Thursday, March 15, 2007

March Book Review

My daughter Dusty is a budding artist. I’ll admit the deck has been stacked in her favor since before birth. My parents are both artists as are my sister and brother-in-law. So it’s in the genes. But, I’ve always felt art education as important as the ABCs so there have always been art supplies on hand since she was old enough to hold a crayon and scribble (at 16 months old, but who’s counting?). Once, I bought huge rolls of brown paper which were cut, in four- or five-foot increments, and taped to the floor so she could color and draw and there was room for us to draw as well.

Turns out, Dusty’s got talent and an eye for color. Her drawings are, developmentally, beyond her peers. She’s discovering perspective and point of view.

Recently, we read “The Artsy Smartsy Club” by Daniel Pinkwater. In it, the children create an art club and visit a museum to educate themselves about art and the artists who created the pieces. One museumgoer discusses Vincent Van Gogh with the children and they become acquainted with two of his most famous paintings, “Starry Night” and “Sunflowers.”

Because I am a hopeless nerd (or a librarian wanna be), I went looking for copies of the paintings for us to look at as we read (and it will not surprise you to learn that we had books in the house with those paintings – in Dusty’s room, no less!). We talked a bit about Van Gogh but I couldn’t let it rest.

I went to the library soon after and found a couple of books to further our impromptu study of Van Gogh, the Impressionists, and art in general. Here’s what I found:

The Starry Night by Neil Waldman is about a young boy (Bernard) in New York City who meets a painter named Vincent. Vincent has just arrived in New York and is looking for things to paint. Bernard gives him a tour of his favorite places – Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, etc. “Vincent’s” paintings grace the pages. Only the painting themselves are in color. The rest of the book is done in brown ink on brown paper. They go to MOMA and find a painting that looks just like the ones Vincent’s already painted. As soon as Bernard asks whether this is one of his, Vincent disappears. Bernard decides to try his hand at painting. He’s been officially inspired. The story is simple but effective. It helps lay the groundwork for an appreciation of art. The endpapers of the book showcase the work of school children: their renditions of “Starry Night.”

No One Saw – Ordinary Things Through the Eyes of an Artist by Bob Raczka is a bit more elementary in nature. Truly an basic introduction to art and artists and while good for the beginner, may be a little light for the more advanced art appreciater in your family. Each page presents a painting by a famous artist, one that represents the kind of work they are most known for. To the side, in one sentence, is a statement about what this painter does best. “No one saw flowers like Georgia O’Keefe” by a painting of lilies. “No one saw mothers like Mary Cassatt.” 16 artists are represented. 16 different styles ranging from Van Gogh to Grant Wood to Andy Warhol. Biographical notes for each artist are appended.

This book is a nice one to have in a classroom. It might work well as an introduction for an art lesson but it doesn’t offer much beyond that. If you have a young art lover at home, especially a fairly precocious one with a long attention span, I’d recommend a larger coffee-table type book that covers a range of artists within a particular style that offers more paintings by each artist with more biographical information. I’d also recommend a book that includes more than just paintings.

Picture This! Activities and Adventures in Impressionism by Joyce Raimondo hits closer to what I was looking for for Dusty. This is a particularly good book for homeschoolers and parents who want to present “art lessons” in a more structured format. There is some discussion about Impressionism – what it is and how it was received during its heyday. There is discussion about color, color wheels, experimentation, and observation of nature.

Paintings by Monet, Renoir, Degas, Pissarro and Cassatt are used as a jumping-off point for further study. Study this painting. What do you see? Can you tell what time of day it is? What season is it? How can you tell? Is the wind is blowing? From what direction? What techniques does the artist use to show this? Now, paint your own favorite outdoor place.

There are step-by-step instructions for making “art inspired by Monet,” as well as using different methods and materials to do things like watercolor, tissue paper, pastels, plastic foam painting, plaster gauze, printing with sponges. You can even try your hand at pointillism using q-tips or experimenting with facial expressions and movement. There’s a lot to this slender book and it’s my favorite “how to” art book so far. It’s not too advanced for a kid like Dusty nor is it too basic. I may end up buying it so we can have it as a reference.

All that being said, Dusty still tends to do her own thing. These books are more used for general inspiration and reference. They’re good to just have around the house. Like a box of band aids, you never know when you’re going to need one so it’s important to stock up.


Harriet said...

We loved Starry Night too -- AJ's been trying to copy Van Gogh pictures out of one of our giant art books. There are a couple of other art books that we've really liked, but the names are escaping me right now. I'll see if I can track them down.

Libby said...

those sound like great books! Do you know the picture book "Art Dog," by Thacher Hurd (son of Clement, illustrator of Goodnight, Moon and others)? It's hilarious, and has terrific parodies of famous artworks throughout. Hmm, in fact, it might be time to go dig that oneup again.

Harriet said...

A couple of other books in the art vein that we have loved: Squeaking of Art: The Mice Go to the Museum by Monica Wellington. We loved the variety of ways to look at art. There is a cat artist paints a picture that picks up different techniques and ideas in the different paintings the mice are looking at. The mice talk about what they see and sometimes act it out. We read this right before I took AJ to the Art Institute of Chicago for the first time since he was a baby and it was perfect. There's another picture book we really liked about a family that goes to the art museum. The kids were not excited about it, but they end up having an adventure. It ends with some drawing games to play. It's British, but other than that I can't remember what it is. Perhaps this sounds familiar to someone else?

lemming said...

Babar's Museum of Art - pictures you've seen before, but tweaked to include elephants instead.