In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Guest blogger: Art Immersion -- Books as Museums

Dear Aunt Debbie,
It's portfolio time again!  This morning, I collected two class sets of writing portfolios from my juniors and seniors, and will be putting my nose to the grindstone in grading and commenting on them for the next couple of weeks.  Which means, of course, that it's time for some excellent guest bloggers.

First up is our regular guest Denise, who has written here before about picture books that raise social awareness and picture books that capture the essence of summer.  Here she is:
One of the first museums my husband and I took our daughter Jacinta to was the Museu Picasso in Barcelona. It was on a narrow, cobbled, pedestrian street in a Gothic-style brick building with a courtyard; we were fortunate to have come on the one free day of the week, and the line was nowhere as long as the line to Target-free Fridays at the MOMA in Manhattan.

Jacinta was a little over two, so she wasn’t as excited as we were to enter this sacred place. She did look intently and excitedly at a few paintings in the first parlor and made her parents proud by answering questions like, what colors do you see? And what shape is this? After looking at a wall of work, she wiggled out of her dad’s arms and started roaming around, pushing through people’s knees and bumping into their bags. At this point, Sean and I took turns watching her and looking at the decades of work on display.

This was her first immersion in art history, and to remember it, we bought a souvenir: a board book called Painting with Picasso by Julie Merberg and Suzanne Bober. In this book, lyrical, rhyming lines on one side complement a painting on the other side. On the first page: “An artist paints people / in all different places, / and captures the feelings / that show in their faces.” The painting beside this is “Interior with a Girl Drawing." Most of the other nine paintings include young children; each page is saturated with vibrant colors. It is so much easier to appreciate each individual painting when it sits between your hands. And there is an entire series of books like this one that showcase other artists such as Van Gogh and Matisse; the series is called Mini Masters and is published by Chronicle.

It’s been over two years since our trip to Barcelona, and now that we have a two-year old boy, Emerson, visiting a museum has become much more challenging and arduous. We have been to the Cloisters in Manhattan and the Brooklyn Museum, but during these visits, we didn’t really engage with the art work; we did family activities and briefly glanced at some works that caught our eyes. But I’ve realized that we don’t need to visit museums to appreciate art; we can adopt our own artists and fills our shelves and walls with art. And that was my mission this Christmas, to have a renaissance of art appreciation at home.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art publishes some of the most amazing books that expose children to centuries of art. The books I (aka Santa) bought are:

My First ABC, a board book with vibrant paintings spanning continents and centuries; each page zooms in on an object beginning with a particular letter. One of my favorites is: H h Hair; the subsequent painting focuses on the profiles of an Egyptian man and woman in a painting from Tomb of Ipuy, ca. 1279-1213 BC.

Museum Shapes: each section begins, What shape is… and is followed by a painting that focuses on that particular shape; on the next page, the shape, the word, and other excerpts from visual art. What’s unique about this book is that it includes architecture and textiles in addition to paintings.

Can You Find It? is a search and discover book that includes nineteen paintings and a list of details to find in each. The art work is stunningly detailed and finding the individual items is difficult; Jacinta is much better and finding things than I am – I really have to strain my eyes. One we looked at together is a painting of The Feast of Sada from Shahnama by Firdausi. The text beside it states: “In this painting of an outdoor feast, can you find: 1 box, 4 birds, 1 bear throwing a rock… 4 bottles, and 6 beards.” I love how poetic the list is. I also love how there is something in each work of art for both my daughter and son to recognize and appreciate.

The final book is not published by the Met. It is an instructional book:
I Love to Draw!
by Jennifer Lipsey. It breaks down how to draw trees and dogs and cars in such a simple way that even I can draw these things.       

As the winter ensues and encourages us to stay in our living room, we will have many works of art to enjoy at our own leisure, without having to abide by museum rules. The kids can touch the pages, but not bend them, then march around and sing and scat while still being immersed in art.

Inspiring ideas!
Love, Annie

1 comment:

  1. Have you seen the book Spot the Difference with masterpiece artwork? It's really great and helps my kids really look closely at the art.