Fine Art: Learn, Look, and Buy
The list of topics in fine art is as long as the line to see the Mona Lisa. And while at the Louvre you have no choice but to wait, on the Web, you can explore at your own pace, whether you're a beginner or an expert. If you want to learn about art and its history, explore online museums, research galleries, read art magazines, or buy and sell artwork, the Internet has all the resources you need.
From just a glance, you know whether you think a painting is pretty, but you’re probably aware that there’s more to a work’s significance. Learning the history, context, and symbolism behind a piece or an entire oeuvre can enhance your experience and provide direction and perspective for your future pursuits, whether in art appreciation or education. Online you can learn where Picasso went to art school or find the resources to help you devise an art curriculum for fifth graders.
- If you’re using any of the material you find on a site for a research project, make sure you understand how to properly cite a source. The findingDulcinea Plagiarism Web Guide can help alleviate any confusion.
- Most museum Web sites have an education section with learning tools and information about artwork and artists. For example, New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art features a "Timeline of Art History" that includes maps, pictures, thematic essays, and links to related museum exhibits.
For educational sites …
The Smithsonian Institute
’s Art and Design page allows you to survey works from all the museums that comprise the Institute’s Washington, DC complex. In addition to learning about artists and exhibitions, you can utilize education resources such as “Ask Joan of Art” or get the insider’s perspective in “Eye Level,” the Smithsonian Institute blog.
The BBC Arts Page
provides articles, online galleries, information, and activity features that are valuable whether you're a novice or an art maven. It provides a solid sampling of what's going on in the art world, activities for kids and teenagers, articles, reviews, and videos if you're interested in deepening your knowledge.
The Art Institute of Chicago
's Art Access feature allows you learn about pieces in the museums in terms of content, style, and historical content. It also offers lesson plans and learning material for school children.
For art databases …
is a database of art available on the Internet. You can conduct searches for works of art, artists, and museums. Beyond just images, the site also provides educational information. Links to free Encyclopedia Britannica articles are available for many artists, and on the left sidebar you can access a glossary and a feature called “Today in Art History.”
Grove Art Online
is an award-winning art history resource database. The site contains over 45,000 scholarly articles, 3,000 images, and links to relevant sources. Unfortunately, individual subscriptions are $29.95 a month. However, your university, library, or employer may have a subscription, and if not, it’s eligible for a free trial.
is a resource for information about more than 50,000 American artists. Beyond just providing information about artists, it has resources for learning about the art market and artistic movements.
Starved for art but short on time? Although certainly no substitute for the real thing, you can virtually “visit” almost any museum from the comfort of your own home. Not only will you avoid traffic, crowds, and the price of admission, you’ll also be privy to images that are accompanied by valuable resources and educational material. In most cases, you can search for artists, time periods, movements, or specific works. Depending on the site, you can view entire special exhibits or take audio tours.
You might also benefit from a “trip” to an online-only museum. There are some sites constructed as museums that are not affiliated with any live venue but have vast selections of easily searchable artwork. These destinations make it easy to find exactly what you're looking for, and often allow you to print or use images, and find links for further research.
- If you intend to visit a particular museum physically, you can usually find links on the museum’s homepage that will help you plan your real-world visit. Whether you're getting a preview of special exhibitions, buying tickets in advance, or just looking up hours and directions, a preliminary trip to a museum's site can save you time and enhance your trip.
- Some museum exhibits, especially those that contain additional audio or video content, may require you to download a plug-in like Real Player. Simply follow the site’s instructions.
- Almost every museum has a Web site. The ones featured in this guide were selected for their excellent online galleries, but if you don’t find a museum you’re looking for, search with one of the museum directories.
For American museums …
The Guggenheim Museum
, another New York museum devoted to modern art, is famous for the expansive spirals of the Frank Lloyd Wright building it calls home. But if you can't manage a visit, you can still view pictures of the building
, and many of the pieces in the collection online
. You can search the whole online gallery or look through directories divided by categories such as artist, date, movement and medium.
The Getty Museum
in Los Angeles is dedicated to presenting European drawing, painting, and sculpture in addition to American and European photography. In the “Explore Art” section of the museum’s Web site, you can search by artist, type of art, or subject of a painting. Unfortunately, only small thumbnails are available, but you can still read and learn about each piece.
For European museums …
, famous home to works such as the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo, is located in Paris, but many of its great works can be viewed from your home. Visit the department overview page
to search for artwork. Be warned that the print is tiny and a bit hard to read, but if you're patient you’ll enjoy images of and commentary on some of the world's most famous art.
