Access to information has never been easier with the rise of online learning. With free, flexible, and accessible courses offered through various platforms, anyone can enroll in online art history courses without having to leave the comfort of their home or changing out of their pajamas. Today, prominent art museums and universities provide art lovers from all backgrounds opportunities to expand their art knowledge.

Looking for introductory art information? Would you rather focus on specific art movements like Impressionism or Pop Art? Or, are your art interests more niche? Below is a curated list of modern and contemporary art online courses that will surely satisfy your art history needs.

Modern Art & Ideas

Ever wanted to get an introduction to modern and contemporary art? This course by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) does just that. It explores how artists like Vincent van Gogh, Frida Kahlo, and Marcel Duchamp responded to social, cultural, and political issues. Led by Lisa Mazzola, the course explores common themes influencing artists on a global scale. Aside from online readings and videos, the course invites online interaction through a discussion forum and peer review assignment.

  • Offered by MoMA through Coursera
  • Approximately 12 hours to complete / Suggested 5 weeks of study, 2 hours per week
  • Instructors: Lisa Mazzola, Assistant Director, School and Teacher Programs in the Department of Education

What is Contemporary Art?

Members from the different curatorial departments of MoMA strive to answer the question posed in the course’s name. Those enrolled discover what contemporary art truly is by hearing from various artists, architects, and designers. Relying on MoMA’s collection, the course discusses over 70 artworks and their diverse approaches to current issues and questions. Lectures provide information on the creative process and inspiration of works created between 1980 to the present.

  • Offered by MoMA through Coursera 
  • Approximately 12 hours to complete / Suggested 9 hours per week
  • Instructors: Sophie Cavoulacos, Assistant Curator in the Department of Film / Sean Anderson, Associate Curator of the Department of Architecture & Design / Arièle Dionne-Krosnick Curatorial Assistant of the Department of Architecture & Design / Erica Papernik-Shimizu Associate Curator of the Department of Media & Performance / Christian Rattemeyer Harvey S. Shipley Miller Associate Curator of the Department of Drawings & Prints

The Modern Genius: Art and Culture in the 19th Century

Ideas, arguments, and interpretations presented in this course focus on the impact of 19th-century European art. From Realism through Post-Impressionism, explore the development of French avant-garde art and its new approach to art and visual culture which shaped modern art. Videos and readings discuss stylistic changes, new subjects, and the new roles of artists that challenged academic art.

  • Offered by OTIS College of Art and Design through Kadenze
  • 5 Sessions / 10 hours of work per session
  • Instructor: Dr. Parme Giuntini, Assistant Chair of Liberal Arts and Science and Director of Art History 

Charting the Avant Garde: From Romanticism to Utopic Abstraction

Ever wanted to explore 200 years of avant-garde art? Using the modern and postmodern collection of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), the course covers the 19th-century movements of Romanticism, Realism, and Impressionism. The video lectures further discuss how these movements were precursors to radical expressions that pushed the boundaries of art to new heights.

  • Offered by SAIC through Kadenze
  • 4 Sessions / 13 hours of work per session
  • Instructor: Lisa Wainwright, art historian and current Dean of Faculty, Vice President of Academic Affairs

Touring Modernism: From the French Avant-garde to American Pop and Beyond

Another course offered by SAIC, this course focuses on the history of modern and postmodern art. More specifically, it offers an in-depth approach to understanding the context and narratives of art created in the 19th and 20th centuries. With the help of the Art Institute of Chicago’s collection, one will explore how artists used forms, colors, and images to respond to visual and material culture. Additionally, video lectures cover a wide range of topics from Freud’s idea of the unconscious to the rise of illustrating popular culture.

  • Offered by SAIC through Kadenze
  • 12 Session with 5-12 lessons / 8-10 hrs. per session
  • Instructor: Lisa Wainwright, art historian and current Dean of Faculty, Vice President of Academic Affairs

Ground-Breaking Contemporary Artists

Looking to learn about art without having to do multiple long readings? Then this fast-paced and simple course focusing on global artists is for you. Highbrow offers an innovative approach to learn about different approaches to self-expression and how diverse artists are pushing the boundaries of art today. The course focuses on exploring in-depth the work of Ai Weiwei, Marina Abramovich, Gerhard Richter, Jeff Koons, Barbara Kruger, Takashi Murakami, Yayoi Kusama, Damien Hirst, Kara Walker, and Shepard Fairey.

  • Offered through Highbrow, 30-day trial available 
  • 10 days of 5-minute readings followed by a quiz

Street Artists You Should Know

Another course offered by Highbrow, this one steps outside museums and explores street art. The short readings highlight ten late-20th century artists and their rebellious attitude and proficiency with spray paint cans. Artists discussed include Banksy, Vhils, DALeast, C215, Okuda, Blu, Os Gemeos, Phlegm, Roa, and JR.

  • Offered through Highbrow, 30-day trial available 
  • 10 days of 5-minute readings followed by a quiz

Modern Architecture

If your interests in art extend to architecture, this course offered by Build Academy provides a look at the history of modern architecture and its development. Instructor Dr. Ivan R. Shumkov provides insight into architectural movements and prominent architects like Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier. Furthermore, the course focuses on the progress and utopian legacy form the early 20th century to the Second World War through video lectures, quizzes, readings, discussion boards, peer-to-peer reviews, and virtual meetings.

  • Offered through Build Academy
  • 10 sessions with 7-11 lessons / self-paced with a recommended 2-3 hrs. per week
  • Instructors: Dr. Ivan R. Shumkov, New York-based architect, professor, and curator / Dr. Emanuela Giudice, Turin based educator

Exploring Japanese Avant-garde Art Through Butoh Dance

Specifically aimed at those interested in Japanese culture, this course offers an introduction to key concepts of Japanese avant-garde art. Get access to archival materials and learn how Japan influenced Western art by exploring Hijikata Tatsumi's butoh dance. Additionally, develop a deep understanding of butoh and its innovation of performance art.

  • Offered by the Keio University through FutureLearn
  • 4 weeks / 4hrs. per week 
  • Instructors: Yohko Watanabe, Keio University Art Center professor and curator / Takashi Morishita, Director of the Hijikata Tatsumi Archive / Rosa van Hensbergen, doctoral student at the University of Cambridge

ART of the MOOC: Public Art and Pedagogy

A collaboration between Duke University and Creative Time, a nonprofit art organization, this course focuses on public art’s recent history. One of Coursera’s shorter courses included on the list, it presents today’s reinvented form of culture and art. By discussing public phenomenon such as flash mobs, the course highlights developments of recent decades linked to spatial politics, social structures, and experimental education.

  • Offered by Duke University through Coursera 
  • Approximately 9 hrs. to complete
  • Instructors: Pedro Lasch, visual artist and Associate Research Professor of Art History & Visual Studies / Nato Thompson, Chief Curator at Creative Time


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