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Art Appreciation

Home / Art Main Menu / Approach To Instruction / Art Appreciation / Drawing Curriculum / Chronological Art Lessons / American Art History

Masterpiece Cards
From: Paula H & Susan, the publisher

Masterpiece Cards looks like a great product to answer the intimidating challenge of developing an art history curriculum for homeschooling. Many people use art postcards for art appreciation, but Susan Benford has done the legwork for you, not only collecting the cards into a good-priced package, but also including analysis on the back of each card. See the review in TOS, and note the parent advisory there as well. I asked Susan to write a brief description of her materials, below. She has generously offered a 20% discount to Paula’s Archives visitors through September 17, 2010.

Susan writes: Masterpiece Cards introduces art history flash cards of the most famous paintings from five centuries of art history. These are the 250 famous paintings discussed most often by 40 authors of art history books (ones used in art history and art appreciation classes in high school and college). It’s a survey of the history of painting, but in a convenient box. Each Masterpiece Card offers

With this convenient flashcard format, you determine which images are appropriate while providing a thorough art history survey. See sample Masterpiece Cards, and take advantage of a Special for readers of Paula’s Archives through Sept. 17, 2010!

Looking At Pictures
From: Stacey L

If you're looking for a great one-volume introduction to art appreciation for young children, you should be Looking At Pictures (LAP) by Joy Richardson. This is a book full of reproductions of paintings in the National Gallery of Art, London. It covers art from the 13th to the 20th centuries, and from all over Europe. A list of the chapter headings will give you an idea of what LAP covers: Introducing paintings; Behind the scenes in a gallery; Why paintings were made; Stories in pictures; Clues and symbols; How paintings were made; Focus on color; Tricking the eye; Everyday life and special events; The power of light; Painting people; Painting objects; Magic landscapes; Organizing the picture.

Each chapter uses several paintings to explore a given topic and is written in easily accessible, conversational style appropriate for reading aloud to children about age 6+. LAP offers a good mix of both the mechanics of painting and appreciation / interpretation. Once children grasp some of the reasons why paintings were made, for example, they can then more readily assess a given painting as one meant for home adornment or public display, etc. Large, often full-page reproductions are frequently accompanied by enlarged details for closer examination. Occasionally, details from paintings from earlier chapters reappear for the reader to reconsider in light of a new topic. The book ends with a list of the artists and their works. Although a fairly short book, there's lots packed into its 80 pages!

LAP is not a chronological, but a topical approach to art appreciation. Yet because it goes beyond the basic, “What is in this picture? How do you think the little girl feels?,” etc, questions, to actually address technique and meaning in painting, LAP is a great introduction to further art study. After going through LAP, you could then apply what you've learned to other art books, such as the Come Look With Me series, or to collections of art postcards.

For those concerned with nudes in art, LAP includes one painting by Cezanne, The Bathers, which presents a back view of nude women--but with his broad brushstrokes, details are not evident. Also, there are a couple of Renaissance paintings in which flowing draperies partially expose a body here and there, and one small reproduction in which baby Jesus appears in the nude on Mary's lap. Forewarned is forearmed!

Although no art projects are included here, you could easily set up a timeline on which you could mark various developments in technique and add to it during further studies. And who knows? You might actually find your children incorporating some of what they learned into their own artwork!

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Discovering Great Artists
From: Devin

My favorite resource for teaching art history is Discovering Great Artists by Kim Solga and Maryann Kohl. It is the most teacher-friendly curriculum to combine art history with activities I've seen yet. Color prints (or a set of accompanying postcards) would make it even better. It gives a short bio of an artist and a project that reflects and reinforces the artist's work. The projects are fun and do-able with good clear instructions. The only criticism I have of it is that many of the projects (especially the ones on traditional artists) require a decent ability to draw and can be frustrating for younger children. It would probably be best for grades 4 or so and up. The projects from the Impressionists on are really fun and creative, though. I haven't found a curriculum that does a good job of teaching art across the board (history, theory, projects, etc.) but if you combined DGA with a book or two on drawing and other art techniques, you'd have a great start.

Be sure to check out her web site, KidsArt.Com, where homeschoolers can find free art projects and lessons, student gallery and games, and a convenient on-line store for buying this book and lots more.

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The Annotated Mona Lisa
From: Devin

Just because I've quoted extensively from The Annotated Mona Lisa (TAML), doesn't mean I unreservedly recommend it for your children. I like TAML very, very much, but I think that the author included some sordid details from the lives of a couple of artists that could have been left out. The book does have excellent lists, sidebars, and notes, and some pictures which include what some might consider gratuitous nudity. It's an excellent book, but many of you would not want to allow your young children unlimited access to it--as would be true for many art and art history books.

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Sister Wendy's Story of Painting
From: Devin

By the inimitable Sister Wendy Becket. It is one of the most readable art history books I've ever seen (and I've seen quite a few ). Other than that, it's a beautiful book, crammed full of color prints. Before this book was published, I would have chosen TAML, but I much prefer Sister Wendy's positive, enthusiastic comments. AML includes, as I'm sure I have mentioned before, too many references to the dark side of artist's lives for my tastes, but it does have some nice, convenient charts. On the other had, the lovely Sister has some wonderful point-by-point analyses of important paintings. Both have nudes.

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Child-Sized Masterpieces (CSM) (formerly Mommy, It's a Renoir)

(This is an early introduction to art appreciation. Using postcard-sized reproductions, the child sorts and matches the art by artist, style, etc. See more ideas for using CSM, on the Approach to Instruction page. -ed.)

From: StaceyL

The program is pretty simplistic, in that the focus is on matching and pairing works of art, not on learning about those works of art in any depth, or about techniques in art, etc. Still, it is fun to have all those neat little reproductions. What I've been doing so far this Fall is displaying one art card per week on a tiny easel so the boys can become familiar with it.

There are some very good art books out there geared towards children which provide much more in-depth info about art. e.g., What Makes a Monet a Monet? and others in the series; books by Mike Venezia; etc. Currently, we're reading a bit at a time in Looking At Pictures, a book from the National Gallery which first gives some background about museums, then has chapters on aspects of painting, such as light, color, composition, etc. CSM is a good program for younger children, but for a child of 8+, you'll likely need something more.

Question by Maureen

Do you think I could get the same benefit from just discussing art prints with my daughter? Stuff like: who's the artist, when & where did he live, what style does this work represent, etc? If that's all that CSM offers, I'm better off with getting prints from a book or maybe that museum website recommended earlier. Thanks for answering my questions--you helped bunches!

Answer by StaceyL

You didn't mention how old your daughter is, so I'm not sure just what level of understanding in art you're hoping to attain. If she's under 8 or so, all you might want to do is focus on recognizing famous paintings (e.g., the Mona Lisa is what's on our easel right now!) and learning to recognize the names and styles of certain famous artists (make sure the styles are quite different--e.g., Rembrandt, Monet, Picasso--to make it easier to identify a given artist's work). If she's older, then you might start to work with artists/schools of art more similar in style; put them on a timeline; etc. Depending on how much you know about art history yourself, you could either “go it” yourself, or rely on a book like Looking at Pictures to teach the basics of composition, light, etc.

The value of the CSM program is having AT HAND the duplicates of prints, or the group of reproductions for a particular artist/school-- i.e. not having to search them out at a museum or through a catalog. You can, of course, supplement the program by acquiring more prints on your own. It's a convenient way to start, but certainly you could do it on your own.

From: Devin

It's quite handy to have the sets put together for you when you're first starting out. Especially those in the upper levels, where 4 different, yet similar, paintings by the same artists are presented. Personally, I thought the book was a waste of money--too much time spent telling you exactly how to put folders together, label them....... when all you need to do is just use the postcards! There was a rather nice, albeit very short, section in the back with a brief overview of art history.

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Art History Activities
From: Devin

I teach an art/art history class to a bunch of homeschool 4th graders. In the past, I've had them each sign up to do a very short report on different artists. Each child gets a set of art postcards that we study through the year and then either I or a student gives a short report on the artist's life and what makes his style important or recognizable.

Another thing I did last year with the art kids was make a set of posters, each with a heading for a different school of art. We went through my pile of old art books to cut up and found examples of each to rubber cement on the poster. I quizzed them briefly at the end of each class session for about a month and was pleasantly surprised at how much they remembered. After they could identify each poster with the title covered up, I found postcards from each school of art and held them up for the kids to identify by school. They did great! Of course, I tried to make the postcards pretty obvious examples, but I was still impressed by how well they did for 3rd graders.

This year we're making a book of art periods and famous artists, adding one every week. If you'd like to study an artist and do a project to reflect his/her work, you might try Discovering Great Artists.

Here is the list of schools of art & key artists.

Renaissance Artists
da Vinci

El Greco
Frans Hals

Baroque Artists

Rococo Artists


de Goya


Van Gogh

Franz Marc
Henri Mattisse
Paul Klee


Paul Klee

Abstract Artists
Paul Klee
Hans Arp
Jackson Pollock

Some artist's work actually spanned more than one school of art. In that case, I tried to put them either where they had the most impact on art or in the school they're most famous for. And some artists (such as A. Wyeth, G. O'Keefe) don't really fit into any “school.” As you see, this only starts with the Renaissance and only covers Western Art, so it's a bit limited.

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Devin's Lists

From a 1985 list compiled by Illustrated London News. “By far the greatest work of art by a human being” winners and how they placed:

  1. Velasquez Las Meninas
  2. Vermeer View of Delft
  3. Georgione The Tempest
  4. Botticelli La Primavero
  5. Francesca The Resurrection
  6. El Greco The Burial of the Count Orgaz
  7. Giotto The Lamentation
  8. Grunewald The Isenheim Altarpiece
  9. Picasso Guernica
  10. Rembrandt The Return of the Prodigal Son

Landmark Paintings in Art History from The Annotated Mona Lisa (in other words, works that had a major impact on the course of art):

The book Masterpieces in Art from Christian Liberty Press has a list of what they consider “the 12 most celebrated pictures in the world”:

Devin's Top 40 Masterpieces:

I chose the masterpieces on the following list for one (or more) of several reasons. Either because they are so famous that everyone should know them, because they were important in developing the course of art history, or because I just plain like ’em ;-) (Those with a * are available from NGA.)

  1. Sandro Botticelli The Birth of Venus
  2. Leonardo da Vinci Last Supper
  3. Leonardo da Vinci Mona Lisa*
  4. Michelangelo Buonarroti The Creation of Adam from the Sistine Chapel
  5. Titian Ranuccio Farnese (aka Young Man With a Glove)
  6. Raffaelo Santi St. George and the Dragon*
  7. Caravaggio The Conversion of St. Paul
  8. Albrecht Durer The Knight, Death, and the Devil*
  9. Albrecht Durer Young Hare or Self-Portrait
  10. Hans Holbein the Younger Edward VI as a Child*
  11. Peter Paul Rubens Daniel in the Lions' Den*
  12. El Greco The Resurrection of Christ
  13. Diego Valasquez Las Meninas*
  14. Rembrandt van Rijn The Night Watch
  15. Pieter Breugal Peasant Wedding
  16. Jan Vermeer A Lady Writing*
  17. Thomas Gainsborough The Blue Boy*
  18. Jacques Louis David Oath of the Horatii or The Death of Marat*
  19. Jean Honore Fragonard A Young Girl Reading*
  20. John Singleton Copley The Copley Family
  21. John James Audubon The Blue Jay* or any others of his birds
  22. Albert Bierstadt The Rocky Mountains
  23. Gilbert Stuart George Washington*
  24. J.M.W. Turner Steamboat in a Snowstorm
  25. Jean-Francois Millet The Gleaners
  26. Edward Hicks Peaceable Kingdom*
  27. Claude Monet The Japanese Footbridge*
  28. Edgar Degas Dancers Backstage*
  29. James MacNeill Whistler Whistler's Motherv
  30. Winlsow Homer Breezing Up*
  31. Auguste Renoir Girl With a Watering Can*
  32. Mary Cassatt Children Playing on the Beach*
  33. Henri Matisse Beasts of the Sea
  34. Vincent Van Gogh Starry Night
  35. Frederick Remington—any of his, they all tell a story
  36. John Singer Sargent Oyster Gatherers of Cancale
  37. Pablo Picasso Weeping Woman (or other of his Cubist works)
  38. Salvador Dali The Persistence of Memory
  39. Georgia O'Keeffe Jack in the Pulpit #IV* (or other flower picture)
  40. Andrew Wyeth Christina's World
The Annotated Mona Lisa has several interesting lists; like the 10 greatest masterpieces, 10 pivotal works of art, etc.

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