At the risk of sounding like a public service announcement, have you visited your local library lately?
While a lot of us have given up on TV, I have found a use for the thing - watching interesting and informative DVDs, taken out on loan from my library. My local branch is a small library but it is part of the larger Ottawa library system so the DVD selection changes often.
The DVD on Toulouse-Lautrec was quite enjoyable. I can't say I was very familiar with his body of work and goodness, did the man have a knack for line - his draughting skills were incredible. I learned that his aristocratic family had inbred to keep the family line pure (his grandmothers were sisters) and as a result he suffered congenital health conditions that plagued him all his short life. For a fellow born into aristocracy, I found it odd that he would love the seedy area of Paris known as Montmartre - think of his series of posters for the Moulin Rouge. The poor chap died at 36 from complications brought on by his alcoholism and syphilis. I managed to get a bit of sewing done whilst also getting a wee dose of art history!
Another DVD recently watched, brought me up to speed on Edgar Degas. His love for the ballet dancer's figure is well known but watching the movie made me really think about what it must have been like to be so consumed with a particular body type. I would think that if I was drawn to portraiture, it would be because we humans are so infinitely different - some taller, some shorter, some heavier, some leaner. But his gals were all young with the same figure (more or less). Interesting... I learned that he was a crusty chap, lost his friends, rejected the label of Impressionism, mocked Monet and others for their en plein air landscapes and he never married as he believed that the artist must live alone. Of course it is very sad that at the end of his life his eyesight failed to the point of near blindness, especially cruel for a painter. While I was quite familiar with the paintings by Degas, I knew nothing of his amazing sculptures. Wow!
So if you don't have time to dust off the art history tomes on the book shelf, why not look for some arty DVDs next time you are at the library? If you don't see any, ask the staff. You never know what you might find.