100 Free College Courses To Develop Your Artistic Eye

By Jill Gordon

There’s a lot of thought and technique that goes into a work of art. Whether it’s a novel, film, sculpture or painting, the skills necessary to produce a quality piece of art are worthy of admiration. Check out these free online courses your artistic appreciation.

Introductory Courses

At first glance, understanding a great piece of art can seem overwhelming. After all, few kids actually enjoy English class. But maturity has a strange effect on attitudes and tastes. For those wishing they had paid closer attention in school, these courses are great primers to the wonderful world of art and literature.

  1. Introduction to Photography: A course with a practical approach to the study of digital and analog photography. This MIT course also covers professional techniques such as lighting and digital imaging. [MIT]
  2. Introduction to the Visual Arts: Explore basic techniques and practices of visual artistic expression and learn about space as a medium. [MIT]
  3. Introduction to Western Music: A broad overview of Western music from the Middle Ages to the present day with emphasis on specific periods. Develop listening skills, learn about cultural and the major composers. [MIT]
  4. Introduction to World Music: This course studies the interaction between music and culture through listening analysis and textbook readings. [MIT]
  5. Introduction to Stagecraft: A fun and creative course offering hands on experience designed to advance students’ understanding of theatrical production. [MIT]
  6. Introduction to Musical Composition: Focusing on questions of unity, this course investigates the sonic organization of music with composition projects and listening exercises. [MIT]
  7. Introduction to Drama: From Shakespeare to Arthur Miller, this course examines the art of storytelling with visual performance. [MIT]
  8. Introduction to Literary Theory: Focusing on the ways people understand literature, this course teaches students different ways of interpreting material. [MIT]
  9. Introduction to Contemporary Hispanic Literature: Hispanic culture is rapidly becoming mainstream. This class is about the influential texts in Hispanic society with emphasis on influential events. [MIT]
  10. Introduction to Fiction: A classic class at colleges worldwide, this course introduces students to general trends, themes and styles of fiction throughout history. [MIT]
  11. Making Sense of the Arts: Develop knowledge and understanding about topics related to art with this brief intro course. [The Open University]
  12. The Arts: Past and Present: Without any prior knowledge or experience, this course introduces students university-level study across a range of disciplines such as philosophy and art history. [The Open University]
  13. Introduction to Shakespeare: An introduction to Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets, through reading and analysis. [The University of Utah]
  14. Introduction to Art History: A study of the artistic endeavors of people from around the world with focus on painting, sculpture and architecture. [The University of Utah]
  15. Introduction to Creative Writing: This class introduces students to general literary and writing techniques for artistic expression. [The University of Utah, Salt Lake City]

Paintings and Sculptures

Learn more about the techniques of masters such as Da Vinci, Rembrandt or Van Gogh with these courses on art history and technique.

  1. 20th Century Art: Examines major developments in European and American art in the last century. [MIT]
  2. Modern Art and Mass Culture: Explore the line artists walk between fine art and mass culture. The class looks at paintings and sculptures as well as graffiti and comics. [MIT]
  3. British Painting: A brief history of painting in Britain tracing the development toward a unique style. [National Gallery of Art]
  4. The French Painting Collection: This class teaches students about the great master French painter from the impressionists to Dada. [National Gallery of Art]
  5. Byzantine Art and Painting in Italy: A class touring the Italian paintings from the Byzantine era. Includes overviews, histories and an image archive. [National Gallery of Art]
  6. Painted Cylindrical Sculptures: This course experiments with beginning paper sculpture techniques. [LEARN NC Lesson Plans]
  7. Tilman Riemenschneider: Master Sculptor of the Late Middle Ages: Some great artists go unnoticed for generations. One such artist was German sculptor Tilman Riemenschneider who created over 50 large scale works. [National Gallery of Art]
  8. Monumental Sculpture from Renaissance Florence: A study of large Renaissance sculptures from Florentine artists. [National Gallery of Art]
  9. Self-Portrait in Wire: This class uses wire to teach about the basic of using lines as elements in art. [LEARN NC Lesson Plans]
  10. Murals: Heritage on the Walls: Students explore the process of designing and painting a mural. Course also discusses visual techniques and mural’s use in public spaces. [KQED Education Network]
  11. African Americans in the Paintings of Norman Rockwell: A study of the depictions of African Americans in the work of master American painter Norman Rockwell. [WGBH Open Vault]
  12. Research, Production, and Presentation of Abstract and Pop Art: An introduction to abstract and pop art using print materials and lectures. [Learning in Hand]
  13. Native American Folklore: Students learn about Native American art as well as later depiction of their folklore by Western artists. [Smithsonian Institute]
  14. What Makes You Scream?: In this detailed study of Edvard Munch’s famous painting, “The Scream” students create their own versions of the masterpiece with directional lines like the artists did. [LEARN NC Lesson Plans]
  15. Learning to Look at Art: This class helps students develop strategies for visual literacy by looking at paintings other forms of art. [LEARN NC Lesson Plans]


