Art Across the Curriculum

I’ve gradually learned to tie our artistic endeavors into our other schoolwork, like literature, history, science, and even Bible study. We’ve drawn pictures from adventure books to illustrate literary terms like “conflict and resolution,” and we’ve created 3-D character masks to highlight a biography’s main character. We have placed artists’ images on our family’s historical timeline as we’ve learned about the American Revolution. We soon plan to make our own paper to document our study of ancient China (the Chinese invented paper). Sketching the life cycle of a butterfly or a frog or drawing the hydrologic cycle would be a great enrichment for science. The kids have illustrated scenes from the book of Revelation as a way to “notebook” our Bible reading. This sort of hands-on, multi-disciplinary learning is something my children really look forward to, and it seems to produce lessons which they remember for years to come.

Field Trips

A visit to a local art museum can reinforce the art vocabulary you’ve been learning. Even if a small museum nearby doesn’t contain Monets or Picassos, use your newfound “eye” to discuss the works. Be on the watch for traveling exhibits in nearby cities. A 340-piece Norman Rockwell collection just opened at an art museum about an hour and a half from our house. We’ll plan to study the Norman Rockwell era (which includes both World Wars) along with his paintings and illustrations, and we’ll imitate his works before we go visit in order to maximize our trip.

Or how about a visit to a major art museum, such as New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Art Institute of Chicago, as a great culmination to a year’s worth of art studies? On a trip to Chicago last year, we loved our visit to the Art Institute. It was so large that we could only view one or two galleries during our visit. And don’t forget to ask about student discounts for homeschoolers, or better yet, whether the museum ever offers a free admission day!

(Just a quick note about visiting museums: not all the artwork that you might come across is “family friendly.” It’s not as easy in a museum to avoid artwork you might not want your children to view as it is when you’re studying at home with resources you can screen before using. If this is a concern for your family, you may be able to do some research about the museum ahead of time and find out what types of artwork they have on display.)

Fine Arts vs Applied Arts

While the fine arts are intended primarily for beauty, the applied arts have a functional purpose or “utility.” A painting hanging on my bedroom wall looks lovely but isn’t necessarily useful (fine art), while a handmade Raggedy Ann doll may be beautiful, but it’s primarily intended to be a toy (applied art). My toddler’s crayon drawing is a one-of-a-kind work of art, but so is a blueprint, which serves a building team as a step-by-step guideline for the construction of a home. That’s why architecture is an applied art.

As a family, we are gradually and simultaneously branching out from our study of fine arts into more “useful” applications of art. This process has come about for two reasons: the joy of creating something useful, and my children’s discovery of God-given gifts and abilities as they mature. As they have developed interests, we as homeschoolers are free to pursue and develop those interests.

     •   Crafts: We’ve used seasonal how-to craft books to add spice to unit studies. Projects like leaf rubbings for science, paper making for history, and dioramas for literature have been highlights of some of our units. I’m grouping them with applied arts because of the knowledge gained while doing them.