Contemporary art online
Tyneside now has a waterfront with more art galleries than shipyards, but such regional transformations are still rare. It's not easy for everyone to see what living artists are up to, or to judge whether the Turner Prize shortlist really represents the best of what's going on.
But now, at the click of a mouse, you can visit Smudgeflux. Smudgeflux was set up with money from the New Opportunities Fund as a free service for teachers and students of art - especially those between 14 and 18 - to provide easy access to the work of contemporary practitioners. The aim is to provide images, case studies and the chance to collaborate with the people whose stuff you've admired on the screen.
The site is still at a pilot stage, but it is already possible to spend hours adventuring among a wealth of colours and shapes, graphics and abstracts, tricks and teases, triumphs and, occasionally, disasters.
The search option is quick and easy to use. You might explore by genre.
Click on "Painting", and you at once have a choice of more than 180 images, from Frances Treanor's wildly expressionistic "Midnight Tulips" to Ronald Dewhirst's melancholy acrylic of a "Glum Couple".
Visit the areas of applied skills and you can sample calligraphy and ceramics, mosaics and metalwork - and much else, from basketry to tapestry.
An alternative strategy is to browse the list of artists - there are currently well over 100 of them. They are not darlings of the media, but most of them have a substantial body of work to their names. They tell us a bit about who and what has influenced them, the techniques they use and the ideas they find important.
Chila Kumari Burman, for example, explores and celebrates the politics of femininity and uses found objects such as bhindis, underwear and flower petals in her complex collages; from the site you get a sense of how and why she does it.
Teachers can use the site to contact artists whose work they like, and then negotiate about workshops, residencies and other kinds of collaborative project. The regional maps will make such arrangements more practicable.
But even if you do not proceed this far, you can enjoy a modern version of the apprentice's visit to the master's studio.
Constable once said that half of his life was looking. Smudgeflux won't give you his powers of insight, but it can help save you time and will provide you with plenty of visual variety.