The Internet’s boom brought many great things with it, including access to places we might otherwise never visit. This accessibility goes hand in hand with the fact we don’t leave our chairs as much as we used to; and why should we? It’s all available right there, on our computers. In other words, as computer geeks, many of us don’t get out much. For example, when was the last time you visited your local museum? I know it’s been ages for me. I only get to see art when I take a trip aboard, and those are few and far between.
The obvious solution to this art problem would be to get off the chair and go visit a museum. Excellent solution. Another great solution would be to enjoy amazing art right from your chair, with the plethora of free art offered by many museum websites. Sure, it doesn’t solve the immobility problem – you should still get up from you chair every now and then – but it does give you the ability to enjoy art, not only from your local museum, but from all over the world. It’s free, it’s beautiful, and it could provide a a cultural boost to an otherwise uninspiring day.
Google Art Project
While Google is still not an art museum, the Google Art Project is an amazing initiative which bring together works of art from over 50 museums around the world. The project currently features over 30,000 high-resolution artworks, and there are dozens of additional museums already signed aboard. The art collections come from a wide variety of worldwide museums, some vey well-known such as the Metropolitan, the MoMA and the Tate, and some more obscure such as the Museum of Islamic Art is Qatar.
To start enjoying art, simply choose a museum, a collection or an artist, or let the system offer some interesting artworks for you to discover. You can share interesting finds with your friends with one click, and personalize the experience even further by signing in and creating your own galleries.
Web Gallery of Art
As if taken from a different world or era, the Web Gallery of Art is to the Google Art Project what Mac OS X is to DOS. You won’ find a slick and clever interface here, but you will find a searchable virtual museum which includes thousands of European paintings and sculptures from the 11th century up to the 19th century. Each work of art is viewable in a separate window, where you can choose the color of its background and adjust its size for optimal viewing, and comes complete with the artist’s biography.
The Web Gallery is more suited to those who are into this type of art, and will find it in themselves to browse the extensive yet somewhat unappealing interface of the gallery. You can start looking up works of art by different artists, by school, period, timeline, and even by the exact profession of the artists. Several guided tours are also available on the site, such as an overview of Italian art or a virtual visit to the Sistine Chapel.
The Smithsonian is one of the most famous museums in the world, and is actually made up of 19 different museums and galleries. While most of these museums are free, not all of us live in Washington D.C. to enjoy them. Luckily, The Smithsonian offers some very interesting exhibitions online, under virtual exhibitions. These exhibition come from different Smithsonian galleries, and deal with anything from American history to space to horses.
These virtual exhibitions are not all the same, each has its own unique interface, where you can browse works, or simply learn about the world or the universe. This is a truly educational experience, not just a quick glance at some artworks.
The MoMA, or the Museum of Modern Art, is a great place to visit if you want to be surprised. As with any other modern-art museum, the MoMA displays everything from traditional paintings and photography, to the most intriguing media displays and sculptures. Many of the MoMA’s displays are available for browsing online, via the online collections. To view some interesting artworks, you can choose a specific category, search by artist or art term, or simply search for any keyword. For each work of art you’ll also find additional useful information regarding the work, along with ability to save works you like or browse similar works.
The British Museum
The British Museum offers a large variety of online tours, which are a great source of information, if not exactly of visual pleasure. The images included in the tours are rather small, but each can be enlarged for better viewing. The interface is a bit clunky – you have to click on an image to enlarge it, which opens a separate page – but the overall experience is an educational one, and the tours offer a wealth of information about the featured artworks. You can browse the online tour by world regions, and choose specific exhibitions within each one.
While the Louvre doesn’t have a staggering online collection, it’s still worth a look if you’re at all interested in non-modern art. The Louvre’s website currently features three rather impressive online tours, and there are also several online collections of various artworks you can browse as simple images. While I normally dislike virtual tours with all my heart, these are actually a great way to virtually browse whole rooms in the Louvre, getting a general feel of the place, and even getting additional information on some artworks by clicking on them.
Online Art Gallery
Interested in getting to know unknown artists, or actually buying art? Or maybe you’re an artist who can’t get his/her works into the MoMA yet, but is nonetheless interested in some public exposure? The big museums won’t help you there, but the Online Art Gallery will. Based in the UK, the Online Art Gallery features artworks from all over the world, and any artist can sign up and feature their work. As an art lover, you’re welcome to browse the interesting collection, discover beautiful works of art and artists you’ve never heard of, and if you really like what you see, you can even use the website to get in touch with the artist and purchase it.
Wait! There’s Much More
These six galleries are by no means the only place to find free online art. Almost any big museum offers some free art on its website, so check out your favorite local museum for some. You might get to enjoy some local art even if you don’t have time for a day trip.
Do you have a favorite website where free art is available? Share in the comments!