Art Appreciation + Resource List

“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.”—Charlotte Mason

I want art to be a part of the mold that serves to shape my children into the adults they will one day be.

Art trains our eyes to behold life with wonder. Studying art adds texture to our history timeline. Art adds depth to stories and breathes life into our everyday academics. Art provides a space for souls to encounter and reflect.  Art calls us to create. Art is a valuable and worthy use of our time.

Teaching children to appreciate art felt like a daunting prospect when I first started. While my lovely sister was always supremely gifted with art, I was gifted in the art of hacking together a *good enough* project. I could *kind of* make art. I certainly knew how to appreciate various forms of art, but in the execution department, I was sorely lacking. When it came time to teach my children, I felt a bit overwhelmed and more than a little underprepared.


One child loved art, one child hated it. One child loved to make and break, one child could not bear to touch anything weird. One child loved Picasso and Monet, one child repeatedly asked “is this over yet?”

IMG_4479All of them are growing to love and appreciate art.

When did that happen? It happened over time. Growing up with art takes time.
If you’ve been following, you know I am not a “Top Ten Ways to” or “How to Perfect…” kind of blogger. But I do love me some philosophy of Education. After tons and tons of reading over the years, I have learned to approach any subject I teach like some weird Classical/Charlotte Mason Ninja with Montessori-ish throwing stars sporting a Fred Rogers Tshirt. Whether its the Trivium, or Charlotte’s 4 R’s (Reading, Reasoning, Relating, Recording), when I approach something I have a system in mind and a mantle of compassion and grace balanced precariously on my shoulders. Ahem, and *reinforcements in the pantry. *Read: chocolate and wine.
For me, Art is all about the E’s.

Expose, Encounter, Explore, Express, Emulate.

This is, somehow, the simplest and most difficult of all the steps. There has to be a purposeful step taken towards including quality art in your home. You have to go out of your way to bring it inside. You have to decide to mix it into your everyday life.
The paintings pictured above are part of an art study called, Enjoying Art Together, from My Father’s World. They helped me get the ball rolling back in the days of little to no quality art. I would hold up one painting before breakfast and lunch. I would not say a word. I would just hold it up and the kids would look at it. I would display it on the server next to our table between meals. I would leave the other paintings around the house where the kids would find them. Art books and puzzles started popping up around the house. Art sprang up around the home wherever the kids looked. They lived with art.
Then I cracked open the books and read stories. My goal was to engage them with each painting. I started to ask questions, “What colors are used in this painting? How does that color make you feel? What are these people doing? Is it sunny where they are? How do you know?” Then they asked each other questions. They would look and look into a painting until they came up with a story about each one. Some stories were quite lovely, I will never forget my eldest son’s interpretation of Renoir’s “A girl with a watering can,” it was simple and heart achingly sweet. Nor will I forget my cheeky four year old’s story about Jackson Pollock’s “Blue Poles.”

“Forest made of spaghetti, my name is Blue and I DON’T like you. You show up on my plate on Thursdays and I wish you were tacos. Stop making me into blue forks, when all I want is to be free to love a taco.” 

Deep stuff, I know.

Surface value questions that lead to internal interpretation of what the artwork relates to them. That is pretty much the goal.

We start to look into how these pieces of art were made. I call their attention to certain elements. I slip in vocabulary words and touch on techniques. They repeat words back to me and then the new questions start. Michelangelo used marble? Where did it come from? How long did it take to haul out each piece? How long did he train to do this? What were his days like and how did that impact what he made? What other sculptures did he make? Do you have a favorite?

Lets think about these cave paintings. Where did all the different colors come from? What materials can we gather if we were to make this painting? Could we make this painting in another form? How would it look as a sculpture? watercolor? mixed media? The more artists and artwork we add to our vocabulary the more depth this step begins to have. For example, my seven year old choosing to paint triptychs based off of woodcuts from one of his favorite storybooks using brushes he made out of sticks and ferns from the back hollow. This idea sprang from a dozen sources and converged upon our dining room table one random rainy afternoon.
Technically, they have been expressing all along! Their reaction to the initial art exposure, their questions and answers as they encountered art, their research and response as they explored the artwork. Now I gather all those balloons, tie them together, hand them over to my children and watch the lift off. This is the place where ideas and concepts mesh together and my children have the opportunity to express what they have learned. They talk about the odds and ends they have gathered and the different ways they employed each piece. This is probably my favorite portion of the process. We have moved from questions to conversation. Its a beautiful step and always takes the most unexpected shapes. In Classical education, every single subject is interconnected and it really shows when we reach this portion. Science, history, geography, math, language— all of it comes into play. Art and academics serve to enrich each other. Its rather thrilling. 🙂 IMG_4911Emulate
Now we go back to the beginning and look at the piece anew. I bring out texts or tools and we try and learn some techniques together. We recall the vocabulary we learned as we explored. We remember lines and shades and shapes we studied. Then we emulate what we have processed. It is easier to do this step after we have formed a friendship with the artist. We just had tea in a cozy Parisian cafe. Remember that crazy waiter who kept dropping the hot croissants? The night sounded like a lone trumpet and the breeze knew every hair on our heads. We can learn how to paint these elements now that we have spent days with them. Of course, it will never be the same breeze. It won’t be the exact waiter. We know this. We keep trying and we keep learning, and in our minds, we see the painting we want. We encourage our hands to keep trying.

