By Catherine Durant
Art appreciation is a topic we love to explore in our house. Alannah (10), Max (8) and Eloise (3) always enjoy delving into the life of an artist. I have been amazed at how much the kids take in. There has been many a time that they have pointed to a print on a wall or in a book and told me who the artist is. I assume they are correct, but I wouldn’t know as I have usually forgotten by then! I have included a few fun ways that we explore art history at home.
Pick an artist
First we pick an artist to focus on. This may be chosen by looking at a book that includes a variety of art works, or the kids may have heard of someone they want to learn about. Alternatively they may have seen an artwork at the gallery that they want to learn more about. We usually try to get to the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne several times during the year.
Order books from the library
We order books about the artist from our library. These include books with lots of high quality pictures of paintings/artwork, as well as books about the artist’s life written specifically for children (e.g. books written by Mike Venezia).
We may also find other story books with paintings throughout the books (e.g. James Mayhew’s Katie series). We love these kinds of books as they provide a fun way to explore paintings. Eloise especially can participate more actively with these books.
Pick a painting
The kids go through the books of paintings and pick one painting they like. They often go through a book a few times, so they are familiarising themselves with the style of art and the paintings as they go. We scan the painting and print it onto photo paper. They stick it into their artists’ scrap book and write the title and the year that it was painted. We then look at the painting together, and I usually ask a few questions like:
• What do you like about it?
• Do you like the colours?
• How many colours can you see?
• What season do you think it is?
• What style would you call it?
• Would you like to be the person in the painting?
• How do you think the person feels?
• What do you think has happened?
• Tell a story about the painting.
• Would you like to wear the clothes that the boy has on?
Sometimes we play a game where we take it in turns to ask the others, ‘Where is the ……?’ We usually pick about three paintings from each artist. Sometimes we scan lots of paintings and make a slideshow on the computer. We then have the slideshow running for part of the day, so the kids get to see the paintings as part of their day.
Games and activities
• I paste two copies of paintings into a Word document. I make sure they are the same size then print them onto photo paper to make cards. We use these to play the ‘memory’ game.
• We also use these cards to make a story. In turn, one of the children will lay them in a line like a storyboard. They then make up a story using each picture like a page in a book.
• There are some great websites that have colouring-in activities for famous paintings. My kids enjoy creating their own masterpieces by choosing totally different colours to make each painting look different.
• We sometimes make a jigsaw out of a painting printed onto photo paper.
• We print out copies of paintings then cut them up and use parts to create our own art. This may be a collage, or we may stick parts of the painting onto our own paintings. The kids will sometimes make very silly abstract pictures (works of art!)
We then read some books or search on the internet to find information about the artist’s life. We type up information we find interesting or print a page from the internet and file it in our ‘history folder’. This folder is organised into time periods from prehistoric time to the present. We also add a small photo and paste it into our ‘Book of Time’ which is a timeline we add to regularly.
Copy the style of the artist
We have a go at making our own art in the style of the artist. This can be fun and creative. This works particularly well when the artist creates in an abstract or unique style. Sometimes the kids aren’t keen on this idea, particularly when the paintings look like ‘real life’.
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