10 Free Courses to Help You Understand and Appreciate Art

Appreciating and understanding the value of art is challenging for many people. However, learning about the history, various types of artwork and genres can deepen your comprehension significantly. It can also make you a more well-rounded and interesting individual. The courses laid out below provide valuable insight to the art world from a variety of perspectives. Each course has its own perks and drawbacks, but each also allows you to learn for free!


1. Art History Basics

This course is provided by KhanAcademy, which is a free online learning resource that offers many types of courses — including art and beyond. Art History Basics explores the connection between heritage and art as well as why you should study and examine art generally. It also allows the student to learn common art terms. The course includes practice exercises to test your learning.


2. Art Through Time: A Global View

The Annenberg Learner provides a bird’s eye view of art through the ages. The focus is on connecting art to humanity in various parts of the world. Lessons include things like Ceremony and Society, Death, and Dreams and Visions. The global perspective allows the student to get a feel for the interaction between art and culture. Each lesson includes a video that is about half an hour with many works of art incorporated into the presentation.


3. Most Famous Paintings of All Time

Highbrow is a unique online learning platform that delivers lessons to you via email instead of having you venture to their website. One lesson is delivered on a daily basis throughout the duration of the course. This course, the Most Famous Paintings of All Time, provides the “top ten” of famous paintings, so students can hit the high points of the art world. While the “value” of paintings are obviously subjective, this course focuses on pieces that push the boundaries of convention and have had a real effect on society.


4. Ground-Breaking Contemporary Artists

Highbrow also offers a course specific to contemporary artists. While many free courses focus on art history generally, this course focuses on innovative artists that have used their art as part of a larger national or global movement. These artists are often tied to government, political, or social unrest. The course addresses a variety of art forms, from traditional paintings to performance artists.


5. Street Artists You Should Know

Highbrow does not stop their course offerings on modern art with contemporary artists. They also offer a course specific to street artists. While street artists are often considered a nuisance or even criminals, some have become world-renowned for their creative and impressive works in unusual locations. Street artists often have a goal of bringing art to the masses — as everyone should be able to enjoy art, even if they didn’t ask for it. This course runs through some of the most well-known street artists of the late 20th century and beyond.


6. An Introduction to the Art of the Italian Renaissance

The Italian Renaissance is one of the most well-known times in the art world. This time literally changed the art world forever. Open Culture provides a free course on this important era. The course includes a wide variety of Renaissance art work in 42 lectures. The course touches on the works of Titian, da Vinci, Michelangelo, Masaccio and Botticelli, and many, many more.


7. In the Studio: Postwar Abstract Painting

Art is often a reflection of the time in which it is created. Abstract painting is uniquely situated to provide meaning beyond the artwork. In Coursera’s class, In the Studio: Postwar Abstract Painting, the focus is on materials, techniques, and approaches of seven New York School artists in the decades after WWII. This course is unique because it often references ways that you can use these ideas in your own artwork. It is also presented by the Museum of Modern Art.


8. Modern Art & Ideas

Coursera also has another art course presented by the Museum of Modern Art that focuses more on non-abstract pieces. It touches on the four themes common to many MoMA courses: Places and Spaces, Everyday Objects, Art and Society, and Art and Identity. The course also allows students to hear directly from the artists themselves in some cases, providing a unique insight into how the pieces were developed and the creative process.


9. Art Since 1940

Art has developed a great deal since World War II. The definitions of what art means are always changing, and some artists deliberately push the envelope on what constitutes “art.” In this MIT-sponsored course, you can follow major developments and outlines of various sects of artists, including those that have developed in several other parts of the world. This course is offered as an undergraduate level course at MIT, but the entire syllabus is available online. You will, however, need to purchase some of the course materials.


10. Great Artists and Their Works

Great Artists and Their Works, brought to you by Alison, is essentially an overview of great artists over several centuries — from Leonardo da Vinci to Pablo Picasso. The Baroque period is also addressed. Newer artists are generally not discussed, however. It is designed for those who have very little understanding of art and who want to learn more to help their own artistic endeavors or simply want to increase their appreciation and understanding of art in general. The course includes a final assessment as well.


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