Download Great Works of Art from 40+ Museums Worldwide: Explore Artvee, the New Art Search Engine

Dilbert creator Scott Adams once wrote of his early experiences introducing the World Wide Web to others. “In 1993, there were only a handful of Web sites you could access, such as the Smithsonian’s exhibit of gems. Those pages were slow to load and crashed as often as they worked.” But those who witnessed this technology in action would invariably “get out of their chairs their eyes like saucers, and they would approach the keyboard. They had to touch it themselves. There was something about the internet that was like catnip.” In the intervening decades, the technology powering the internet has only improved, and we’ve all felt how greatly that catnip-like effect has intensified. And the Smithsonian, as we’ve featured here on Open Culture, is still there — now with much more online than gems.

Today, the Smithsonian’s impressive online collections are accessible through Artvee, a new search engine for downloadable high-resolution, public domain artworks. So are the collections of more than 40 other international institutions, from the New York Public Library and the Art Institute of Chicago to the Rijksmuseum and Paris Musées, many of which had little or no online presence back in the early 1990s.

In recent years, they’ve gotten quite serious indeed about digitizing their holdings and making those digitizations freely available to the world, uploading them by the thousand, even by the million. With so many artworks and artifacts already up, and surely much more to come, the question becomes how best to navigate not just one of these collections, but all of them.

Artvee constitutes one answer to this question. Using its search engine, writes Denise Tempone at Domestika, “you can filter categories such as abstract art, landscape, mythology, drawings, illustrations, botany, fashion, figurative art, religion, animal, desserts, history, Japanese art, and still life. The site also gives you the option to search by artist. You will find works by Rembrandt van Rijn, Claude Monet, Raphael, and Sandro Botticelli in this amazing gallery.” Other collections, created by Artvee itself as well as by its users, include “illustrations from fairy tales; covers of popular American songs; and some even more peculiar ones, such as adverts selling bicycles that are over a hundred years old.”

The variety of artists browsable on Artvee also includes Alphonse Mucha, Edvard Munch, and Hilma af Kint; other collections offer the wonders of political illustrations, book promo posters, and NASA’s visions of the future. All of the items within, it bears repeating, are in the public domain or distributed under a Creative Commons license, meaning you can use them not just as sources of inspiration but as ingredients in your own work as well, a possibility few us could have imagined at the dawn of the Web. Back then, you’ll recall, we all used a variety of different tools and portals to navigate the internet, according to personal preference. The emerging field of art search engines, which includes not just Artvee but other options like Museo, may remind us of those days — and how far the internet has come since.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Blockchain and Money: A Free Online Course from MIT

Taught by MIT professor Gary Gensler, Blockchain and Money is “for students wishing to explore blockchain technology’s potential use—by entrepreneurs and incumbents—to change the world of money and finance. The course begins with a review of Bitcoin and an understanding of the commercial, technical, and public policy fundamentals of blockchain technology, distributed ledgers, and smart contracts. The class then continues on to current and potential blockchain applications in the financial sector.”

You can watch all 23 lectures above, or on YouTube. A syllabus and other course materials can be found on MIT’s website. More related courses are listed below.

Blockchain and Money has been added to our list of Free Business Courses, a subset of our collection, 1,700 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

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Sci-Fi “Portal” Connects Citizens of Lublin & Vilnius, Allowing Passersby Separated by 376 Miles to Interact in Real Time

Can we ever transcend our tendency to divide up the world into us and them? The history of Europe, which political theorist Kenneth Minogue once called “plausibly summed up as preparing for war, waging war, or recovering from war,” offers few consoling answers. But perhaps it isn’t for history, much less for theory or politics, to dictate the future prospects for the unity of mankind. Art and technology offer another set of views on the matter, and it’s art and technology that come together in Portal, a recently launched project that has connected Vilnius, Lithuania and Lublin, Poland with twin installations. More than just a sculptural statement, each city’s portal offers a real-time, round-the-clock view of the other.

“In both Vilnius and Lublin,” writes My Modern Met’s Sara Barnes, “the portals are within the urban landscape; they are next to a train station and in the city central square, respectively. This allows for plenty of engagement, on either end, with the people of a city 376 miles apart. And, in a larger sense, the portals help to humanize citizens from another place.”

