An Introduction to 100 Important Paintings with Videos Created by Smarthistory

If you have an inter­est in how the inter­net has widened the very con­cept of edu­ca­tion, you may well know about Google’s Art Project, a dig­i­tal wealth of free visu­al art infor­ma­tion and view­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties we’ve fea­tured before. And you more than like­ly know about Khan Acad­e­my, the high­est-pro­file pro­duc­er of edu­ca­tion­al videos on the inter­net. Now, from the com­bined pow­er of their learn­ing resources comes this col­lec­tion of video intro­duc­tions to over 100 impor­tant paint­ings. Rang­ing from between two to nine min­utes and cov­er­ing works of art cre­at­ed in eras from 575 B.C.E to the Sec­ond World War, these brief but intel­lec­tu­al­ly dense and visu­al­ly rich lessons bear the label of Smarthis­to­ry, “a mul­ti­me­dia web-book about art and art his­to­ry” that merged with Khan Acad­e­my in 2011.

In the video at the top of the post, Smarthis­to­ry intro­duces us to Bot­ti­cel­li’s 1486 Tbe Birth of Venus, “one of the most icon­ic images in the his­to­ry of West­ern art” — its con­tent, its con­text, and its inspi­ra­tion. The Birth of Venus might seem like one of those images that needs no intro­duc­tion, but as all the infor­ma­tion revealed in the video reminds us, most of us, if not art his­to­ri­ans our­selves, could at least use a refresh­er.

Just above, we have Vin­cent van Gogh’s 1889 The Bed­room, a paint­ing that, in the words of the artist him­self, “ought to rest the brain — or rather, the imag­i­na­tion.” Though we all know the name of this par­tic­u­lar post-Impres­sion­ist, we may not have seen this par­tic­u­lar can­vas of his before, a fact Smarthis­to­ry’s experts Beth Har­ris and Steven Zuck­er take into account when they explain to us how they them­selves think about it. “What you’re talk­ing about is the root of abstrac­tion itself,” says Zuck­er. “It’s not that this is rep­re­sen­ta­tive; it’s that the for­mal qual­i­ties of paint­ing itself can have their own expe­ri­en­tial aspect.” And they speak just as insight­ful­ly on the paint­ings we encounter, in one form or anoth­er, every so often in our dai­ly lives. Edward Hop­per’s 1942 Nighthawks, for instance, a repli­ca of which I saw on the side of one cof­fee mug I used every day for years, gets dis­cussed below as “an expres­sion of wartime alien­ation” that deliv­ers “an imme­di­ate impli­ca­tion that we are alone”  that “makes us look for some sign of life, but we don’t see any­thing.” Smarthis­to­ry’s videos man­age to reveal a great deal of emo­tion­al, tech­ni­cal, and his­tor­i­cal knowl­edge on these and many oth­er paint­ings in a frac­tion of the time it takes a stu­dent to cross cam­pus for their art his­to­ry lec­ture — let alone to sit through its entire slideshow. You can see all 100 videos in the col­lec­tion here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Google Puts Over 57,000 Works of Art on the Web

The British Library Puts 1,000,000 Images into the Pub­lic Domain, Mak­ing Them Free to Reuse & Remix

The Rijksmu­se­um Puts 125,000 Dutch Mas­ter­pieces Online, and Lets You Remix Its Art

The Get­ty Puts 4600 Art Images Into the Pub­lic Domain (and There’s More to Come)

Free: The Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art and the Guggen­heim Offer 474 Free Art Books Online

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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Comments (5)
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  • jr says:

    By uti­liz­ing online video tuto­ri­als, web­sites such as Khan or are suc­ceed­ing in pro­duc­ing a wide-range of top­ics for any learn­ing need.

  • Klein says:

    What is the intro­duc­tion piano music played for every smarthis­to­ry video? I’ve been search­ing for a long time for it!

  • Maurice Read says:

    The head­ing is “Dis­cov­er 100s of paint­ings” …from
    Google and Khan Acad­e­my but I can only find three, Bot­ti­cel­li, Van Gogh and Hop­per. What am I doing wrong?

  • Henry says:

    You are doing noth­ing wrong. I can only see three as well.

  • Karen Bowman says:

    Check the end of the arti­cle. There is a place to click to find the rest

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