There are many wonderful ways to expose a young child to great art. The best way, of course, is to visit galleries and museums to see original works. My kids have delighted in browsing through art museums since they were tiny tots riding in a sling. It's important to follow their lead and move on when they get tired, but many young gifted children will be content to gaze at beautiful paintings and sculptures for hours! You can ask them to point out their favorites, and see if they can find specific works or details as you go along. Think of it as an art museum scavenger hunt! By visiting the museum website ahead of time, you can plan which works or features to seek. It could be great fun to attempt to locate as many horses as possible, for instance, or more specific items such as a painting by Van Gogh, a Paul Revere pitcher, a Monet Haystack.
If you can't make it to a museum or art gallery, fear not! There are all kinds of terrific books about art, designed just for kids. I'll start with a favorite series by Mike Venezia. His books are called, "Getting to Know the World's Greatest Artists” and each pays tribute to a different artist. There are many books in the series, covering such diverse artists as Rene Magritte, Frederic Remington, Norman Rockwell, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Georgia O'Keeffe. These slim paperbacks are great introductions to various artists, with biographical information presented alongside gorgeous photos of famous works, and amusing cartoons drawn by Venezia to highlight significant moments in the life of the artist.
"How Artists See..." is another lovely set of books for preschool to grade three. The topics covered include Families, Play, Work, Cities, America, and more. "How Artists See Families", is broken down into four main parts: mother, father, sister, and brother. The art containing sisters includes Tar Beach, Three Sisters Playing Chess, Breton Girls Dancing Pont Aven, and Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose. Colleen Carroll, the author, describes the paintings and asks the reader questions about the scenes portrayed and invites thoughtful viewing. The back of the book features biographical paragraphs for each artist, suggested reading, and where each piece can be viewed in person!
One more winning nonfiction series is aimed at kids a bit more advanced, who are capable independent readers. "What Makes a ... a ..." has more text and more advanced vocabulary, for kids who want to go one step beyond the Venezia books. "What Makes a Cassatt a Cassatt" is just under 50 pages long, and alerts the reader to the special characteristics found in Mary's paintings that capture her style. Other titles are all about Picasso, Goya, Rembrandt, and Monet, among others. These well done volumes are by Richard Mulhberger.
Another great way to introduce famous artists is to read picture book stories about them. These sweet little tales usually have a little girl or boy interacting with a famous artist. Laurence Anholt has written several books of this type, with titles like, “Degas and the little Dancer” and “The Magical Garden of Claude Monet”. James Mayhew has a nice set of artist storybooks as well. He is the author of “Katie and the Sunflowers” and “Katie and the Mona Lisa” as well as a few others.
Fine art coloring books are fun for kids to use and much more interesting than one featuring the latest television show stars. “Masterpieces” printed by Start Exploring has 60 masterpieces in black outline, with commentary on each artist and work opposite the coloring page.
Finally, kids may be interested in creating their own works of art once they've had exposure to so many great images! “Discovering Great Artists” by MaryAnn F. Kohl and Kim Solga tells you how to tackle art projects to create a Linnaeus style botanical illustration, a Manet inspired still life, or Rodin type sculpture. Over 100 pages will keep the young artist going for a long while!