Why teach art appreciation? Just as a young writer can gain experience and style by studying and copying the masterpieces of great literature, a fledging artist will learn an amazing amount by examining and experimenting with the styles and mediums of great artists. Studying great art is a refining experience. Being culturally literate includes being able to identify great works of art. If you don’t know what the Mona Lisa looks like, you miss out on many references and innuendos in reading, writing and conversation.
You can easily teach appreciation of fine art once a week with an enjoyable lesson and activity. There are a few programs I really like and use (discussed below), but you can also find plenty to teach from by using the library for resource books. I look at the library for those oversized books with large, color reproductions of the masterpieces of each artist. Other nonfiction documentary type books to help you teach can be found in the biography section of the children’s library. These contain a history of the artist plus some of his most famous works. Simple biographies done in a chapter book or story form are fun for my upper elementary children to read. I also look for any videos or documentaries we can find. We look up the artist we are studying in our encyclopedia or on the internet for a brief overview.
In our homeschool, I don’t put in very much preparation time before I teach our art appreciation lesson. If I can find a picture book at the library the summarizes the artist’s life, we love that! I read this to the children or retell what I’ve read in an encyclopedia, using pictures to enhance the lesson. Then we look at their masterpieces in library books or online and learn together. We try to look for each artist’s unique style in each painting.
After we have our lesson about the artist’s life and his style, we try out one of his notable art styles. This has been great fun! When we studied Renoir, we were amazed at how in his old age, due to arthritis, he was no longer able to hold a brush and so he had the brushes strapped to his hand. We decided to try it! I used wide rubber bands to bind the brushes onto my children’s palms. Then we tried water color painting. After much trial and laughter, we soberly decided Renoir was incredible! How did he ever paint faces with a brush strapped to his hand?
When we studied Van Gogh, we were saddened at how his mental instability caused him to cut off his own ear. Van Gogh painted several self-portraits, including one of him with his damaged ear. We decided that we would create a self-portrait. We took pencil, paper and a mirror and studied our own faces very objectively. Then we began. Very unique images emerged. When we were all done, we stuck them up on our school room wall, where someone remarked that one of us looked like a devil, another like a robot, and one like a clown. Well, that is probably about right!
You can come up with your own creative ideas for an art experience to reinforce each artist you study. Both the ideas for Renoir and Van Gogh came to me while I was teaching about these artists. For Van Gogh, for example, we have each created a “starry night” picture using poster paints, or chalk pastels on dark paper in vivid colors like Van Gogh’s masterpiece. You could use rulers and learn to draw perspective lines after viewing his strange perspective in his famous painting of his bedroom. As I taught about Renoir, several ideas presented themselves. You could challenge your students to use dappled light in their painting by dabbing white spots on the finished product to get the same effect that Renoir did in his paintings. You could discuss how Renoir drew women (round and realistic rather than slender and fashion model-ish). Then each student could draw a realistic woman, maybe their own mother?
There are a few programs which I have used and loved. Discovering the Great Artists is my favorite. I can’t imagine a better way to really learn about the great artists than to try out their styles and methods! This ingenious book introduces 110 unique art activities to lead your child into experiencing the techniques of the great masters, from the Renaissance to the present. A brief biography of each artist is followed by a fully illustrated encounter with sculpting, drawing, architecture and more. What could be more memorable after learning about Michelangelo than to try painting while lying on your back, Sistine-chapel-style? These art appreciation lessons will not be soon forgotten! Geared for children ages 4-12. Paperback, 160 pages, black-and-white illustrations.
Another excellent program is How to Use Child-Size Masterpieces for Art Appreciation. This teacher/parent guidebook will help you teach hands-on art appreciation at every level, using inexpensive color postcards . The program is unique in that you can know absolutely nothing about art and learn right along with your children. Being able to handle the masterpieces is a far cry from the hands-off feeling of museums. This book will take you through the basic steps of developing art appreciation, beginning with preschoolers and advancing through high school skills:
Step 1-Match identical paintings (purchase 2 identical volumes of postcards below).
Step 2-Pair two similar paintings by the same artist.
Step 3-Be able to recognize and group four paintings by several artists.
Step 4-Learn the names of famous artists.
Step 5-Learn the names of famous paintings.
Step 6-Learn the movements or “schools” of art: Impressionism, Modern, etc.
Step 7-Learn to sort paintings by schools of art.
Step 8-Place paintings on a time line.
Paperback, 95 pages, black-and-white illustrations.
All my children’s finished projects are collected in their personal art portfolios. This makes them strive to do neat, thoughtful work and also serves as a good review lesson about each artist as we look back through them. Besides, they are proud of these portfolios! My son Ammon (6 years old) snags every visitor who comes into our house and shows them his drawings!
Real success comes when your children are able to identify an artist’s style in some unknown painting and declare, “I’ll bet this is by Monet!” Then you know that you truly have created an appreciation and a skill in your children. That is the goal.
May I recommend: