Whatever is Lovely: Art Appreciation


One of the very first books I ever read as a new homeschooler was the Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola. Although I am now following the Classical Method instead of Charlotte Mason, I will be forever grateful that I began my homeschooling journey with this wonderful book, as it had a profound impact on my thinking about what makes a person educated.

Even if you are not using a Charlotte Mason approach, you’ll find much of value in this inspiring book. The chapters on The Atmosphere of Home, the Happiness of Habit, and Living Books make this a worthwhile read for any parent. But it was the chapters on Picture Study, Music Appreciation, Poetry, Shakespeare and Nature Study which earned it a spot in this post. My recommendations for this category are informed by principles I absorbed when reading this book almost a decade ago.

This post looks at Whatever is Lovely: Art Appreciation. The topic Whatever is Lovely was just too broad to cover in a single post, so the next several posts in my Home Library Builders series will continue with the theme of Whatever is Lovely, and touch on Music Appreciation, Poetry, Shakespeare and Nature Study.

One Artist Per Semester

One principle I gleaned from Andreola’s book is the idea of studying one artist per semester and taking time each week to look at one of their works. I found that this method helped even my very young children to be able to see a painting by Van Gogh or Seurat and instantly recognize the artist behind the work, even if they had never seen that particular painting before. It developed their eye to recognize an artist’s style.

I do the same thing, by the way, when purchasing storybooks for my young children. I love the art of Susan Jeffers, for example, so I get her books whenever I can. The children easily learn to recognize which books were illustrated by the same artist as we read them in a grouping and look at similarities in style from one book to the next.

Studying Art with Young Children

When studying an artist with young children, I use many different teaching methods. The children look at works from that artist (picture study), read books about the artist’s life, and try to emulate their work.

Art books dedicated to a single artist can be good for picture study. I often open an art book to a new page each week and display it prominently in the house on a cookbook stand. Of course, picture study is not merely noticing a picture as one comes and goes; you have to take the time to really look at it and think about it and discuss it. My preference is to find books that have large images of the art, which fill the entire page, rather than books that have a small picture with a lot of text below. Also, I avoid books with art I find objectionable for this purpose…if I am going to have it sitting around the house, the children should be able to pick up the book and look through it all…in fact, they should be encouraged to do so!

Large postcards can also be good for this purpose, especially if the artist has some works you would not want to display. I also like books like Baby Loves by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which have simple text for children along with paintings by the artist (in this case, Mary Cassatt).

My children have all enjoyed the
Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists
series by Mike Venezia. Each book tells about the artist’s life through cartoon drawings and a humorous storyline, and includes several photos of their actual work, as well.

A popular book I don’t like…

I was drawn initially to Kathleen Krull’s
Lives of the Artists: Masterpieces, Messes, (and What the Neighbors Thought)
, due to the lovely pictures and simple text. But this book (and others from her Lives Of the…series) left me with a bad taste in the mouth. If the artist did something illegal or illicit or immoral, Ms. Krull makes sure we know about it.

One of my favorite titles

One of my favorite books for art appreciation is Discovering the Great Artists: Hands on art for children in the styles of the Great Masters by MaryAnn F. Kohl. It is great for giving kids instructions on different styles of art, with project suggestions for many famous artists. I still remember several things my oldest son did with this book when he was in Kindergarten. He loved lying on his back under the coffee table, painting on a piece of paper taped underneath it, as he simulated Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel.

Quality Art Supplies Are a Must!

Let me digress for just one moment to mention that purchasing quality art supplies is also important for children. A child who never has access to anything but a Crayola Watercolor tray will probably not develop a great love of art. Little by little, as your budget allows, try to purchase different kinds of paint, brushes, canvas, drawing pencils, sculpting clay, and other good art supplies.

Another book we liked was
Henri Matisse: Drawing with Scissors
by Jane O’Connor from the Smart about Art series. After reading this book we cut out lots of little pieces of colored origami paper and made collages. I have not read any others in this series, but I hope to one day.

Art Projects

One more digression: as a busy homeschooling mom, I never have as much time for art projects as I would like. I’ve found over the years that it is pretty easy to kill two birds with one stone, and have the THEME of the art project be centered around something we are doing in school. For example, when we were studying Matisse, it just so happened that our literature selection was The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White. The children were instructed to make a collage in the style of Matisse, but the subject matter of the collage had to be a scene from Trumpet of the Swan. When we learned about Van Gogh, we were reading a book about apple trees for Five in a Row. The children painted an apple orchard in the style of Van Gogh.

With a little planning, you can select the artists you’ll study in a given year based on what time period you are studying in history. I love it when we can study one subject across the curriculum, as that kind of synergy really maximizes learning. For example, a study of Leonardo da Vinci could include a study of his paintings (for art), his time period The Renaissance(for history), his inventions (for science), and The Second Mrs. Giaconda by E. L. Konigsburg for literature.

Drawing with Children

No post about art would be complete without mentioning Mona Brooks’ Drawing with Children. We have enjoyed using this book to learn some principles of drawing. I’ll never forget the first time I drew a lion, after working with the children for a week using this book. My husband hung my drawing on the refrigerator and I felt so proud of myself! Yes, I was 35 years old at the time, but I had never in my life felt pride over something I had drawn. I love this book!!!

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8


  1. Molly,
    These posts on the Home Library Builders Series have been great. I have flagged a few of them so I can add the books to our want lists. Some of them have been favorites of ours too.

    Thanks for the tips for Art Appreciation. We have been striving to make Art Appreciation a priority, (and music too) and it is great to have some quality CM type books to look for at our library or to put on our want list. We are lacking in Art and Music Appreciation books in our home.

    I also wanted to let you know that I gave you an award. Come to my blog post at http://debbiesdigest.blogspot.com/2009/01/i-got-blog-award.html to claim your award and see what to do to pass it on.
    Have a Great Day,
    Hope to see you soon,

  2. Have you seen the Come Look with Me series? I really like them. A set of questions are given for each piece of art in the collection. The questions are higher order and help younger kids interpret art.
    Are some of the resources you mentioned used in TOG? Does TOG include art appreciation? If not, I want to get a few of your suggestions to supplement.

  3. I too love the way CM gives us great principles to work from in the area of the arts. I think we have so many choices that she did not have so we need to make good choices. I love all the books you suggest in your post.

    I appreciate your entry a lot.
    Barb-Harmony Art Mom

  4. Thank you for such a helpful post and I thoroughly enjoy your valuable “digressions.”

  5. We have really enjoyed the Mike Venezia books. Our library has several.


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