When I was a kid and tried to learn skiing, my ski instructor told me: "you only learn skiing by skiing!". And the following summer my swim trainer went: "you only learn swimming by swimming". Some advice that I found rather odd, to say the least, as I was expecting clear instructions that I could just learn to become a ski champion and a swim star! But what they both meant was that real understanding comes only from doing and repeating. Something that is also very true for understanding art. Only by looking again and again on a vast number of paintings and sculptures we finally understand the individual differences and learn to value true mastery.  

Traditional art history also starts with extended art viewing. But as the term "history“ implies, it is done in a very linear way. Of course an art expert gains a lot of insight out of comparing one Van Gogh with another Van Gogh. But for everybody else it is just another fantastic painting full of light and thick brush strokes from the artist who cut his ear off... But what if Van Gogh's portrait of Dr. Gachet was compared with a Renaissance portrait and with another one from a contemporary artist? How would that open our eyes in regard of understanding what a portrait really can be?

This kind of theme-based approach is now offered by the new online-microlearning course from the German Städel Museum in Frankfurt. On top it emphasizes on interactive tools, and also took inspiration from gamification methods.

With no need for subscription and completely free of charge, users are offered art history from 1750 to the very present in five modules, combined with an interactive timeline allowing them to browse through 250 artworks, 57 movements, 184 artists and 543 historical events – altogether 40 hours of content presented in small units, each taking no longer than five minutes.

A lot of stuff to do, repeat - and understand!