8 Online Art Courses For Questions (Privately) Asked

A cigar is just a cigar, yet a specific pipe would insist on being anything but.

Art can mean a lot of things to a lot of different people. When in those times, we politely nod and agree to someone who speaks up and makes sense about how this or that is postmodern, political, or expensive, opening our eyes to the genius of a work… how are we to know that the speaker’s due diligence wasn’t through having just read Vox, once?

There are no hard lines to approaching art. Anyone can have his or her interpretation of, or feeling toward, a piece. Although it’s another thing altogether to personally pin down how a work suggests precisely that—and maintain it. And it’s there, in my opinion, where one can come to really appreciate what a piece offers. (Or distinguish what’s a hard sell.)

An artwork may strike you for its political stance, the sensuousness of its surface, or how it makes an experience real by a feeling, some tingling intuition of yours that needs to be expressed. Or, maybe someone just wants your opinion. In either case, you wouldn’t want to be grasping for words every time.

Try checking out the online courses listed below. Not all are free, but the discounts are crazy good as of this writing. What’s more, they answer questions we are often embarrassed to ask, and who knows, it may just give you the right tools you need.

1. What Is Contemporary Art?

Offered by the Museum of Metropolitan Art (MoMA), this introductory course takes about 12 hours to complete. It’s also free.

It features the museum’s collected artworks from the 1980s to now, presented under five pertinent themes: Digital and Televised Media, Territories & Transit, Materials & Making, Agency, and Power. Architects, designers, and living artists share their approaches and techniques for you to make prescient connections of your own, in life and in artistic practice.

2. Seeing through Photographs

How photography is an art form has been particularly topical, and we’ve covered it a couple times before: no one will say photography isn’t; this free course from MoMA explains why. In just 16 hours, you’ll come out of this with a firm understanding of just how diverse photography has become in the last 180 years and how it continues to widely apply in our time of visual glut.

3. Fashion as Design

The last offering of MoMA in our list, this course is also free and equips viewers with a variety of critical tools to appreciate fashion in whatever form it takes and at whatever phase. The instructors trace the history, the production, distribution, and consumption of both everyday wear and couture, as well as under the lenses of politics, identity, and economics.

Racking up to 17 hours to complete, this course gives students an understanding of how modesty manifests under different cultural subtexts, how sustainability affects pricing, and how manners of dress become matters of expression.

4. Sexing the Canvas: Art and Gender

This 20-hour course from the University of Melbourne hits the ground running. The first week tackles the male gaze tradition head on with Tiepolo’s exceptional “Banquet of Cleopatra” turning it on its head. From there, the succeeding eight weeks delves deeper into how, historically and presently, gender and sexual codes are integral to artistic production, and for the greater benefit.

5. Words Spun out of Images: Visual and Literary Culture in Nineteenth Century Japan

Offered by the University of Tokyo, this 10-hour course presents painters and poets of early modern Japan in their ambitions to capture “real life.” It’s a refreshing take on what artistic realism can be given an entirely different set of aesthetic criteria and material conditions that constituted 19th century Japanese culture. It was a time when the visual and literary cultures worked reciprocally with each other, like it was the most natural thing—the indivisibility of what we would today quickly consider as different is what makes the lion’s share of the values behind Japanese aesthetics.

6. Orientalism in European Art History

Let’s keep going with this instructional course by Karima Knickmeyer. Tackling the ‘Other’ question often and appropriately precedes a dizzying intersection of minorities, as opposed to delineated conservative distinctions. Issues of gender tie in with race and postcolonialism in this course, for example, which investigates the works of Ingres, Gérôme, and Delacroix in their enraptured depictions of then Eastern mystique, in dialogue with Edward Said’s ideas from his seminal book, Orientalism.

Just because it covers the past, it doesn’t mean it’s not topical. No one decides to become racist (I think), but racism so often occupies common sense that it takes a liberal arts student to write three (!) essays about it to point it out. Why is that? Try the course (and the book) to find out.

7. How to Value Art – A Step by Step Guide for All Abilities

Looking for something straight to the point that departs a technical and transferable skill? This course screams as a must for collectors and independent artists alike: it’s all about art valuation and assessing price.

Offered by Sulis Fine Art, the course will walk you through all the staple mediums and teach you how to recognize condition issues as well as the prominent artistic styles. It covers subject matter and authorship, too, along with how to get at a price mark even under the direst conditions. From the first hour alone, I learned that gouache and gauche are two very, very different things.

8. ART OF THE MOOC: Activism and Social Movements

In a time where one out of three artworks tackles something political—or is received as political, regardless of intent—it’s strange that one could privately dismiss the rhetoric and (let’s admit) jargon as noise, still.

After all, art is, in the general run, progressive. It challenges norms and provides platforms for dissent. Although there are times when the progressiveness and avante-gardeism seem oddly predetermined, while not all artworks mobilize people to act for change. Not all get bought, either.

So, what gives? How involved exactly is art in social movements? It’s a loaded question. Whether you’re an artist, an activist, both, or someone just genuinely curious, this course from Duke University is one-of-a-kind with practical components that investigate contemporary art practice. It takes around 14 hours to complete.

All images courtesy of Unsplash.