Art History on the Internet: a virtual walkabout

Blue Rigi, painting by J. M. W. Turner

Blue Rigi, painting by J. M. W. Turner (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I sent an image in Facebook to my dear sister Erin this morning. She is a great appreciator of art and a budding artist herself. The image was of one of those gorgeous Turners that seems so simple at first, and then slowly begins to say or reveal so much, and the next thing you know, an hour is gone. And then Erin messaged something very interesting “There is so much art in the world to view. Would love to go on a ‘walkabout’ to see as much as I can in my life time.” And I am all for that, what a walkabout that would be. According to the Urban Dictionary, a walkabout is “a spontaneous journey through the wilderness of one’s choosing in an effort to satisfy one’s itchy feet, a need to be elsewhere, the craving for the open road, that space over the horizon…” I am a huge supporter of museums and experiencing art live. I have traveled a lot just to visit particular paintings or galleries. I like to be with a painting. I also like being with a painting with others. When I can, I even photograph others looking at art. I also like going to artist studios and openings. There are some paintings that you can only really experience in person, like Rothko’s enigmatic canvases.

I look forward to traveling with my sister one day (Berlin? Venice Bianale? We’ll see…), but in the meantime, there are some great sites on the web that take advantage of the latest in high resolution photography and scanning. A virtual art walkabout could include:

  • Smarthistory: These are videos that typically include the painting and two art historians discussing the work.
  • Google Cultural Institute: This is an essential site. It includes virtual walk-throughs of museums and extremely high resolution scans of paintings. The images are as good as going to the museum wearing magnifying glasses (which I recommend – x2.0 reading glasses). I could spend a long weekend here alone!
  • Getty Virtual Library: The Getty Museum has made their back catalog of art books freely available to the public as html or as .pdfs for reading on mobile devices like iPads.
  • Artcyclopedia: This is a searchable index of over 9000 artists listed, 2,900 art sites indexed, with more than 160,000 links. Useful articles and reviews that do a good job of covering modern art. Artcyclopedia allows you to browse artists by nationality as well for the global perspective.
  • Web Gallery of Art: “The Web Gallery of Art is a virtual museum and searchable database of Western (European) fine arts of the Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, Neoclassicism, Romanticism, Realism, and Impressionism periods (1000-1900), currently containing over 36.800 reproductions. Artist biographies, commentaries, guided tours, period music, catalogue, free postcard and mobile services are provided.”
  • Art History Resources on the Web: Despite the old school interface, this site has links to many current exhibits at museums. I was really surprised that this has remained so relevant. When you look up an artist, period or region, you will find links to museums, galleries and exhibits.

Additionally, individual museums can do a fantastic job of using the internet for education and out-reach such as the Metropolitan, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Louvre.

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