Designing a building is a combination of both art and science. Learn more about this complicated field with these awesome architecture classes.

  1. The Production of Space: Look at space from various perspective and points of departure. Examine the possibilities of art and architecture in urban spaces. [MIT]
  2. Selected Topics in Architecture: Architecture from 1750 to the Present: This class studies general trends of modern architecture. Details the evolution of the field in response to cultural, social and artistic developments. [MIT]
  3. Think About Architecture in History and At Present: A class that teaches students techniques about architectural theory, practice and history. [MIT ]
  4. Theory and Method in the Study of Architecture and Art: Studies of historical and theoretical examples of architecture though this class is only open to advance students. [MIT ]
  5. Triumph of the Baroque: Architecture in Europe: The Baroque period gave Europe many of its best known buildings. This class examines the architectural history of this period and evaluate its impact on moder Europe. [National Gallery of Art]
  6. The Architecture of Cairo: A major beacon of cultural and artistic influence for the Arab world, architecture in Cairo effects buildings worldwide. This class studies the changes in architecture and design Cairo over the centuries. [MIT ]
  7. Dialogue in Art, Architecture and Urbanism: This course studies the effects of artists, architects and other disciplines on the planning, design and layout of modern cities. [MIT]
  8. Introduction to Naval Architecture: Naval architecture is a highly valuable specialty all its own. In this class, students learn the basics of ship building and design. [MIT ]
  9. Architectural Construction and Computation: Designing and planning a building is only half the battle, actual construction is the other half. Learn the principles of construction with this helpful class. [MIT ]
  10. Contemporary Architecture and Critical Debate: From going green to urban sprawl, furious debates are raging in contemporary architecture. This class brings students into the discussion. [MIT ]
  11. Religious Architecture and Islamic Cultures: A course that presents Islamic architecture both as a historical tradition and as influenced by other cultures. [MIT]
  12. Triangles and Arches in Architecture: This class explores the most important geometric forms in architecture: triangles and arches. [WGBH Educational Foundation]
  13. Software Architecture: This class explores computer programs and how they can be used in modern architecture. [Connexions]
  14. Architecture Studio: Building in Landscapes: This class discusses the finer nuances of designing a buildings that balance with the natural world. [MIT]
  15. BSAD Foundations in Visual Arts: A course teaching visual arts appreciation to aspiring architects. [MIT]

Music History, Composition and Theory

It has been said that music is the one true universal language. Every culture has their own version of music, take these classes to appreciate the beat of another’s drum.