The British Museum
in London, committed to a comprehensive representation of ancient and modern culture through art, is free to visitors but if you can still can't get there, check out the collection online
. You can search through images in a particular collection or by key word. Each image has a description and explanation, making the site a useful education source.
The State Hermitage Museum
occupies six buildings on the River Neva in St. Petersburg, Russia, but you can view some of the collection right from your home by visiting the Virtual Exhibitions
. You can browse the collection or check out paintings grouped together by designated themes. The section titled "The Exhibit" analyzes a few works.
posts a selection of the best works at El Prado Museum in Madrid. Select an artist and view one or more works in the museum’s collection. The Web site is a little ugly and not complete, but it will provide images you might not see otherwise. The museum has its own site
as well, although the collection is not available online.
For museum directories ...
The Saatchi Gallery
's site provides the "Museums Around the World
" page, which lists names and links for most any world museum you'd want to visit or explore online. If you don't find what you're looking for on the above list, chances are it's on The Saatchi Gallery site. And while you're there, you can explore the Gallery itself, which promotes contemporary art by established and new artists.
, also featured in the "Find Art Galleries" section of this guide, provides links to worldwide museums and lets you search by continent. While most of the museums you've heard of are probably listed above, you might not know that Japan has about a dozen museums with collections available online. The site provides a real chance to discover artwork you might not find elsewhere.
is not as easy to use as the Saatchi or Artcyclopedia sites, but it covers less famous museums in small American towns. It's a good site if you know exactly what you want, whether it's a specific museum or a type of art. Choose a movement or medium, then sort through the alphabetized list of museums.
For online-only museums ...
The Web Gallery of Art
is a virtual museum and database of European painting and sculpture from the 12th to mid-19th centuries. You can search for artists alphabetically and even send an e-postcard of any image you find.
The 24 Hour Museum
has a continually updated section on current museum and gallery exhibitions that are available online. The Web site itself, a "virtual museum," is based in the United Kingdom, but the online exhibits are drawn from all over the world (and can be viewed from anywhere in the world, too).
Visiting galleries is a great way to get exposure to artwork that you won't see in a museum. Galleries often feature newer artists, so following current shows keeps your perspective fresh and heightens your awareness of trends in the art market. Or if you're a serious collector, a broad knowledge of galleries can enhance your expertise and increase your chances of finding the pieces you desire.
- The sites featured in this section will help you locate a gallery that you intend to visit physically. For online purchases, check out the "Buy and Sell Art Online" section of this guide.
- Also check the Art Magazines and News section to see information about gallery activity. Often a publication will feature a gallery, exhibition, or artist whose popularity is ascending.
's "Art Traveler" feature allows you to enter the city you're visiting and find all museums, galleries, and exhibitions in the area. It will also search its artwork database for paintings similar to the ones you'll see. Or click on a gallery in your selected area and view a sample of its paintings.
The Saatchi Gallery
, mentioned earlier in this guide for its comprehensive list of worldwide museums, has a similar list for galleries. You can search for galleries by name or select a featured gallery from the ones in rotation on the homepage. The site also allows dealers to create accounts and pages for their galleries.
is a resource for international galleries, artists, and art events. You can visit the homepage to see what's being featured or search through alphabetized lists of galleries and artists. You can also read news in "The Mag"
Whether you want to know what this month's hottest exhibits are or how quickly the prices of impressionist paintings are increasing, following one or two art magazines will enhance your knowledge and appreciation of the arts. Fine arts magazines offer reviews, interviews, retrospectives, and articles that explore both the development of art itself and its place in society. Given the wealth of specific information they provide, subscriptions to these magazines can be expensive. Fortunately, many of them offer all, or some, of their content on the Web. You can surf multiple sites and choose only the articles that interest you, or create a varied reading list of magazines with different angles to get a more complete perspective on the world of fine art.
- In addition to reading magazines devoted to reviewing and reporting on the art community, you can also check out the Arts section of your local newspaper. Many major metropolitan newspapers have regular Art sections; one example is The New York Times Art section, which covers the art scene on a worldwide scale.
- Most magazine sites allow you to search their archives for free. Although you may not always be able to get the full magazine online, you can get a list of contents and order back issues online with your credit card.
For aggregated news ...
is your online source for arts news compiled from over 200 newspapers and e-zines. The journal posts top stories on the homepage and features a variety of blogs. The huge amount of information makes the page a bit busy, but you're almost guaranteed to get the full report on daily art news.
