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Feature Archive
March, 2002
Education and the Art Museum
By Joseph Phelan
As a secondary school docent at one of the largest art museums in North America, as well as a writer for this website, parents, teachers and students frequently ask me where they can go online to find high quality educational materials about the fine arts and the rest of the curriculum.

Search Engines.

I usually advise folks to begin with a good search engine such as Google; a simple search is usually the best way to find some specific relevant material. For example, if you want to find lesson plans on Impressionism, type in Impressionism + "Lesson Plan". Up jump such websites as Teaching Impressionism, a website created for the exhibit which toured three museums in 1999, and The Impressionists, A&E's website for last year's TV series of the same name.

Retired Websites.

But any material you plan to use now or in the near future should be downloaded now because websites, like everything else, don't last forever. One of my favorite sites was PBS's companion to the Robert Hughes series American Visions. Unfortunately the station has recently retired it. The Whitney's humongous online exhibit of the American Century 1900-2000 is still listed on their site and at artmuseum.net but I have been unable to enter it (server does not respond). Perhaps it too has been retired.

Online Educational Materials only.

But most times once we get beyond a movement as popular as Impressionism people don't really know what they want because they don't know what's available and consequently don't know what to search for. If you know the kinds of collections a museum holds you are more likely to find educational material at that museum. Unfortunately only a minority of museums has put this material online. As a result we are listing only museums with online educational materials.

The Need to Share Information.

If the keywords used to search are too specific or too general these engines aren't of much help. Islamic Art educational materials are well represented online at museums like the Smithsonian Institution and the Metropolitan Museum of Art but you won't find them if you search under "Islamic art education". Why? It seems as though neither the Art Museums nor the Search Engines have made a concentrated effort to share information.

Unique Source.

While there are some websites which serve as clearinghouses for educational material, I found no site which provides a comprehensive up-to-date listing of all the institutions that provide online materials.

The Project.

So, for the past few weeks, I have been trolling through the websites of U.S. art museums. The results are published below and will be a permanent feature page here at Artcyclopedia. This listing will be expanded as new materials come to my attention.

What did I find? In general two things: first, the museums with the best holdings are also the ones with the best online features for teachers and students; and second, the range of materials and lesson plans is as wide and as deep as the range of art collected by American Museums.

Encyclopedic collections like the Smithsonian Museums in Washington, the Metropolitan in New York and the J. Paul Getty Museum in California, as one would expect, have high-level teacher's guides and lesson plans online based on the full range of their permanent collections and exhibits. The National Gallery of Art in Washington keeps putting first-rate guides to their collections and exhibits online, frequently accompanied by lesson plans for teachers. The Art Institute of Chicago, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Cleveland Museum of Art have awesome collections and amazing online materials.

Some Wonderful Things.

Yet even smaller museums are showing real enterprise and imagination. The San Diego Museum of Art has put together an online guide to its holdings, called "Wonderful Things Inside".

The great civilizations of the ancient world are well represented by online exhibits and teaching materials reflecting the amazing collections of American museums. Programs which give students the opportunity to research and study objects from Egypt, Greece, Rome, the Middle East, Asia, Africa and the Americas are now a click away. Ancient Egypt is especially well treated by such museums as the Metropolitan, Boston Fine Arts, Cleveland and the Art Institute of Chicago. African Art can be studied at the National Museum of African Art and the Smithsonian.

Religion and Art.

I was amazed and delighted to see so much good material online about religion and art. In fact some of the strongest sites are those, which offer materials on the artistic vision of Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism, as well as the three revealed religions Judaism, Christianity and Islam. (See especially the Smithsonian, the Berkeley Art Museum and New York's Jewish Museum.)

American Studies.

From the American Revolution and the Founding of the Constitution, to the Civil War and the Gilded Age, the story of the American experiment in self-government as seen through the eyes of its painters, sculptors, photographers and filmmakers can be experienced at many sites, such as the University of Virginia's Museum for American Studies and Ohio's Butler Institute of American Art.

Matisse for Kids.

Who would expect that if you type in "Matisse for Kids" into Google you will locate a cunning game devised by the Baltimore Museum of Art to teach the basics of Matisse's revolutionary art? Institutions such as the Baltimore Museum of Art are to be commended for producing such features.

Websites for kids.