  1. Fundamentals of Music: This course introduces basics of Western music through written and instrumental practice. Learn about chords, rhythm and scales. [MIT]
  2. Modern Music: 1900 to 1960: This course examines concert music and musicians from the first sixty years of the 20th century. [MIT]
  3. Early Music: Covering Western music starting in 1680, this course details the development techniques and notation as musicians refined their skills. [MIT]
  4. Pops Out in the Cause of Happiness: The Story of Louis Armstrong: The music of Louis Armstrong has inspired musicians for generation, this course discovers the link between the legendary jazzman’s life and art. [Columbia]
  5. Music Composition: A class for musicians already familiar with basic music theory, students write long form compositions for a variety of instruments. [MIT]
  6. Symphony and Concerto: This survey of significant orchestral masterworks covers three centuries of music from the 1700s to the 1990s. [MIT]
  7. Music from the Renaissance and Baroque: A class examining the differences and similarities between two largely misunderstood periods of Western music. [Columbia]
  8. Music of Africa: This introduction to the musical traditions of Africa offers in depth discussions of drumming and dance. [MIT]
  9. Composing for Jazz Orchestra: Extensive discographies from jazz greats supplement this course while students are expected to write two complete scores as part of their assignments. [MIT]
  10. Popular Music of the World: A study of popular music from different cultures. Specifically focuses on music used in or created for popular music. [MIT]
  11. Classical Music and the Music of the Classical Era: An interesting class on the history of classical Western music from its earliest beginning to the second half of the 18th century. [Connexions]
  12. Janissary Music and Turkish Influences on Western Music: The West and Middle East have rarely seen eye to eye. This class studies the interesting influence the Ottoman Empire had on European music. [Connexions]
  13. Composing with Computers: With progressive music composition assignments, students learn about modern music making with different computer programs. [MIT]
  14. Music Perception and Cognition: A class on the psychology of music, students study the neurological implications of sound. [MIT]
  15. Introduction to Musical Instruments: With an extensive library of musical recordings, this course is a basic introduction to musical instruments. [Qedoc Learning Resources]

English and World Literature

For some, reading is a passion, for others it’s a burden. Regardless of how you truly feel, these sites can teach students all they need to know about classic literature.

  1. The Shakespearean Sonnet and the Modern Voice: This course examines the link between Shakespeare’s sonnets and how they affect modern literary styles. [Columbia]
  2. Writing About Literature: Reading and discussion questions help better students’ understanding of literature. [MIT]
  3. Foundations of Western Culture: Homer to Dante: This course looks at classic texts that have shaped heroes, villains and plots for generations. [MIT]
  4. Major Poets: A quick overview of poetry as a genre concentrated on major poets such as Yeats and Elliot. [MIT]
  5. The Art of the Probable: A look at the history of science in literature with emphasis on mathematical probability in stories. [MIT]
  6. An Adventure with Words: James Joyce’s Ulysses: Famous for his use of inner monologue or “stream of consciousness” writing style, James Joyce is also famous for being impossible to understand. This course aims to better students’ understanding a master author. [Columbia]
  7. World Literature: Travel Writing: From Columbus to Kerouac, this class studies the time honored travel writing genre. Analyze maps and learn cultural context. [MIT]
  8. Best Sellers: Detective Fiction: This course offers an extensive list of detective stories. Treats popular detective fiction such as Sherlock Holes and Elmore Leonard like literature. [MIT]
  9. The Future of English: English is a rapidly changing language. New words are frequently created or added from other languages. This class explores key issues affecting the future of the English language. [Columbia]
  10. Medivel Literature: Dante, Boccaccio and Chaucer: Detailed examinations of Middle Age masters. [MIT]
  11. Japanese Popular Culture: Topics such as manga (comics) and best sellers and their effect on Japanese culture are discussed. [MIT]
  12. A Passage to India: Introduction to Modern Indian Culture and Society: An introduction to Indian culture with short stories, novel excerpts and essays. [MIT]
  13. Medieval Literature: Medieval Women Writers: An exploration of the role of women in literature during the Dark Ages. [MIT]
  14. Literature and Ethical Values: This class examines competing ethical concepts and the implications of certain actions by close reading of literary works. [MIT]
  15. Topics in South Asian Literature and Culture: Issues and topics relating to South Asian culture are explored in this class which explores writers from Sri Lanka to Pakistan. [MIT]

Film, Radio and Television

The 20th century saw the introduction of powerful new media mediums. Discover and discuss relatively new media inventions such as film and television with these interesting, and free, online courses.

