Tuesday, December 8, 2009


It's a crazy-busy time of year, so much so that I'm holding off on a number of blog-projects that need editing (and pruning). But I wanted to quickly share this resource that has proven to be useful during my recent inquiries into modern art. It's a multimedia web project called Smarthistory.

With this growing collection of web-narratives, folks can access bits and pieces of art history in any order they choose, and they can integrate these nuggets into their teaching and learning - for free. In a broader sense, Smarthistory illustrates how web-based learning tools can augment and ultimately replace traditional textbooks.

I've checked out a couple of Smarthistory videos and found them to be pretty useful, though not without some drawbacks. Some of the commentary can be frustrating in the same way that a talk show-guest might seem out of depth with the broader conversation. Every once in a while I wished one contributor would hush and let the other person, clearly the expert in this case, talk more. Even so, the content offers insight on artists, periods, and works that otherwise may be locked within a proprietary or pricey delivery mode.

Thus, for example, while studying the lines of Barnett Newman's Vir Heroicus Sublimis, I gained an intriguing perspective on the artist's personal background that helps me interpret his so-called "zips," allowing me to appreciate a piece that might otherwise be dismissed as yet another bland example of color field painting. I'm not sure I'm convinced by the commentary I heard, but my understanding is improved by it. And that's worth some time to take a closer look.

If you're hoping to increase your knowledge of art history, start with Smarthistory.

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