Making crafts is certainly fun and beneficial, but I don't believe the results can generate quite the same kind of pure delight that pours out when a child has created ART. Not that crafts are bad – they're wonderful! But it seems that ‘real art' can touch the heart of a child in a substantially different way. The teaching of art involves both the heart and the mind. The study of famous artists and their techniques can make even the most reluctant student revel in ‘real art' when presented with generous portions of inspiration. I discovered that examining the techniques of great artists was imperative after reading how those Heroes of Old studied ‘the Greats' who had gone before them. Van Gogh studied Degas. Klee was influenced by Kandinsky. The list goes on and on.
One of my favorite resources for teaching grade school students about famous artists is the Getting to Know the World's Greatest Artist series. The Art Book for Children is another wonderful resource. There are so many child-appropriate choices available and many of them can be found at your local library. The pictures of famous works that are found in books may not be life-sized, but they can be held by a child and studied with little fingers. I find that young students are completely engaged with this approach.
Also, artists of the past become real to students when a project is linked to a piece of famous art work. Don't just teach the children how to draw a portrait, study Da Vinci and the Mona Lisa first. Are you doing a splatter paint project? Study Jackson Pollack and then turn them loose with an oversized piece of paper and plenty of bright colored paint. Study Van Gogh's "moving pictures" and then have them create their own version of Starry Night with oil pastels on dark blue paper. The children are sure to remember the famous artist and his/her work after a lesson like that.
Teaching techniques to children is important, but this kind of instruction can be just a bit dry to grade school students. Therefore, learn to disguise techniques as fun. For example, teaching children how to use shading and tinting to turn a circle into a sphere might seem meaningless to them --unless those spheres happened to be planets that they've created in an outer space scene! Add stars, planet rings and rocket ships, and suddenly what would have been a doldrum becomes pure delight.
Likewise, teaching the concept of line drawing to young students can be painfully boring, but when a teacher reads Harold and the Purple Crayon aloud to them before they create their very own Harold style line drawing (in the single color of their choice) suddenly there are smiles everywhere. I always add a caption to these pieces that reads something like "Daniel and the Blue Marker". It really adds to the charm of this project.
The use of picture books is also helpful while teaching art to children, especially through the k-4 to 2nd grade years. Children are naturally inspired by stories and I find that they approach their art projects with more enthusiasm when they are linked together with book or story. A quiet afternoon at the library spent browsing picture books is sure to inspire any teacher with a myriad of possibilities. Last month I read Tacky the Penguin to my second graders and then taught them step by step how to draw a penguin of their own. The end result was pages full of frolicking penguin families. Delightful!
Try reading a story or two by Eric Carle, and point out how he uses collage to illustrate his books. Then turn the children loose with books of wallpaper samples to make their very own collage creations.
I might also add that there is much benefit to teaching art to children in a group setting, such as a home school co-op. On a typical busy homeschool day, no mother I know wants to drag out the art supplies knowing that there will be a big mess to contend with in the end! Being in a class room setting where you don't have to worry about Parker's math lesson or Clementine's English paper or what to make for dinner tonight can make all the difference in the world. Co-ops are a place where art supplies are kept at hand, and other moms can be assigned to help with the set-up and clean-up. Children also love to work while visiting with their buddies, and art is one class where visiting is allowed (after the initial instruction, of course!)
The study of real art is sure to pull at the creative strings of a child's heart and mind, building confidence and inspiring them to both recreate what the masters have done, and create their own original masterpieces. Who knows which one of our students will grow up to become the next world famous artist!
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