Note: even though this post references “picture books,” the tips below work for all ages (toddler to grown-up)!
Art Appreciation: Picture Books and Paintings
Do you want to encourage your children to appreciate visual art, whether “high” or “low”? Ever wonder why a certain picture book is a Caldecott winner or honor? Art appreciation includes an awareness of the various artistic elements in a given work, the ways in which the artist is using those elements, the manner in which the work relates to its contemporaries, and the way in which a particular artist or work is innovative or significant. All of these matter for picture books just like they do for the Mona Lisa. Read on for ways to encourage art appreciation using picture books as well as paintings.
5 Ways to Encourage Art Appreciation in Your Children (or Yourself!)
Good sources for books to use with the 5 ways below are Caldecott winners/honors (many libraries have a special shelf for these), “teaching” texts such as Come Look With Me, and any picture book that has stood the test of time. Soon you’ll hear your children throwing around words like “palette” and “perspective” whether they are looking at Peter Spier’s Noah’s Ark or Raphael’s Madonna and Child. Be sure to print out the expanded list of art discussion questions, too!
1. Look and Listen: the Basics (learning to observe)
Pause at an illustration that you or your children like. Spend a few minutes really looking at the picture and asking questions–and be sure to listen to your children’s responses. Possible question topics include the colors the artist uses, whether the child likes/does not like the picture (why/why not?), and whether the images are big or small. (Image from The Girl and the Bicycle; See our expanded list of questions)
2. Introduce “Art” Terms (teaching more academic concepts)
Take one term at a time and examine an artist’s use of it. If you’re unfamiliar with artistic styles and techniques, there are some very helpful slide shows at Picturing Books. Your children will enjoy it just as much as you will! Easy terms to start with include palette, symmetry, and the medium the artist used to create the picture. Flora and the Penguin and The Girl and the Bicycle are good examples of distinctive palettes; Beautiful Moon is a good example of perspective and composition (See our printable for more terms and definitions.)
3. Compare/Contrast (noticing new details)
Now, you’re ready to move on to the next level: compare and contrast two or more works (the same as you already observed or something different). Use your new artistic terminology if you can! Good choices include different works by the same illustrator, two works from different cultural backgrounds, two works about the same subject but from different illustrators, or two works that both won the same award. (See our printable for more specific suggestions.)
4. Get to Know the Artist (they are people just like us!)
Get to know what inspired a given artist, what they did as children, who influenced them. You’ll end up noticing more about their work. There are picture book biographies about famous artists (such as The Noisy Paint Box or Splash of Red) as well as famous illustrators (such as the Children’s Illustrators series by Checkerboard Library).
5. Get to Know a Collection (picking up on trends and styles)
Finally, get to know a body of work and repeat these same steps. This will take more time, but you and your children will learn a lot! Consider examining a particular artist’s body of work, a group of works from the same time period, a particular style of illustrations, or a given award’s list (perhaps focusing on one decade at a time). (See our expanded printable list for some possible questions to ask.)