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Art Appreciation for Preschool and Elementary Children

by Sharon Jeffus

Why is art education important for children?  How do you teach it?

I'll never forget reading in a magazine a charming story about a young woman's journey into a powerful career as an art educator for profoundly handicapped children.  Her mother wrote about her daughter's formative years and talked of having a favorite book about Leonardo da Vinci on the coffee table in the living room.  She further remarked that at the age of 4 her daughter took an orange crayon and scribbled all over it.  She said she angrily presented the little girl with the ruined book.  Her daughter took it to her room and it became the favorite book in her toy chest .  She would bring the book out and ask her mother to look at the pictures with her, the mother boasted of her powerful influence in her daughter's successful career by the gift of the book. 

Although this story is something to smile about, the profound influence of art and a trip to an art museum, or looking at master works of art and discussing it has a powerful influence on a young mind.  I believe this adds to their experience and success in all areas of education.  It allows children to enjoy culture and appreciate the world around them. 

A trip to an art museum, via the internet or live gives children a window into the colorful and interesting world around them.  It teaches them about their own history and culture. If presented in a critical way, allowing them to think and ponder ideas, it can cultivate self-expression, imagination and creativity.   It also gives them critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. We live in a world in which we are continually bombarded with ideas and information delivered visually.   Teaching discernment is very important, even in children.  When younger children learn how to analyze and judge the meaning of images and how to use them to communicate their own ideas, they gain insight in all areas of learning.  One of my favorite advocates of art education, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee says"

"An education in music and the arts is not extra curricular, it’s not expendable, and it’s not extraneous. It’s essential!

If we really are serious about educating both the left and right sides of a child’s brain. If we are really serious about making sure that there is a complete education going on. Then it is not an education simply to transfer data from one brain to the next, any more than one would have a great computer if all it had was a very thick well-stocked database. If the computer doesn’t have an operating system, a processor, that can do something with the data, it is really worthless. An education that is nothing more than the repository of vast amounts of information without the capacity to process and do something creative with that information is an uneducated child.

I would submit to you that the child today who is getting an education solely on the transfer of information from one brain to the next without stimulating the processor, the operating system, the creative side of that child’s brain is a child who is getting left behind and will be left behind by the thousands if we do not wake up and realize that the future economy is going to be a creative economy. "

When we expose our children to the rich world of master art work and great music, we encourage their own ability to think and create. 

You might ask how to look at a master work of art with my children?   Here are a few simple rules:

The first good piece of advice, when looking at a master work of art, is to remember that children do have a short attention span.   You don't want to bore them.   In looking at a master work of art with a student, here are some questions that you can use to enhance the experience.  Let's look at "Portrait of the Artist's Mother," by Whistler.  You can begin by asking what she was like, just by looking at the picture?  Do you think she was full of fun and laughter?  Do you think she was sad?  What colors do you see? A vertical line stands straight and tall.  Do you see any vertical lines in this picture?  If you did a picture of your mother, what colors would you use?   What objects would you put in the picture that reminds you of your mother?  This is a portrait of Whistler's mother done long ago.  How do you know that?  Do a portrait of your mother.  A portrait is a realistic picture of a person. Older children can have a formal lesson on face proportions.
Always allow children to do a project related to the work of art that develops fine motor skills and encourages creativity. 

There is a group of words called the vocabulary of the arts.  Using a few of these words in every lesson is important.  Go to this website for a list of them:   http://tiny.cc/an6XG
Another good piece of advice is to remember to preview the museum or art show before you expose your child to the images.  Children use their minds like cameras, and each image they see is stored away.  You must be sure and make each image something you would want them to remember or something that would have a positive influence. 

Another important aspect is looking at a painting (or any object) from different perspectives.  You can look at a bridge aesthetically, appreciating its beauty.   You can look at a bridge from an animal habitat (scientific) perspective.  You can look at it from a mathmatical and engineering perspective.  You can research the history of the bridge.
In the picture above, “The Rocky Mountains” by Albert Bierdstadt, you can see the mountains in the background of the picture.  Things in the foreground are larger and things in the background are smaller.  You can talk about animals that might live in that habitat.  You can talk about the Indian tribes that lived in the Rocky Mountains.  You can talk about the horizon line; the place where the sky and land meet. Have them notice that the sky is darker at the top and lighter as it goes to the horizon line.  The mountains get lighter in the distance.  This is atmospheric perspective.  You can then draw a landscape using basic shapes with the children.  You can show them how to make triangle tepees and “Y” trees.  Each picture and lesson should fill you and your child with joy.  Art is the subject that it doesn’t have to be just so to be right. You could put ten master art works of flowers in front of you.  Each picture is beautifully different.  Van Gogh’s sunflowers look very different from Monet’s.  There is not one right way to do it.  You can be creative and come up with your own design. Art encourages children to think for themselves. These are just a few of the excellent websites available to learn how to appreciate art:
 

Visual Manna is now offering live internet classes.  Go to our website or read further: Sign up for art classes via the internet.  You don't have to leave your home.  You can do this with your friends. 

Copyright © 2009 Sharon Jeffus. Reprinted by permission.

Sharon Jeffus has a B.S.S.E. in Art Education from John Brown University and continued on in her studies to be certified to teach English from the University of Arkansas. She studied painting at Metropolitan in Denver and sculpting at Southern Illinois University. She has written over twenty books and has the internationally known company Visual Manna. Sharon wrote her first book in 1992 and developed the Visual Manna teaching method where art is integrated with art appreciation, techniques, vocabulary and core subjects. Visit Visual Manna to learn more.

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