Creativity
10 University Art Classes You Can Take for Free Online
The world of MOOCs (short for “massive open online courses”) is a booming one, featuring more than 10,000 online courses listed by 800 different universities. Many are free, and even more are self-paced—allowing you to take classes at your own convenience—meaning it’s never been easier to go back to school. And there are plenty of enticing offerings when it comes to the visual arts.
Interested in mastering a new, hands-on creative skill? You can learn to draw your own comics or capture artful digital photographs. Wish you could brush up on Art History 101? There are courses exploring the art and archaeology of ancient Egypt and the development of the artistic avant-garde. Below, we’ve rounded up 10 of our favorite art and design classes offered by colleges and universities across the globe.

ART of the MOOC: Public Art and Pedagogy

Duke University

Workload: 7 weeks; 4–6 hours per week

, , Claire Doherty, and Tom Finkelpearl all appear as guest lecturers in this star-studded course. Led by artist and Duke professor and Creative Time artistic director , the syllabus touches on several controversial yet iconic works of public art, including ’s Vietnam memorial and ’s Tilted Arc (1981). Additionally, it explores the way artists have used social institutions—such as corporations, churches, and banks—as a medium for public works. Even the online course format of the MOOC itself is examined as a potential medium for public art.
Although this course is open to beginners with no prior artmaking experience, it will also provide challenging alternatives for more advanced students—including the opportunity to design and execute their own public art interventions.

Pyramids of Giza: Ancient Egyptian Art and Archaeology

Harvard University

Time commitment: 8 weeks; 2–4 hours per week

Led by Harvard Egyptology professor Peter Der Manuelian, this course digs into ancient Egypt’s most famous archeological site: the Giza Plateau. Home to the Great Sphinx and a trio of monumental pyramids—including the Great Pyramid of Giza, the oldest of the seven wonders of the ancient world—the site provides a jumping-off point to discuss the culture and history of Egypt’s Old Kingdom.
Lectures will explore the significance of hieroglyphic inscriptions inside the tombs, cultivate an appreciation of Egyptian art of the time period, and consider the ways in which new technologies like 3D modeling could shape the future of Egyptology.

Charting the Avant-Garde: from Romanticism to Utopic Abstraction

School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC)

Workload: 4 sessions; 13 hours of work per session

Abstraction first emerged in Western painting at the start of the 20th century and altered the course of art history in irrevocable ways. But how did these artists break free of figuration and representation after thousands of years? Lisa Wainwright, the dean of faculty at SAIC, guides students through 200 years of avant-garde art at the Art Institute of Chicago. “We will be looking at art that shocked the public when it was first seen,” she says. The course delves into the 19th-century movements of , realism, and , exploring how artists built a foundation for later movements like and —which, in turn, helped foster the pure abstraction pioneered by the likes of , , and .

Visualizing Japan

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, University of Tokyo

Workload: 4 weeks per course; 3–6 hours per week

This three-part series examines the modern history of Japan, from the 1850s to 1930s, as well as post-war Tokyo. Rather than exploring Japan’s history through the written word, however, these courses utilize images made by people who experienced the events firsthand. Commodore Matthew Perry’s 1853–54 expedition to Japan, for instance, resulted in competing visuals from the U.S. and Japan that comment on Westernization. The archives of major Japanese cosmetics company Shiseido, on the other hand, explore concepts of modernity.

Antiquities Trafficking and Art Crime

University of Glasgow

Workload: 3 weeks; 4 hours per week

Twenty-eight years ago, two men dressed as policemen forced their way into Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and stole half a billion dollars worth of art. To this day, it’s the largest art heist ever committed—and it remains unsolved. This wide-ranging course extends far beyond art theft, however. One unit focuses on forgery and the methods employed by experts in order to identify fakes; another explores the world of antiquities trafficking, and the ways in which it has decimated archeological sites in Syria and Iraq.
The class also presents the pros and cons of returning cultural objects to their countries of origin—culminating in a debate that will tackle a major, real-life antiquities return case that’s still ongoing.

Psychology of Art and Creativity

University of Central Florida

Workload: 4 hours per week

What is creativity? And can it be measured? Both questions are posed by this course, which focuses on the intersection between art and psychology. Although certain studies have posited that there is a connection between insanity and creativity, this class will expose the problems with such research. Students will also be introduced to the practice of art healing—the use of art and artmaking to promote emotional and physical wellbeing—and will be trained to perform certain techniques.

Comics: Art in Relationship

California College of the Arts

Workload: 5 classes; 10 hours of work per class

With the release of Black Panther in early 2018, the mainstream interest in comic book characters has reached a fever pitch. Led by Matt Silady, chair of California College of the Arts’s MFA in comics, this course will deepen students’ understanding of the comic book medium by exploring fundamentals such as the relationship between text and images, page layouts, and transitions between panels. Aspiring comic book artists are welcome—the syllabus was designed with both trained artists or and true beginners in mind.

Photography Basics and Beyond: From Smartphone to DSLR

Michigan State University

Workload: 7 months; 4 hours per week

Ready to graduate from iPhone photography to something more powerful? This four-module program from Michigan State guides brand-new photographers through the ins and outs of digital photography, and arms them with a fundamental set of skills. In the first section, “Cameras, Exposure, and Photography,” students are introduced to the basic functions of a range of digital cameras as they take their first photographs. Later lessons address composition, post-production, lighting, and more. It’s a thorough introduction to the medium—but if the time commitment seems daunting, New York’s School of Visual Arts also offers a more abbreviated online introductory photography course that takes 30 hours to complete.

Ideas from the History of Graphic Design

California Institute of the Arts (CalArts)

Workload: 4 weeks; 2–3 hours per week

From the first 19th-century mass-marketing campaigns to the radical, psychedelic imagery of the 1960s and ’70s, this course traces the development of graphic design over the past hundred years. Along the way, the syllabus touches on the and modernism, and the ways in which they influenced the field. The course also discusses when and how graphic design become a recognized practice. This particular class is one piece of a five-part series on graphic design that offers; other segments, including the introductory “Fundamentals of Graphic Design,” provide a more hands-on experience.

Age of Cathedrals

Yale University

Workload: 9 weeks; 4 hours per week

In 1144, the cathedral of Saint-Denis—the first church to contain every element of architecture—was completed just north of Paris. This major French basilica serves as a starting point for this class, which traces the evolution of religious architecture from to Gothic. Students will come away with an understanding of major architectural elements such as pointed arches, ribbed vaults, and, of course, flying buttresses. The course also explores how Gothic cathedrals contributed to the revival of 12th- and 13th-century cities—serving as the catalyst for new social arrangements, art, literature, and economics throughout the High Middle Ages.
Abigail Cain