For art magazines ...
is the online version of the print magazine by the same name. Special online features include "ArtGuide," which lets you search for art events all over the world and even places to eat and sleep while you're visiting. Or you can just read all the art news and reviews you'd get in the paper version. The site also links to Bookforum, a similar site for book reviews and literary news.
, the "oldest and most widely circulated art magazine in the world," makes a few articles from each issue available online. And you can get the full table of contents from current and past issues. You can also subscribe to the magazine or search for a newsstand in your area.
is Europe's leading contemporary art and culture magazine and contains reviews, columns and features concerning the worldwide art scene. The site also provides information about the Frieze Art Fair, which happens in London and features over 150 top galleries. Although based in Europe, the magazine provides a great deal of insight and information on the global art scene.
For specialized magazines ...
The National Museum of Women in the Arts
produces an online magazine that highlights the achievements of women in the arts. The magazine reports on a combination of current artists, historical figures, and trends in women's history.
is a source for all news, reviews, gallery, and museum listings for African American art. Visit to stay updated on featured exhibits, festivals, artists, and culture.
The Latin American Folk Institute
publishes the online journal, Clave, devoted to Latin American art news. Clave publishes articles, reviews, and interviews relating to the Latin American community at large and also reports on events at the Institute. Although largely focused on music and folklore, it's a good place to stay current on anything that might be going on in the visual arts world.
is the International Review of Ancient Art and Archaeology. The whole magazine is available online and features news and book reviews from the world of ancient art.
is an academic journal of contemporary Chinese art. It prints news, information about exhibitions and events, and reviews.
is a self-described platform for dialogue on Middle Eastern arts and culture. The magazine offers art-related news articles, profiles, and reviews. The online version is available with select content.
Visit any contemporary art museum or gallery and you'll see that technology has become a part of the artistic process. So it makes sense that your options for buying and selling art are more technologically advanced as well. Some online-only galleries hold solid credentials, possess fine collections, and allow you to view and research works online before you make a purchase. But if fine art is not in your budget, or not something you feel comfortable buying online, you can also find sites that sell prints or works of unknown artists. There are plenty of sites that will help you find art for reasonable prices or, if you're an artist, promote your own work.
- As you probably know, investing in art can be a serious endeavor. For tips on how to approach the market, check out this BusinessWeek article, "The Art of Buying Art".
- Any reputable online art gallery guarantees their artwork and has a fair return policy. Be wary of any site that won't allow you to send back unsatisfactory pieces.
- You can read the "Find a Gallery" section of this guide to determine whether a specific gallery has a Web site or online features.
For online galleries ...
is a well-regarded online art gallery that carries over 40,000 pieces of artwork. If you're new to Internet art purchasing, the site's best feature is a guide
to buying art online. If you're more experienced, you'll benefit from the easy-to-browse site, free membership, and extensive collection.
has two particularly useful features. First, you can select the "Art Galleries" tab at the top of the screen and browse through a directory of galleries categorized alphabetically or by type of gallery. You can also search a directory of online galleries. Once you've found sites you like, join Artbuzzer, the site's art community where you tag sites and share them, or bookmark them and keep them a secret.
is a comprehensive online fine art resource, managed by the Agora Gallery in New York City. You can browse art by medium or use the alphabetized directory of artists' portfolios.
For auction houses ...
may be one of world's best-known auction houses, but there may be things you still want to learn. Whether you want to research the company's history, find out where to pick up your auction paddle, or get an estimated auction value of your current collection, the resources are on the Web site. Also visit the site to check out what's being auctioned in the future.
is another famous auction house. If you can't make it to one of their worldwide locations, you can view the collections and place absentee bids online. If you click the "Sale Categories" tab at the top of the screen you can browse through an alphabetical list of past and current auction items. Don't miss the teddy bear going for $180,000.
provides a list of many other auction houses beyond the two listed above. The site lists auctions houses all over the world in addition to houses that specialize, such as the rare book auction house. You can connect directly to homepages from the site.
is an online auction service that most people are familiar with as a place to sell unwanted furniture or sports tickets, but it's also a site where you can buy art. This link takes you directly to eBay's art page.
For prints and posters ...
sells posters and prints to help you decorate your home at a reasonable price. You can search for a specific kind of décor, or you can select famous artists and look for prints of their popular paintings.
has many of the same features as Art.com, but also features sections on music and entertainment posters. For fine art prints, the site groups paintings by style rather than by artist.
sells primarily fine art posters and prints and has the look of an online art gallery. You can search by artist name, type, or style of artwork.
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