How Artists See Series

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If twenty different people created a work of art based on the same exact object, say, an apple, you would get twenty very different results! Amazing, isn't it? That's because everyone sees the world differently, and artists in particular can express the way they see the world in a way that grabs your attention and offers you a unique vantage point. This fascinating series focuses on this idea, presenting books on a variety of topics illustrated by works of art which are all similar topically but are very different in style! The series itself is made up of twelve gorgeous hardcover books, each of which focuses on one broad topic, including people, weather, animals, play, work, feelings, and more. Each book presents sixteen works of art related to the overarching topic, and these are broken down into four more specific themes. For instance, in How Artists See Families, four works of art each are presented under "Mother," "Father," "Sister," and "Brother" sections. In the section on "Mother," the artworks included are "The Bath" by Mary Cassatt, "Mother Carrying Her Baby Son On Her Back" by Kikugawa Eizan, "The Family" by Marisol, and "Madonna of the Clouds" by Donatello. Each work of art is presented on a two-page spread, with the entire work of art depicted, along with particular segments of the masterpiece broken out and presented in isolation. The text that accompanies the work of art is very conversational in tone and introduces the reader to basic artistic concepts, styles, and techniques. Author Colleen Carroll also provides a number of thought-provoking, open-ended questions to encourage children to examine and analyze the art before them. These would be great for sofa read-alouds as you and your children look at and discuss the work of art together. While the text is not exhaustive by any means, it allows you to focus on the work of art in the light of the main topic presented and offers a great opportunity for comparison between different artists and styles. However, if you're craving more art history details, just flip to the back of the book where a lengthy paragraph on each artist is given. A note for parents and teachers, suggestions for further reading, and a list of museums in which the featured works can be found are also included at the end of each book. While the books are written at a reading level suitable for 3rd-6th graders, we recommend the grade level as K-8 as a read-aloud, and also because older children will likely find the comparative focus something of interest too.

Although there is plenty to enjoy and learn in the books themselves, a teacher's guide is also available for anyone interested in additional activities, discussion, and projects. One group of lessons/projects is included for each of the twelve books in the How Artists See series. Each group of activities includes three or four lessons, a project focusing on one particular artist, and a writing project. The lessons incorporate different subject areas depending on the focus of the lesson. For example, one lesson accompanying the How Artists See Animals title focuses on bird identification. To get started, you read the "Bird" section of the book together and discuss it further. Then you discuss Audubon and how he dedicated his life to depicting different species of birds (the lesson plan suggests that you borrow Audubon's Birds of America from the library). You enjoy the paintings from Birds of America together before you start a bird-watching project to identify the species of birds found in your area. As students bird-watch, they are encouraged to sketch the birds that they see. The other lessons for the Animals book focus on animal classifications, realistic and arbitrary color, and making art with recycled materials. A lesson on John James Audubon and a writing project based on the art work Fish Magic by Paul Klee bring the Animals teacher guide unit to a close. I must note that the teacher's guide is obviously written for a classroom situation, but I think it is easily adaptable to a small group of children and would be well-suited to use with children of different ages, due to the open-ended nature of the discussion and projects.

Although the books are gorgeous and well-designed, they are hardcover and therefore a bit pricier than comparable paperbacks. If you are creative and able to come up with your own activities based on each book, then you might not need the teacher's guide. However, it is pretty reasonable for the suggestions and lessons that you get, so if you are using these books as an art appreciation course, I would recommend it. Although the teacher's guide only focuses on one artist per book, you could easily spend more time learning about each artist presented by borrowing additional books from the library. All in all, this series alone would be a terrific and thought-provoking art appreciation course for early elementary children, but it could be "stretched" with some additional planning to create a more full-fledged art appreciation course for older children as well. Books are available individually or in 4- or 6-volume sets.

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