Images released of the interaction between passerby and their local portal show, among other actions, waving, camera phone-shooting, synchronized jumping, and just plain staring. Though more than one comparison has been made to the Stargate, the image also comes to mind of the apes around the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey, reacting as best they can to a previously unimagined presence in their everyday environment.

Ironically, the basic technology employed by the Portal project is nothing new. At this point we’ve all looked into our phone and computer screens and seen a view from perhaps much farther than 376 miles away, and been seen from that distance as well. But the coronavirus-induced worldwide expansion of teleconferencing has, for many, made the underlying mechanics seem somewhat less than miraculous. Conceived years before travel restrictions rendered next to impossible the actual visiting of human beings elsewhere on the continent, let alone on the other side of the world, Portal has set up its first installations at a time when they’ve come to feel like something the world needs. “Residents in Reykjavik, Iceland, and London, England can expect a portal in their city in the future,” notes Barnes — and if those two can feel truly connected with Europe, there may be hope for the oneness of the human race yet.

via Colossal/MyModernMet

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Bob Ross Virtual Art Gallery: A New Site Presents 403 Paintings from The Joy of Painting Series

“We don’t make mistakes. We have happy accidents,” the late Bob Ross soothed fans painting along at home, while brushing an alarming amount of black onto one of his signature nature scenes.

His mellow on-camera demeanor and flowing, wet-on-wet oil painting style were perfectly calibrated to help tightly-wound viewers relax into a right-brained groove.

The creators of the Bob Ross Virtual Art Gallery take a more left brained approach.

Having collected data on Ross’ evergreen series, The Joy of Painting, they analyzed it for frequency of color use over the show’s 403 episodes, as well as the number of colors applied to each canvas.

For those keeping score, after black and white, alizarin crimson was the color Ross favored most, and 1/4 of the paintings made on air boast 12 colors.

The data could be slightly skewed by the contributions of occasional guest artists such as Ross’ former instructor, John Thamm, who once counseled Ross to “paint bushes and trees and leave portrait painting to someone else.” Thamm availed himself of a single color — Van Dyke Brown — to demonstrate the wipe out technique. His contribution is one of the few human likenesses that got painted over the show’s 11-year public television run.

The Bob Ross Virtual Art Gallery has several options for viewing the data.

Mouse over a grid of grey rectangles to see the 403 artworks presented in chronological order, along with titles and episode numbers.

(This has all the makings of a thumping good memory game, à la Concentration… flip all the rectangles, study them, then see if you can navigate back to all the cabins or meadows.)

A bar graph, similarly composed of rectangles, reveals the colors that went into each painting.

Another chart analyzes Ross’ use of color over time, as he moved away from Burnt Umber and eased up on Pfthalo Green.


Indian Red was accorded but a single use, in season 22’s first episode, “Autumn Images.” (“Let’s sparkle this up. We’re gonna have fall colors. Let’s get crazy.”)

For art lovers craving a more traditional gallery experience, site creator Connor Rothschild has installed a virtual bench facing a frame capable of displaying all the paintings in random or chronological order, with digital swatches representing the paints that went into them and YouTube links to the episodes that produced them.

And for those who’d rather gaze at data science, the code is available on GitHub.

Explore the Bob Ross Virtual Art Gallery here. Scroll down to take advantage of all the options.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her Necromancers of the Public Domain: The Periodical Cicada, a free virtual variety show honoring the 17-Year Cicadas of Brood X. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Meet the Inventor of Karaoke, Daisuke Inoue, Who Wanted to “Teach the World to Sing”

Daisuke Inoue has been honored with a rare, indeed almost certainly unique combination of laurels. In 1999, Time magazine named him among the “Most Influential Asians of the Century.” Five years later he won an Ig Nobel Prize, which honors particularly strange and risible developments in science, technology, and culture. Inoue had come up with the device that made his name decades earlier, in the early 1970s, but its influence has proven enduring still today. It is he whom history now credits with the invention of the karaoke machine, the assisted-singing device that the Ig Nobel committee, awarding its Peace Prize, described as “an entirely new way for people to learn to tolerate each other.”

The achievement of an Ig Nobel recipient should be one that “makes people laugh, then think.” Over its half-century of existence, many have laughed at karaoke, especially as ostensibly practiced by the drunken salarymen of its homeland. But upon further consideration, few Japanese inventions have been as important.

