art history kids

What is the best way to teach art and its history to kids? Having worked in the arts for over 10 years, and started by career in museum education, I know that it requires a mix of fun facts about famous artists combined with hands-on creative activities. However, most books separate art history and biography from practical art making, which is something I wanted to change by writing This Book Will Make You An Artist.

If I have to really go back to the beginning, it was a fantastic art teacher who first inspired me to write This Book Will Make You An Artist. When I was at school, Mr Bournon always introduced us to new styles, techniques and ideas through masterpieces of the past.

We would travel back to 19th century Paris, or 20th century Japan, before flying to NYC in the 1960s. From Paul Signac’s Pointillism we learnt how to paint great colour combinations, Barbara Hepworth’s huge hole-filled stones showed us how to sculpt from nature, and we printed Pop Art cards in the style of Andy Warhol.

This contextual approach was one I further developed in my own work as a Museum Education Officer at the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art –  this was my very first job after graduating with an MA in Art History! I would invite family groups or classes of schoolchildren to learn about art history by having a go themselves, bringing to life great artists of the past through creative activities. We made Modigliani-inspired masks, drew like Bruno Munari and painted dreams like Giorgio de Chirico.

art history kids

But, I know that not every child gets to visit a museum, particularly given funding cuts which means that there are less opportunities for these exciting days out. I, therefore, wrote this book, which includes step-by-step activities, as a means of inspiring children to experiment with new methods of making in their own homes.

I also wanted to share the message that art history, above all, is fun, which is something I have learnt over the years as an art historian, writer and researcher in galleries. A lot of artists weren’t simply painting in silence, but they were daring performers, eccentric animal lovers, brilliantly inventive and sometimes silly, which I wanted to share through surprising biographical stories. Hokusai was a great Japanese printmaker, but he was also very messy. Rather than tidying up his studio, he would just move to another one!

art history kids
Make an abstract mobile like Hilma af Klint…

Hokusai is just one of 25 great artists in the book which celebrates some well-known names alongside lesser-known figures from around the world and diverse cultures, from China to Mexico, and from the ancient world to today. Yes, there’s Claude Monet and Pablo Picasso, whose names everyone will know. But, just as important to me was including Esther Malangu, Hilma af Klint, Judith Scott and Moses Williams. There’s a whole art history out there that most mainstream narratives keep hidden.

It was also important to me that the book spanned 2D and 3D activities, so there’s weaving, spray painting, mosaic-making, sculpture and much more, with each artist representing a different style or technique.

I endeavoured to ensure that all of the activities would also be accessible, not requiring specialist materials, but able to be made using everyday items, from cardboard, string and Sellotape to paper, pens and even soap! After all, art should be for everyone, so costs shouldn’t be a barrier to making it.

Finally, a growing body of research proves that both looking at art and making art is good for us. The book includes reproductions of famous masterpieces, alongside the colourful illustrations by super duper illustrator, Ellen Surrey, who has brought each artist’s story to life in an inspiring way. This Book Will Make You An Artist has been designed to be read and looked at, as well as made with.  

art history kids
We made Matisse-inspired collages at Waterstones…

I’ve already been blown away by the mini-masterpieces that children have been making, based on the step-by-step activities in the book, and can’t wait to see more of their colourful creations. They really are proving my theory right – that by taking inspiration from art history and experimenting with different materials, anyone can be an artist, and have fun in the process!

art history kids

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