Sometimes kids freak out when their art doesn’t match up to the idea in their minds. Sometimes I freak out too. But we are doing this together, the kids and I. The chances are high that at least one of us can talk the rest of the group away from the ledge of artistic despair. (So many FEELINGS in art class! Ay yi yi!) We remind each other, “Emulate might look more like an Echo, for now.” (or forever, in my case). Art is not a perfectly executed machine. I don’t ask for or require perfection. Art is chance to demonstrate what they have learned and showcase their experience with it. The children’s Matisse renditions looked nothing like Matisse, but they felt like Matisse.

My eldest hated drawing for the longest time. But he persevered and continued to work hard. A few months ago, he drew this picture of his hero, George Washington.

Technique may not be perfect, but art has seeped into their pores and mingled with their thoughts and become impressed upon their cellular memory as they paint, mold, sculpt, paste, splatter and create.

Posts like this make me nervous. Don’t read perfection. Don’t think I have it all figured out. With four kids in the mix, we rarely have an art session that does not include tears or disappointment of some kind. Find a way to let art find its way into your home. Whatever that looks like for your family, just take the first step because it is a beautiful, valuable element of education that should not be overlooked.


Farmhouse Schoolhouse Favorite Art Resources

Donna Young: the whole site is full of ideas for various subjects. Donna’s art tab has great projects and directions for learning drawing techniques and perspectives. Very helpful!
Art History Mom: I really dig this site. Art History Mom has tons of project ideas based off of various famous pieces of art. We loved her Van Gogh Sunflower art project.
The Artful Parent: Pretty much everything in this site is great. “Simple ways to fill your family’s life with art & creativity.” Yes, please.
Filth Wizardry: Discovered this gem thanks to The Homegrown Preschooler. Messy art for kids. Huzzah!  #sayyes!
Jackson Pollock Painting Center: it comes up as a blank site. As you drag your cursor the lines appear and once you click it will switch over to a new color. No ads, no weird pop ups, just painting Pollock style. The tots LOVE this and I love it!
Picasso Head: Make Picasso heads with clip art. So much fun.
National Art Gallery for Kids: There is so much on this site, I don’t even know where to start. Check it out. My kids made a gorgeous landscape a few weeks ago using this site. It was really fun to watch unfold.

Art Studies~
Simply Charlotte Mason’s Picture Study Portfolio
My Father’s World Enjoying Art Together
Memoria Press Art Cards 
Drawing with Children by Mona Brookes

Book List~
Katie and the Picture Show by James Mayhew (Adorable little Katie visits Museums, crawls into pictures and goes on adventures. We love every. single. one.)
Katie and the Starry Night by James Mayhew
Katie and the Sunflowers by James Mayhew
Katie and the Bathers by James Mayhew
Katie Meets the Impressionists by James Mayhew
Katie and the Waterlily Pond by James Mayhew
Katie and the Spanish Princess by James Mayhew
Katie and the Mona Lisa by James Mayhew
Anholt’s Artists Books for Children by Laurence Anholt: This is a great series! We love “The Magical Garden of Claude Monet”
Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists:  Another great series by Mike Venezia. Your local library may even have some DVDs. Our boys adore Venezia’s story about Michelangelo.
Mini Masters Boardbooks: A series for toddlers. We love these. They have gotten really really pricey. I’m talking $40 on amazon for the Monet one. We found ours as a bundle on ebay. These are definitely cute but I wouldn’t break the bank to get them.
Henri Matisse: Drawing with Scissors by Jane O’Conner
Vincent Van Gogh: Sunflowers and Swirly Stars by Joan Holub
Pablo Picasso: Breaking All the Rules by True Kelley
Tickle Tut’s Toes by Julie Appel
Make Van Gogh’s Bed by Julie Appel
Count Monet’s Lillies by Julie Appel
Maryann F. Kohl has fantastic art books! We have about 10 of them. We have found them for pennies at thrift stores and on used book sites. Global Art, Story Art and Discovering Great Artists are some of our favorites.
A Child’s Book of Art by Lucy Micklethwait
ANY COFFEE TABLE BOOK WITH GIANT PICTURES OF ART. Truly, get thee to a Barnes & Nobles and check out that huge clearance section of books. There is almost always a giant collection of art that you can buy for around $5. Its usually tucked behind “Weapons of the Civil War” and “Haunting Visions of Ireland.” Pictures. of. art. Go!
Paul Cezanne Block Puzzle: I know its not a book, but this one is too good not to share. Six paintings, one puzzle, big chunky blocks. We love ours.

Art Supplies typically not listed on other blogs~
Kraft Paper Rolls: I’m talking the ginormous 1000 ft rolls. They last a good year and a half or so and we use it every week. I just unroll enough to cover the table, cut and the kids can paint and practice new techniques or make a huge mural.
Plastic Egg Cartons: Yup. Ask your family to save them for you. Cut them apart so you have trays with six slots each. These are cheap, disposable paint palettes.
Twine: We use a surprising amount of twine. Mostly because the boys love making their own paintbrushes thanks to “Benjamin West and his Cat Grimalkin” by Marguerite Henry. (Story of American painter Benjamin West who grew up in a Quaker home, no art allowed, and made paint brushes out of his cat’s hair). We use the twine to bundle up pine needles or grass blades to sticks for a natural paint brush.
Vegetable/Fruit Scraps: Don’t throw that celery butt away. Hand it to your toddler to make celery stamps while you are teaching your older kids the basics of drawing. Keep those moldy strawberries and squish the juice out of them to make paint.
Grocery bags: Its not a bag anymore. Its a smock. Paper or plastic—it will work.
Standing Mirror: For self portraits.
Chocolate: For despair.
A camera: For documenting your child’s artwork and progress!