“We cannot measure the influence that one or another artist has upon the child’s sense of beauty, upon his power of seeing, as in a picture, the common sights of life; he is enriched more than we know in having really looked at even a single picture.” (Vol. 1, p. 309)
WHY STUDY ART?
In one of my first Humanity classes in college, my teacher started off with a story of a boy who asked “why spend time learning and studying art that depicts pagan gods and worldly struggles?”
My teacher responded: Art is more than images depicting people, it provides perspective in understanding human nature. It can be a window to the past and present; it can give you an appreciation and awareness of other cultures and ways of life. It helps us see the world in a new way. If you examine the tales of the gods, you can always find the light of Christ weaved within the rich tapestry of art and story.
As I studied art from other cultures from around the world, I started looking closely for that light of Christ. It didn’t take me long to find it intertwined within each culture. It taught me that everyone sought a higher being and art was an expression of that light within.
Now of course, there will always be art that is distasteful and not to our liking. But we can seek the best and learn from it.
Perhaps you’re thinking, why do we need to teach our children? Can’t they learn when they’re older? Yes! Of course, it’s never too late. But why not start now? There are so many ways to learn about the world around us, art is just one of those beautiful ways to help our children appreciate it and perhaps, gain a fresh perspective of the world outside of their own world.
WHAT SHOULD WE STUDY?
There isn’t a best place to start – start anywhere! When you’re ready for more intentional learning, choose one artist and 5-6 of their paintings and study these works for 10-12 weeks.
There are so many wonderful artists to choose from and so many different ways to study art. For our family, we have selected 3 to study for the school year, studying 1 artist per term. For each artist, we will learn about six different works. Art study in our family occurs once a week for about 10 – 20 minutes.
On Simple Wonders, we have curated a list of artists and paintings and written a short companion study guide for each artist. You can find the guides at the end of this post. Each guide includes a short bio, suggested artwork to study, and additional resources, like picture books.
HOW DO I TEACH IT?
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes”
This is the fun part. There are so many ways to study art: it can be complex or as simple as you would like. The most important advice I can give is to not overdo it. Here are the most important things you can do to teach your kids about art.
Let them examine the artwork for themselves. For elementary-age children don’t worry about memorizing details, such as the name of the painting. Right now, it is about helping them to see and notice.
- Let them examine the painting in silence for at least 1 minute.
- After your art discussion, make sure to display the picture somewhere where your children can see it often.
Ask them open ended questions. Questions are so important to help get us thinking and noticing. This isn’t art history class though, so you do not need to be asking complex questions about artist techniques and styles. Here are some questions you can ask to get them seeing the painting and not just looking, you can also adapt these questions used for discussing books:
- What’s going on in the painting?
- How would you describe this artwork to someone who has never seen it?
- How do you think this artwork was made?
- How does the art make you feel?
- Describe the lines in this artwork
- What shapes do you notice?
- Describe the colors in the artwork
- What objects do you notice?
- What stands out to you when they first see the painting?
- What do you like about the painting?
- What do you not like?
- How do you think the people/children feel in the painting/sculpture?
- What are the people or animals doing in the painting? Is that something you do?
- What would you do differently if you painted this?
- Would you take something out of the painting?
- Would you add something to the painting?
- Would you change the colors?
- Ask them to compare to other paintings
- How is this painting similar to (compare to different painting by similar artist)
- How is the painting different
- How is it like a previous artist we’ve studied?
We sometimes focus on one painting for two weeks. Sometimes I will ask different questions the second week, but often I ask the same questions again. I ask the same questions because they might notice something new and their answer might change. If their answers change, that is great; that means they are starting to think and see the painting for something more than just a scene taking place. Now you can just do those two things above and that will be enough to introduce and help your children appreciate art. But, here are a couple more things to enrich the learning process.
Have you children sketch the painting. We have done this in the first and the second week of our study of a painting. I give them about a minute to look at all the details of the painting: shapes, people, objects, colors. Then I turn it face down and everyone does a quick sketch. I tell them to keep it simple and to not worry about details. I really enjoy seeing what they choose to depict from the painting. I have three kids of various skill levels and they all have their own artistic style that is brought out in these quick sketches.
Place art pieces throughout your house and leave out art books! In addition to displaying the artist of the term, I suggest also displaying other prominent art pieces that you appreciate. You can download for free and print works by many known artists from the National Gallery of Art. Used book sales are great places to look for art books; my children love looking at some of my old art books. You can also get wonderful art books from the library.
We have six paintings on our staircase wall. I have a ritual with my two year old son when we come down the stairs together. I ask him if he sees this or that in one of the pictures. Recently, I stopped doing this; but my son is now stopping me and telling me what he sees in each of the pictures. It amazes me every time. He has taught me that even a two year old can learn to see and notice the art around him.
Our Heavenly Father has given us a beautiful world and art is one way that we can appreciate and show gratitude for His creations. You’ll be surprised what your children learn from each work of art and hopefully you will gain something along the way, too.