Hence its prominent inclusion in Japanologist Matt Alt’s recent book Pure Invention: How Japan’s Pop Culture Conquered the World. As Alt tells its story, the karaoke machine emerged out of Sannomiya, Kobe’s red-light district, which might seem an unlikely birthplace — until you consider its “some four thousand drinking establishments crammed into a cluster of streets and alleys just a kilometer in radius.”

In these bars Inoue worked as a hiki-katari, a kind of freelance musician who specialized in “sing-alongs, retuning their performances­ on­ the ­fly­ to ­match ­the­ singing­ abilities ­and­ sobriety ­levels­ of paying customers.” This was karaoke (the Japanese term means, literally, “empty orchestra”) before karaoke as we know it. Inoue had mastered its rigors to such an extent that he became known as “Dr. Sing-along,” and the sheer demand for his services inspired him to create a kind of automatic replacement he could send to extra gigs. The 8 Juke, as he called it, amounted to an 8-track car stereo connected to a microphone, reverb box, and coin slot. Pre-loaded with instrumental covers of bar-goers’ favorite songs, the 8 Jukes Inoue made soon started taking in more coins than they could handle.

“When I made the first Juke 8s, a brother-in-law suggested I take out a patent,” Inoue said in a 2013 interview. “But at the time, I didn’t think anything would come of it.” Having assembled his invention from off-the-shelf components, he didn’t think there was anything patentable about it, and unknown to him, at least one similar device had already been built elsewhere in Japan. But what Inoue invented, as Alt puts it, was “the total package of hardware and custom software that allowed karaoke to grow from a local fad into an enormous global business.” Had it been patented, says Inoue himself, “I don’t think karaoke would have grown like it did.” Would it have grown to have, as Alt puts  it, “profound­ effects­ on­ the­ fantasy­ lives­ of­ Japanese­ and­ Westerners ­both”? And would Inoue have found himself onstage more than 30 years later at the Ig Nobels, leading a crowd of Americans in a round of “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing”?

via Messy Nessy

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The First Cellphone: Discover Motorola’s DynaTAC 8000X, a 2-Pound Brick Priced at $3,995 (1984)

We get the culture our technology permits, and in the 21st century no technological development has changed culture like that of the smartphone. As with every piece of personal technology that we struggle to remember how we lived without, it evolved into being from a series of simpler predecessors that, no matter how clunky they seem now, were received as technological marvels in their day. Take it from Martin Cooper, the Motorola Engineer who invented the first handheld cellular mobile phone. “We didn’t know it was going to be historic in any way at all,” he says of the first publicly demonstrated cellphone call in 1973 in the Bloomberg video above. “We were only worried about one thing: is the phone going to work when we turn it on?”

The device Cooper had in hand was the prototype that would eventually become the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X, the first commercial portable cellular phone. (This as distinct from the existing car-phone systems that Cooper credits with inspiring him to develop an entirely handheld version.) Brought to market in 1983, it weighed about two pounds, took ten hours to charge a battery that lasted only 30 minutes, could store no more than 30 phone numbers, and cost nearly $10,000 in today’s dollars.

Yet “consumers were so impressed by the concept of being always accessible with a portable phone that waiting lists for the DynaTAC 8000X were in the thousands,” says Motorola design master Rudy Krolopp as quoted by the Project Management Institute. “In 1983, the notion of simply making wireless phone calls was revolutionary.”

38 years after “the brick,” as the 8000X was known, we’ve grown so used to that notion that many of us hardly ever make wireless phone calls anymore, preferring to communicate on our phones through text messages or an ever-expanding universe of internet-based apps — to say nothing of the other aspects of our lives increasingly handled through palm-sized touchscreens. “The modern smartphone is a technological marvel,” says Cooper. “It really is incredible, all the stuff that is squeezed into that cellphone.” Yet despite the astonishing evolution of his invention it represents, he’s not satisfied. “We think that we can make a smartphone that does all things for all people, and yet we know that it doesn’t do any of those things perfectly. We’ve still got a ways to go.” If you’re reading this on a smartphone, know that you hold in your hand the “brick” of 2059.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

How to Shop Online & Check Your E-Mail on the Go: A 1980s British TV Show Demonstrates

“Links between computers and television sets are, it is always threatened, about to herald in an age of unbelievable convenience,” announces television presenter Tony Bastable in the 1984 clip above, “where all the sociability of going down to your corner shop to order the week’s groceries will be replaced with an order over the airwaves.” Do tell. Live though we increasingly do with internet-connected “smart TVs,” the only unfamiliar-sounding part of that prediction is its reference to television sets. But back then, most every home computer used them as displays, and when also plugged into the telephone line they granted users the previously unthinkable ability to make instant financial transactions at any hour of the day or night, without leaving the house.

Mundane though it sounds now that many of us both do all our work and get all our entertainment online, paying bills was a draw for early adopters, who could come from unlikely places: Nottingham, for instance, the Nottingham Building Society being one of the first financial institutions in the world to offer online banking to its members.

Closer to Thames Headquarters, North London couple Pat and Julian Green appear in the clip above to demonstrate how to use something called “e-mail.” But first they must hook up their modem and connect to Prestel (a national online network that in the United Kingdom played something like the role Minitel did in France), an “extremely simple” process that will look agonizingly complicated to anyone who grew up in the age of wi-fi.

I myself grew up using the TRS-80 Model 100, an early laptop inherited from my technophile grandfather. Bastable whips out the very same computer in the segment above, shot during Database‘s trip to Japan. “The big advantage of a piece of equipment like this is to be able to couple it up back to my home base over the telephone line using one of these,” he says from his seat on a train, holding up the acoustic coupler designed to connect the Model 100 directly to a standard handset, in this case the pay phone in the front of the carriage. Alas, Bastable finds that “none of us have got enough change to make the call to England,” forcing him to check his messages from his hotel room instead. Would that I could send him a vision of my effortless experience connecting to wi-fi onboard a train crossing South Korea just yesterday. The future, to coin a phrase, is now.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

One Man’s Quest to Build the Best Stereo System in the World

To make Fitzcarraldo, a movie about a rubber baron who drags a steamship over a hill in the Peruvian jungle, Werner Herzog famously arranged the actual dragging of an actual steamship over an actual hill in the actual Peruvian jungle. This endeavor ran into all the complications you’d expect and then some. But the reasonable question of whether it wouldn’t be wiser to cut his losses and head back to civilization prompted Herzog to make an artistically defining statement: “If I abandon this project, I would be a man without dreams and I don’t want to live like that. I live my life or I end my life, with this project.”

Ken Fritz is a man with dreams, and the documentary above concerns one he pursued for nearly 30 years: that of building “the best stereo system in the world.” He set about realizing this dream in successful middle age, the time of life when the thoughts of no few men, he acknowledges, turn to audiophilia. But in Fritz’s case, the drive that made him a business success in the first place fixed his sights permanently on something more than a hi-fi fit for a man cave. Indeed, it entailed building something downright cavernous, a veritable concert hall of an addition to his house scaled to accommodate custom-made speaker towers and designed for the optimal dispersion of sound with a minimum of interference.

Much of Fritz’s system is custom-made, most elaborately notably its three-armed, 1,500-pound “Frankenstein turntable.” How much did it cost asks his son Scott? “I’ve seen turntables that sell for $100,00, $120,000, and they’re nowhere near as complicated and as involved as this,” he says. But to the true audiophile, every investment is worth it, whether of money, time, or effort. For “once it’s built, if you don’t like it, if doesn’t work, you’re stuck with it. You just lie to yourself: ‘It sounds good.'” Fritz’s music room stands as a testament to his determination not to lie to himself — as well as to his love of music and will to give that love a concrete form.

“I just cannot go day after day without accomplishing something,” Fritz says. “They say that when you’re retired, you shouldn’t have to do anything. I don’t buy that at all. Fortunately, all my goals have been fulfilled. I’ve built everything I’ve wanted to build.” This includes all his music room’s shelves and cabinets, each perfectly proportioned to the component it contains. And though a diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis has brought Fritz’s woodworking days to an end, it hasn’t put him off the notion that “if the mind doesn’t keep the body going, and the body doesn’t fulfill the thoughts that a man has, he becomes senseless. He might as well just pack it up.” Few of us will ever know the kind of satisfaction he must feel listening to Swan Lake, his favorite work of classical music, on the sound system that could fairly be called his life’s work. But many of us will wonder: how must “Deacon Blues” sound on it?

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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