By: Mary Fran Bontempo

I’m a museum junkie.

Few things inspire me as much as a trip to a museum to view humankind’s creativity at its best and most beautiful. From the buildings that house the exhibits to the displays themselves, I’m enthralled and uplifted by what people can create.

But due to various circumstances—time, money, location, etc.,—it’s not always easy to indulge in higher artistic pursuits.

Which is where the Google Art Project comes in.

My best friend, Google, knower of all, teacher of everything, has once again delighted me with a freebie too good to pass up. Now, with the mere click of my mouse, I can visit and browse the collections of 151 different museums from 40 different countries around the world, showcasing over 32,000 works of art in mediums ranging from painting to sculpture to historic artifacts to photographs and more.

Google enhances the experience even further by providing educational material on the site along with videos on works and artists through a partnership with You Tube. A number of participating institutions allow viewers to experience not only the museum’s works, but a virtual tour of the building itself, giving art lovers an opportunity to step inside a renowned space without ever leaving their homes. Details about each museum’s founding and background are also a click away.

And if you’re so inclined, you can even create your own personal gallery of masterpieces, selecting works that interest you and saving or sharing them with others. Browse other art lovers’ collections by tapping the “User Galleries” link.

The Google Art Project was initiated last year and has just undergone a retooling with major additions to its galleries from art institutions eager to gain new supporters. Although missing a few masters (for some reason, Picasso is strangely absent) the wealth of art available for free, along with the innovative presentation, gives the Google Art Project a four star rating.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to Paris and the Musee d’Orsay, followed by a trip to the Acropolis Museum in Greece. Then it’s back to the U.S. for a visit to the Smithsonian American Art Museum. No security checks, no passports, no crowds, and all the snacks and bathroom breaks I want.

That could make an art lover out of anybody.