  1. Master Filmmaker’s Class with Milos Forman: With an emphasis on screenwriting and casting, this interactive seminar with Oscar-winner Milos Forman is an invaluable experience for any aspiring filmmaker. [Columbia]
  2. The Film Experience: This class explores the unique properties of film as a story telling medium and historical evolution of the art form. [MIT]
  3. Shakespeare, Film and Media: The first Shakespeare play was made in 1899 and since, the Great Bard has found his way onto the silver screen thousands of times. This course details the relationship between Shakespeare’s writings and films made to honor them. [MIT]
  4. Film as Visual and Literary Mythmaking: A detailed examination of classic Western myths and the philosophical problems associated with filmmaking. [MIT]
  5. Philosophy in Film and Other Media: Video lectures and student work detail thematic issues and philosophical issues in film and other visual art forms such as opera. [MIT]
  6. Understanding Television: While it may sound simple, this class surveys the cultural history of television and story-telling. [MIT]
  7. American Soap Operas: Changes in the American television landscape have been drastic in recent years. Nowhere is this more evident than with soap operas. From “Guiding Light” to “Melrose Place” this class looks at the evolution of American soap opera from radio to modern day. [MIT]
  8. Survey of 3D Animation: Learn how to make your own 3D animation films with industry standard programs. [DePaul]
  9. Algorithms of Computer Animation: A combination of computer science and art, this class teaches students new methods of animation combined with research projects. [MIT]
  10. Existentialism in Literature and Film: Much of this class, like existentialism, aims to redefine and question pre-existing notions of God as well as man’s place in the universe. [UC Berkeley]
  11. Studies in Film: This class intensively studies films from particular fields and genres. [MIT]
  12. From Godzilla to the Ring: An Overview of Japanese Film: Japanese culture has been extremely influential in recent years. This class studies Japanese films from multiple perspectives. [Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition]
  13. Producing Films for Social Change: An intensive, hands-on production course in which students pitch ideas, research, shoot, write, and edit their own documentary films on social issues. [Tufts University]
  14. Fundamental of Narrative Film Editing: Covers the basics of narrating conversations in film. [Wikiversity]
  15. Using Documentary Film to Explore Family History and Memory: Students are taught techniques to explore family histories with documentary films. [KQED Education Network]

Video Games

Video game design has become one of the hottest fields for creative types. Gaming companies hire hundreds of writers, artists and programmers to produce the next hot new release. Check out these great sites for learning about the art of video game design.

  1. Game Based Learning: Fun can be a powerful tool for learning, this course teaches techniques for teaching with games. [SERC]
  2. Game Programming: This courses teaches its students basic techniques and approaches for game design and programs. [Eastern Michigan Univeristy]
  3. Creating a Science of Games: This class discusses techniques for developing state of the art games for entertainment and educational purposes. [Rice University]
  4. Games and Information: Get an understanding behind the mechanics of strategy games. [University of California, San Diego]
  5. Paint Tools and Geometric Figures: This class teaches students to use painting software programs that create fantastic works of art. [LEARN NC Lesson Plans]
  6. Videogame Theory and Analysis: Work on your own or in a group in this class discussing game theory and even analyze a modern video game. [MIT]
  7. Instructional Games: This class explores a variety of instructional games with readings and analysis of existing products. [Utah State University]
  8. Introduction to Action Scripts for Games in Macromedia Flash: A series of video lectures that can help anyone create clever flash games. [Teacher Training Videos]
  9. Principles of Game Design: Rather than first person shooters or role playing games, this course teaches students to design strategy and board games. [Alan Emrich]
  10. Game Development for Beginners: A complete course for aspiring game designers, learn the basics and move on to advance work such as online multiplayer games. [GameDev]