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Feature Archive
June, 2002
Chasing the Red Deer into the American Sublime
Education and the Art Museum, Part II
By Joseph Phelan
When people ask me what I've been doing lately, I say chasing the (red) deer into the American sublime. This sounds impressively poetic rather than sourly pedantic; I've found people are far more impressed by writers who sound (if not act) like poets rather than art know-it-alls. Although I've learned a lot about art by writing this column for two years, I've learned even more about art museum websites.

Last month I discovered a mother load of free educational materials available online from U.S. art museum. I can tell from your responses that I struck a chord. This month in surveying the United Kingdom I once again hit pay dirt.

Chasing the Red Deer

I wasn't fixing to hunt red deers in Scotland but at the end of this month's toils, I found a cool interactive site for the Royal Museum of Scotland which taught me about these amazing creatures from 10,000 years ago (one of whom, as the online video says, could feed a family of four for two weeks) It seems a perfect trope for what I've been experiencing these past two years.

For example, I have previewed this years biggest art blockbuster, Picasso/Matisse, searched through hundreds of William Turner's works, and discovered Alfred the Lion at the British Museum, who teaches children how to search online through that great collection. What keeps this job a pleasure is learning something which hardly anyone has heard about and getting the word to my readers.

The American Sublime

A lot of my readers are lifelong learners who should know, for example, that the Tate Britain has a big show about The American Sublime -- i.e. 19th century landscape painting in North America. "The sublime" is one of the most important but most misunderstood ideas that we inherited from the 18th century. The sublime is what we today mean by the awesome, something grander and nobler than all of us put together; the American sublime was the immense landscape of the continent which poets, and later painters, tried to capture for the millions who lived in the cities of the eastern seaboard and in Europe. This interactive exhibit and downloadable teachers guide taught me a lot about this great period in American art.


The Tate Modern website has already put up its Picasso/Matisse preview. Before the hoopla and ballyhoo over this immensely important exhibit start, this little gem actually allows you to learn something by comparing several works each by these giants and is accompanied by timeline and a fine insightful text. So when people start buzzing start about this exhibit -- and they will -- you will be all supplied with acute observations.

J.M.W. Turner

Who knows when you will be asked at a party or in a gallery to explain what the big deal is about Turner? Somebody is bound to have heard something about all of Turner being online somewhere. Yes its true, the Tate Britain has actually digitalized its entire collection of Turner's oils, watercolors, and sketches -- all 25,000 pieces. This awesome achievement deserves a Webbie award and much more media attention than it has gotten so far. It will take me a while to sort it all out, but you can visit right now. Less daunting because it contains only a few paintings, but still sublime, is the new Turner exhibit at the Baltimore Museum of Art. It's a good introduction to the greatest painter England ever produced.

Interactive Online Exhibits

I noticed so many intriguing interactive exhibits that I've included them as well. These are not strictly speaking educational materials (defined as curriculum guides/lesson plans written for teachers and students) but that definition now seems an unduly restrictive way of looking at education.

The British Museum had a great idea recently. Having established Compass for adults (see January's article) they decided to offer a kids version. So the staff selected around 800 objects from the Museum's collection with texts specifically written for and vetted by children. This material is keyed to national educational standards. I think it's worth a visit. You could capture the attention of even young children with it, and as a bonus have them learn how to do a search through the collections on their own. I should have been so lucky when I was a kid!


I've been trying to identify more specifically what particular material you can download at each site. This month you will find annotations to my list making it more clear and purposeful. (Of course it would be great if readers write in with additions.) Keep checking the list from time to time.

UK Educational Resources

Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology at Oxford University
Online course on Islamic art, Beasley Archive of Classical Casts. Other educational features to be added.

Bolton Art Gallery Education Services
Educational packets on Rubens and his Workshop.

British Museum
Compass and Compass for Kids (see January interview with Matthew Cock)

Cabaret Mechanical Theatre
Virtual and Interactive Mechanical Exhibit.

Campaign for Learning Through Museums and Galleries

DARE (Digital Art Resource for Education)
Interactive educational site for students and teachers. COOL

Fitzwilliam Museum at the University of Cambridge AccessArt

Site for teachers/students of art: interactive programs on drawing, sculpture, visual literacy new programs for slow learners.

Gainsborough's House
Gainsborough for Kids, and downloadable pamphlet "Taking Literacy a Step Further".

Gilbert Collection of Decorative Arts
Collection Resource packs for elementary and secondary school teachers.

Guildhall Art Gallery Image base
One of the best and largest online image database organized by ideas.

Hayward Gallery
Downloadable education pack based on exhibits.

Museum of Classical Archaeology at the University of Cambridge
Online guidebook to classical cast collection & teachers resource for teaching Ancient Greece.

UK National Portrait Gallery
Online distance learning materials: drawing, photography, faces of the 20th century and self-portraits by women.

The Royal Collection Kids' Zone

Tate Gallery
Downloadable teachers packs for American Sublime, Interactive introduction to Tate Britain, and Interactive tour of Turner. (Note: All of the Tate's vast Turner holdings are now online)


Hunterian Museum and Gallery at the University of Glasgow
Glasgow history (online interactive site for Vikings, Romans in Scotland, the Egyptians)

Royal Museum of Scotland
Interactive site on Chasing the Deer.


See also
        Education and the Art Museum, Part I

        American art museum websites with educational content

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

May, 2002
      Planning Your Summer Vacation, by Joseph Phelan

March, 2002
      Education and the Art Museum, Part I, by Joseph Phelan

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