Today's museums realize that their future depends on capturing the imagination and allegiances of young people Other museums with websites for kids include Albright-Knox Art Gallery, the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Gallery of Art, the Art Museum at Florida International University, the Denver Museum of Art, the Oakland Museum of California, Connecticut's Mattatuck Museum and New Britain Museum of American Art, the Mexic-Arte Museum, the Art Museum of Southeast Texas and the Seattle Art Museum. Creating alluring and enlightening web pages specifically designed for kids seems to me one of the challenging imperatives of the new online website.

Click here for the full list of art museum
websites featuring educational resources.

Next month I will provide a similar listing for the rest of the world's museums.

This article is copyrighted 2002. Please do not republish any portion of this article without written permission.

Joseph Phelan can be contacted at joe.phelan@verizon.net

Past Articles

February, 2002
      Unsung Griots of American Painting, by Joseph Phelan

January, 2002
      The British Museum COMPASS Project, interview by Joseph Phelan
      Robert Hughes, Time Magazine Art Critic: Biography and Writings
      Lifestyle: Online Casinos Finally Get Real

December, 2001
      Advent Calendar 2001, narrated by Joseph Phelan
      Software review: Le Louvre: The Virtual Visit on DVD-ROM, by Joseph Phelan

November, 2001
      Tragedy and Triumph at Arles: Van Gogh and Gauguin, by Joseph Phelan

October, 2001
      Her Last Bow: Sister Wendy in America, by Joseph Phelan

September, 2001
      Love, Death and Resurrection: The Paintings of Stanley Spencer, by Joseph Phelan

August, 2001
      Who is Rodin's Thinker?, by Joseph Phelan

July, 2001
      Celebrations North and South, by Joseph Phelan

June, 2001
      Rubens and his Age, by Joseph Phelan

May, 2001
      Great Reproductions of Great Paintings

April, 2001
      The Passion of Christ, by Joseph Phelan

March, 2001
      Edouard Manet: Public Spaces, Private Dreams, by Joseph Phelan

February, 2001
      Henry Moore and the British Museum: The Great Conversation, by Joseph Phelan

December, 2000
      Advent Calendar 2000, narrated by Joseph Phelan

November, 2000
      Article: Notorious Portraits, Part II, by John Malyon

October, 2000
      Article: Notorious Portraits, Part I, by John Malyon
      Article: The Other Michelangelo, by Joseph Phelan

September, 2000
      Article: The Art of Drawing, by Joseph Phelan

August, 2000
      Article: Poussin and the Heroic Landscape, by Joseph Phelan

July, 2000
      Article: Great Art Museums Online, by Joseph Phelan

June, 2000
      Article: Venetian Painting and the Rise of Landscape, by Joseph Phelan

May, 2000
      Article: Forbidden Visions: Mythology in Art, by Joseph Phelan

April, 2000
      Article: Themes in Art: The Passion of Christ, by Joseph Phelan
      Web site review: Christus Rex

March, 2000
      Web site review: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., by Joseph Phelan
      Online exhibit review: Inuit Art: The World Around Me, by John Malyon

February, 2000/Poll: Who is Producing the Most Interesting Art Today? (Results)

January, 2000/Poll: Who is Producing the Most Interesting Art Today? (Part II)

December, 1999/Poll: Who is Producing the Most Interesting Art Today? (Part I)

November, 1999/The Louvre Museum
      Web site review: The Louvre

October, 1999/Impressionism
      Web site review: North Carolina Museum of Art

September, 1999/Optical Art
      Web site review: The Butler Institute of American Art

August, 1999/Animals in Art
      Web site review: National Museum of Wildlife Art
      Online exhibit review: PBS: American Visions

July, 1999/Surrealism

June, 1999/Sculpture
      Web site review: Carol Gerten's Fine Art
      Online exhibit review: Michael Lucero: Sculpture 1976-1995

May, 1999/Women in the Arts
      Web site review: National Museum of Women in the Arts
      Online exhibit review: Jenny Holzer: Please Change Beliefs

April, 1999/The Golden Age of Illustration
      Web site review: Fine Arts Museums Of San Francisco
      Online exhibit review: Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe online

March, 1999/Vincent van Gogh
      Web site review: Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
      Web site review: The Vincent van Gogh Information Gallery

February, 1999/Great Art
      Web site review: The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia
      Online exhibit review: John Singleton Copley: Watson and the Shark