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Fifteen Fantastic Sources For Free Art and Images For Your MOOC Projects

One very common assignment in MOOCs you may come across is to create a digital artifact such as a collage, photo illustration, animation, video or presentation. Or you may decide to add images to your other written assignments and wish you could find some sources of free art.

Where once copyright was an issue that made finding photos and art difficult, museums and other sites are now making more and more content available for educational use, and the internet offers new sources all the time. What was once available to some — for a price — is now becoming available to many . . . . for free.

If you have done a search for “free images” you have already discovered that “royalty-free” does not mean FREE-free. Or if you use a search tool like Google Images you can quickly locate just about any picture you could ever want, but very few of those images are licensed for public use.

As a student who cites their sources as well as a responsible internet user, you should always credit whatever images you use. Even though you can easily download an image, take an extra sixty seconds to include the source whenever you use it and, if it is listed, the name of the photographer or artist as well. (And keep in mind that search tools like TinEye make a reverse image search possible and could lead the original artist back to you.)

Whether you are studying Ancient Egypt or American History, Computer Science or Contemporary Art, here are 15 fantastic sites where you can access a range of free art and other images for personal and non-commercial use — for example, to fulfill a MOOC assignment — for FREE-free.

1. Wikimedia Commons

Need a chart, graph or visual? A picture of a cat, cow or crow? Wikimedia is a database of over 17 million freely usable media files. There are myriad images here, just search, browse and use.


2. Flickr
This is the biggest photo sharing site on the web, and many of the pictures are available for personal or educational purposes. Use the advanced search feature to select for Creative Commons licensed images. And be sure to explore in the Commons section where you can find many collections of historic and science-related images from government archives.

3. Photo Bucket

Photobucket hosts more than 10 billion images from 100 million registered members who upload more than four million images and videos per day. You can also host, share and edit your own photos there.

4. Foter
Thinking of starting a blog relating to your MOOC? Foter serves up free stock photos for you to use on blogs, forums, websites and other online media, most of them with Creative Commons licenses. Fotor is also available as a WordPress plugin so you can easily insert photos and proper credits into your WordPress blog posts.

Photo credit: Sprengben [why not get a friend] / / CC BY-NC-SA

5. Free Images
Unlike many other sites that search the same databases and turn up the same results, this U.K.-based site has many images unique to it.

6. The New York Public Library
The NYPL Digital Gallery has digitized over 800,000 items for free and open access from the library’s vast collections. You’ll find illuminated manuscripts, historical maps, vintage posters, rare prints, photographs and more. Taking a MOOC on the history of Asia? Well, if you can’t get to central Manhattan to study in the library, you can try the digital collection instead.
[Helmets and headdresses of we... Digital ID: 1623655. New York Public Library
Helmets and Headdresses of Western Asian People — The NYPL Digital Gallery

Actually, many libraries are digitizing their collections like the New York Public Library is. If you know of any other great resources for your fellow MOOC students, please let them know in the comments section below.

Next, let’s see what museums have to offer.

Museums provide free art for MOOCers

7. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art
This website allows you to make your own gallery. Images more than 70 years old, which are public domain, can be used for non-commercial purposes. I created a gallery and added my first image in less than a minute.

Nympheas Claude Monet (France, 1840-1926) Source: LACMA


8. The Rijksmusem
The extensive collection in this Amsterdam museum includes masterpieces by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Mondrian and van Gogh, many of which are available through an interactive section of its web site. The staff’s goal is to add 40,000 images a year until the entire collection of one million artworks spanning eight centuries is available. The online studio asks people to refrain from commercial uses and sells images of an even higher resolution that are more suitable for that purpose. Sign up for a free museum account and then you can download images for your own educational or personal use.

Justin V. A. Slater via Wikimedia

9. The Walters Art Museum

The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland opens access to 10,000 images. Studying ancient history? The free online access, which complements the Walters’ free admission policy, allows viewers to see works spanning several eras, from ancient Egypt and the Americas to 18th- and 19th-century Europe. Objects from Asian and Islamic cultures are also included.

Baker Djehuty and Wife Ahhotep

Baker Djehuty and Wife Ahhotep, The Walters Museum


10. The National Gallery of Art
The National Gallery of Art digital library in Washington has so far uploaded about 25,000 works to share with the public. It is simple to become a registered user, after which you can download your images.

11. The Smithsonian Institution
According to a recent news article, The Smithsonian Institution has 137 million works in its archives and has chosen 14 million of those for digitization and released about 860,500 so far, usually in low resolution to discourage commercial use.

In addition to photos, this online collection has film and video clips, sound files, electronic journals and other resources that may be useful in your MOOC projects.

tutti frutti goblet

Tutti Frutti Goblet, Robert Dane, Smithsonian Institution

Some artsier photo-sharing sites

12. Unprofound

This is a great site for a variety of photos, especially for designers, and you don’t have to register to download images. The photographers in this collaborative are mainly listed just by first name, but make sure you credit

13. Free Media Goo

In addition to photos, this beautiful site has texture images that are great for backgrounds. There is no need to register — just download anything that appeals and credit Free Media Goo.

14. Pixel Perfect Digital
Perhaps you are taking a humanities MOOC, such as poetry or creative writing, or need to put together a digital artifact project relating to computers and writing. This interesting site includes over 4,000 stock photos related to digital art and illustrations and cutting-edge images that are hard to find elsewhere.

15. Free Range Photos
This site has a good collection of animals, objects, people, places or abstracts that can be useful for archeology or architecture projects.

Plus one bonus site for free film, video and music

We talked mostly about free photos and art in this list, but for many MOOC assignments you may want to use music, film or video. Except for the Smithsonian Institution, I didn’t mention many resources like that. The first place to start hunting would be Internet Archive, where you can find old television shows, movies and school film strips in the public domain. Many libraries are archiving their digital materials there.

Let us know in the comments about other sources of free media files — photos or otherwise — that I missed. And, in the spirit of massive open online courses: Go. Find. Discover. Enhance and illustrate your classwork with all the beauty and creativity offered on the ever-opening eye of the web.

Liz Falconer (5 Posts)

I am an educator and lifelong learner, currently in a love-hate relationship with the internet and much of the virtual world around me. My background includes work in storytelling, music performance and composition, newspaper and magazine writing, and exotic things like studying Japanese and living in Japan. I earned an MA Japanese Pedagogy and a doctorate in International Education at the University of Iowa. I have taught in a wide variety of classroom environments, both online and traditional. I am currently RTC’s Curriculum and Technology Specialist. I am fascinated with the challenges and opportunities our internet world is providing.