraries are usually free to the public.
Want to know more about digital library collections? Read about prestigious university libraries that can be accessed from home.