Postcards

Next, I began to purchase postcard-sized reproductions of famous artworks, because buying original paintings was way out of our price range and art anthology books proved to be almost as pricey, I learned from another mom that the cheapest way to “own” paintings is to buy postcard-sized reprints of them. Art museum gift shops often sell them, but what any museum sells is usually limited to works in their individual collection. On the other hand, Dover Publications prints whole books, the pages of which are perforated, full-color postcards of famous paintings from museums and private collections all over the world.

I picked one of the Dover books, tore the cards out, and began to show one postcard each week to my children. I’d then ask them the same types of questions as I had done with Come Look With Me. For example, I’d ask them, “What would you have named this picture if you had painted it?” or “Where must the light have been coming from to make those shadows?”

I’d take at least four to five weeks—meaning four to five postcards—to introduce my children (and myself!) to each artist. By that time, we could verbalize what “made a Monet a Monet.” We’d finish studying an artist by doing an art project which mimicked his style. Fortunately, another friend had recommended the book Discovering Great Artists by MaryAnn Kohl and Kim Solga. It’s the best art instruction book I’ve ever found (and I’ve tried most of the titles out there!), with a wonderful index to help this non-artist mother find projects related to the artist or artistic period we were working on. We’ve painted sunflowers a la Van Gogh, drawn portraits of each other like Norman Rockwell, and created still-life pictures like Renoir.

As we read about great artists, I noticed a pattern: Many of those artists practiced their art by imitating others’ works or “copying” something from real life. In the same way that I give my children a Bible passage to copy for handwriting practice, I could give them an historic painting to copy or a bowl of fruit or other household object to draw. As they practiced drawing and painting from these models, we used the same vocabulary we had learned from Come Look With Me and the postcard sessions: line, color, perspective, shading, etc.

Create Art Games

As we added a new artist each month or so, I was determined to help my children review past artists. I would show them previous months’ postcards to see if they could still name the artist or his period (Impressionism, Modern, etc.) based on stylistic clues in the work. For example, an Impressionistic painting will have large, broad, obvious brushstrokes as clues to its period. I’ll never forget seeing the fruit of this review in a most unlikely place: waiting to check out in a doctor’s office. My then 5-year-old daughter, Morgan, who could barely see over the counter announced, “Look, Mom! It’s Mary Cassatt!” Sure enough, there on the office wall was a large calendar with its upper half devoted to a typical mother and child painting by Mary Cassatt, known to Morgan by its subject matter and style. The office staff who overheard were amazed, and I left encouraged by my daughter’s growing eye for art.

Once you have studied three or more months’ worth of artists by using the postcard study method above, shuffle all the postcards and ask your children to group them by artist. Ask them what makes that artist easy to recognize and classify.

To make the game more difficult, show children a postcard painting you have not previously studied by an artist you have studied, or in an artistic style you have discussed. Their eyes should gradually develop this sort of discernment because you’ve taught them recognizable visual patterns in art.