Keeping history alive can be achieved by taking the time to examine both the artists and the historical events portrayed in the various genres of art. Of course, for those of us who are not art history majors, teaching these subjects simultaneously can be overwhelming. Still, we cannot overlook the responsibilities of running a household, the never-ending attempts of staying “caught up” with the basic core subjects to, most typically, a multi-aged group, as well as the extracurricular activities and appointments that can disrupt the flow. It is certainly understandable why many of us push both art history and the possible corresponding projects by the wayside.

Before explaining some practical ways to teach art simply, it is crucial to understand why we, as parents, should teach this creative subject. Critiquing and studying both the artist and the art teaches children keys from the past, creating each child’s individual historical timeline.

1. There is no doubt that critiquing art promotes abstract thinking. Children begin to think more figuratively by looking at the symbolism revealed through colors, styles, media, and clues within work.                                  

2. Artwork does evoke a variety of emotions in the observer. Though subtle, art is a “silent” form of communication; it teaches lessons of the past and provides insights for the future.                                    

3. Learning about art provides a creative outlet for children to explore their talents and feelings in regard to the arts, not to mention the fact that it gives them a break from other schoolwork.                                          

4. Acquiring the skills of analyzing and interpreting art can inspire future photographers, graphic artists, book illustrators, and cartoonists.                                                                                              

5. Incorporating art history into your homeschooling schedule can be as informal or as formal as you desire. For our family, art and the exploration of it has been driven primarily by what is being read in both the literature and social studies units.

Example 1

My oldest child was reading a biography about Benjamin West, who came from a simple Pennsylvania family during the colonial times; he became a self-proclaimed artist. After reading an excerpt from West’s biography, we discovered that Mr. West used to pluck the tail hairs from his cat to make paintbrushes; he also asked local Indians to teach him how to make paint from riverbed clay.

These facts intrigued us and spurred us on to do a quick Google search about him. Before long, we had uncovered a rich history—including the discovery that even though West was considered “unschooled” and a horrible speller, the famous Benjamin Franklin was the godfather to West’s second son, and this artist served as a historical painter for King George III. His painting subjects consisted of scenes from colonial times, British Royalty, and Old Testament Biblical accounts; he had quite a diversity of painting subjects.

While the above art lesson was informal and certainly not planned ahead of time, I have also had success using Diana Waring’s Ancient Civilizations & The Bible. In each chapter of this Biblical history, Waring has an Art Appreciation/Arts in Action section that is parent-friendly and has a plethora of artistic ideas that can be modified for any age group. The next three examples of incorporating art into history were inspired by this curriculum.