There’s no question that art is best viewed in person, but this isn’t always possible. Due to finances, scheduling, geography, or many other factors, it might not be easy for you to enjoy artwork up close. So, here are some alternatives. On this list, you’ll find opportunities to see photographs of artworks, virtually tour art museums, read, learn, and more. Best of all, most of these art-viewing experiences are totally free.
This post has been updated on March 12, 2020 thanks to the Coronavirus-related closures of art museums around the world. We could all use some virtual museum visits these days.
- Unquestionably the best place to view photographs of artworks for free is on museum websites. The vast majority of museum websites include collection databases that provide photographs and information about all the artworks in their collections. Some of my favorites include the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Getty, Art Institute of Chicago, Guggenheim, National Gallery of Art, and Smithsonian American Art Museum. But there are many, many others.
- This article from Apollo Magazine list museums that have put some or all of their collection images in the public domain. These images are available online for the public to view or to use for free for any purpose.
- The Athenaeum is a free website that contains over 250,000 images of artworks (mainly paintings and other two-dimensional works) from all around the world. You can sort by artist, style, museum, and other criteria. the Athenaeum is one of my go-to sources for the images that illustrate my posts.
- The DailyArt app features one artwork per day, delivering an image and short text to your smartphone or iPad every day. I am proud to have contributed some of these texts. Download it from the App Store or Google Play.
- Countless Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram accounts give you a constant stream of art on your news feed. Accounts run by museums, galleries, auction houses, artists, and art-related websites are good places to start.
- Museum exhibition catalogs and coffee table books usually contain large, good-quality photographs of art and architecture. Many are available at your local library; most are available on Amazon.
- ArtUK is a massive project aiming to catalog all the artwork in the entire United Kingdom. At the time of writing, it includes over 200,000 paintings, all of which are free to view online. According to the website, many of these works reside in museum storage, which means that ArtUK is currently the only place to see them.
- If medieval manuscripts are your thing, the Digitized Medieval Manuscripts App (DMMapp) can help you find digitized manuscripts in collections all over the world. Or, just visit the British Library’s Digital Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts, which is at the top of the field.
- The Tate museum in England has a wealth of images and other information freely available online.
- Websites like Hyperallergic, Colossal, and My Modern Met seek out fun and exciting works of art in diverse media and from all corners of the globe. You’ll find stuff there you would never get to see otherwise.
Visit Museums Virtually
- Museums and galleries often curate virtual exhibitions to accompany physical ones. Poke around their websites or follow them on social media to find out when new ones are coming out. According to My Modern Met, you can visit these twelve museums online.
- Google Arts & Culture has partnered with major museums and other cultural institutions around the world to offer images, museum walk-throughs, online exhibitions, and other educational features. You can sort, explore, and even create your own virtual collection. There’s also an app. Travel & Leisure just released a list of some virtual museum tours available through Google Arts & Culture.
- MOMA (the Museum of Modern Art in New York) will let you digitally experience every exhibition the museum has ever had. This includes reading the exhibition catalog and looking at photos of the works on display in the exhibition. It also has some online audio features about more recent exhibits.
- There’s a five-hour movie about the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. It was shot in one single take and on an iPhone! You can view the entire thing for free and at your leisure on YouTube.
- In addition to art museums, you can also virtually tour some great monuments of world architecture.
Learn About Art
- Enjoy over 400 illustrated posts about art and architecture right here at A Scholarly Skater!
- DailyArt Magazine, from the creators of the DailyArt app, publishes fun and interesting art articles at least once a day. I’m a frequent contributor.
- Learn lots of fun stuff about art history at Trivium.
- The Iris is the Getty museum’s official blog.
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website is a treasure trove of information. This includes the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, video series like 82nd & Fifth, The Artist Project and Met Stories, the Met Collects online feature, blogs, and more. Use the general search bar to see what’s available about your topic of interst.
- The Smart History website is written by art history PhDs, but it’s aimed at a general audience. Smart History primarily teaches through videos, but it also has lots of high-quality images and some text posts. Much of Smart History’s content is also available through Khan Academy Art History.
- The Art Story contains lengthy and detailed articles about the history of modern fine arts, decorative arts, and architecture. It has also started to branch out beyond modernism in the strictest sense to cover wider art history topics.
Take an Art History Course
- You can learn about art history and lots of related topics by participating in a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). MOOCs are online courses produced by major universities around the world. They are available in pretty much all subjects, and offerings change frequently. My favorite websites for MOOCs are Coursera, Future Learn, and edx, but there are many others. On the three websites I just mentioned, the courses are free. You only need to pay if you want to receive a certificate of course completion, which is unnecessary if you’re taking courses for personal enrichment. I’ve participated in many MOOCs and loved them all. But keep in mind that these courses will give you homework and tests.
- Artips and Citaliarestauro offer online courses on the history of art, architecture, design, and culture. Artips courses are available in both French and English for a yearly subscription price. Citaliarestauro lists pay-per-course offerings in English, Spanish, and Portuguese. I’ve designed and written courses for both companies – “Gothic Architecture” for Citaliarestauro and “American Art History 1776-1945” for Artips.
Read Art Books and Articles
- The Getty Institute in California has a large online library of Getty-published art books available for free. You can read them on line or download them. The Getty is all about using new technology in art history, so the institute has lots of resources to offer.
- Find free-to-read modern art books online via the Guggenheim.
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art gives free access to a large selection of museum publications, including exhibition catalogs and Met Bulletins. You can download pdfs or read the books online.
- Try one of my favorite art books.
Catch Up on Art-World News
- The Art Newspaper is the art world’s primary news source, both in print and online.
- Apollo is a major art history magazine that’s published in the UK. It has extensive online content in addition to a delightful monthly print magazine.
- ArtfixDaily is a good source for art news, mainly through press releases.
- ArtNet News is another good news source.
Try Other Art Lovers’ Picks
In light of the 2020 Coronavirus quarantine, my colleagues at DailyArt Magazine and I created a series of posts listing our favorite ways to connect with artwork from home. Try our selections below, and check back regularly, as more will be posted.
- “Art Guide to Quarantine by DailyArt” by Marta Wiktoria Bryll
- “15 Artsy Books to Read During Self-Quarantine” by Joanna Kaszubowska
- “The Best Museums to Visit Virtually on Lockdown (Constantly Updated)” By Zuzanna Stanska.
- “The Best Art Videos for the Age of Quarantine” by Alexandra Kiely (A Scholarly Skater).
- “10 Best Movies Related to Art for Time Spent in Quarantine” by Erikka Gerakiti.
- “Virtual Art Repositories – Explore Endless Artworks from Quarantine” by Alexandra Kiely (A Scholarly Skater).
- “7 Entertaining Art History Podcasts to Listen to” by Anastasia Tsaleza.
- “Teach Kids About Art During Quarantine” by Alexandra Kiely (A Scholarly Skater).
- “Art Museums on Pinterest: I’d Pin That” by Rachel Witte.
- UMass Dartmouth has put together a long list of free online art resources, including virtual museum tours, lectures, and videos. I have not visited each link personally.
- I want to give a huge shout-out to My Modern Met, which was my source for quite a few of the items on this list. The writers there find these free online art resources so much faster than I do. You can find more resources here in this article.