Paint Schoodic

Join us on the American Eagle in June or in Acadia National Park in August. Click here for more information.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Open source art history

An easy, interesting, free site for learning art history, available to everyone.

All art survey courses start with the Venus of Willendorf (courtesy of Naturhistorisches Museum)…
A reader asked how she could learn more about art history. My normal answer would be to go to the library and take out a copy of Janson’s History of Art. But she can’t do that.

A while ago, another reader sent me this listing of free art-history courses online. Most of them are narrowly-focused, making them more interesting to the enthusiast than to the beginner. But the list led me to SmartHistory. It has a detailed set of syllabuses that takes you through the development of western art, from the Venus of Willendorf to Pop Art. (Those of you looking for an analysis of the last fifty years will have to wait.)

And go to this (Chartres cathedral c. 1220)…
These are:


A syllabus is an outline for a course, a description of where you’ll go and how you’ll get there. You get them the first day of class, put them in the front of your binder and refer back to them when you’ve forgotten something. SmartHistory’s are interactive, so they end up driving your learning. You walk through them step-by-step, just as you’d go to lectures at university. I sampled several lessons and found them complete, interesting, and thorough. And there are graded quizzes.
And then to this study of a horse by Leonardo da Vinci (courtesy of ‌Royal Library, Windsor Castle)…
SmartHistory started in 2005 as an audio guide series for use at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art, and as a resource for college students. It has now published 1500 videos and essays on art and cultural history. While these include the art of Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Oceania, they’ve not yet written syllabuses for non-western art.

“Publishers are adding multimedia to their textbooks, but unfortunately they are doing so in proprietary, password-protected adjunct websites. These are weak because they maintain an old model of closed and protected content,” they wrote on their webpage.

And then to Impressionism, represented here by Monet’s Impression, soleil levant, 1872 (Musée Marmottan Monet)…
That, to me, gets to the heart of the matter. Individuals and institutions may own individual paintings, but nobody owns our history or our heritage. Doling it out at $25 for a ticket to the Met or $100 for an access code to a textbook is contrary to our goal of building an educated, thinking society with common values. A person who follows these syllabuses meticulously is going to learn everything they’d study in a college survey course in art history.

And end up somewhere around Roy Lichtenstein’s Drowning Girl, 1963 (Museum of Modern Art, New York).
Smarthistory launched its first custom-designed website in 2007. Between 2011-2015, it was supported by Khan Academy and remains its official partner for art history. And this is the first I’ve heard of it. Somedays I feel like the last one to the party.

4 comments:

Wendy T said...

Outstanding! Such a resource for someone like me who, while I did buy a copy of History of Art and am enjoying it immensely, would benefit from a broader study. Thanks, Carol. You're a good egg.

Ben Gill said...

Very cool! And I was just thinking about brushing up on my art history, so great timing! Your blog never fails to inspire me.

alotechnical said...

you have shown the points very clearly. this is going to help me in many ways...
Handyman Dubai

Carol Douglas said...

Thank you both for your kind words.