Once in a great while you will come across an art program that is so easy-to-use, open-ended, and brimming with all sorts of exciting possibilities that you just want to use it yourself. This was certainly the case with ARTistic Pursuits when I first reviewed it. The basic philosophy of ARTistic Pursuits is to combine what it defines as the four essential areas, or categories, of art into a short, easily manageable and flexible lesson. The first category is Elements of Art, or "what art is made of" which include what we would think of as the basics of the actual drawing (line, shape, color, etc.). The next is Composition, or "how art is arranged" (balance, proportion, space), third is Media (variation), and finally, History (becoming familiar with different artists, styles, and periods). This seems like a lot to cover in one program, but ARTistic Pursuits does it surprisingly well and very naturally. The early elementary (K-3) level covers these same four areas in each lesson, but in a less in-depth and more informal manner. Each volume features 36 lessons and the Upper Elementary, Middle School, High School and old edition of Elementary volumes are comb-bound to lay flat.
Upper elementary, middle school and high school levels of ARTistic Pursuits are divided into two books each. The first book focuses on drawing including line, texture, form, shape, value, etc., while the second book focuses on color (tinting, shading, mixing, etc.). As an example, let’s look at the high school program. In the drawing portion of the program, the book begins with a lesson on observation and imagination, challenging art students to “see creatively”. This starts them off on the right foot for drawing scenes and objects which they will be doing extensively. From there it moves into line, texture, shape, form, value, and contrast, covering each of the basic “Elements of Art.” The other half is devoted to the elements of composition, including balance, rhythm, depth, and proportion (learning much of this in the context of the human face, figure, and clothing). The materials needed for the drawing portion are relatively few; pencils, charcoal, erasers, and drawing paper. Book 2 dips into color, tinting, shading, complementing, and mixing and also implements composition, in the context of emphasizing size, value, color, etc., and adds watercolors to the list of supplies.
The K-3 level is made up of three books, which together provide students a chronological overview of art history along with art lessons. Book One teaches young students what artists do, what they see, and how to interpret these in light of ancient to medieval art, including cave paintings, palaces, pyramids and cathedrals. Book Two guides young artists through the Gothic, Renaissance and Romantic Periods. Book Three continues the journey, covering Impressionism and Modernism (both European and American) through painting and sculpture. As the following volumes are a continuation of the first volume, I would recommend that users begin with the first volume, particularly as it explains a lot of basic art concepts that are not revisited in much detail once you hit the appreciation lessons.
The lessons are structured similarly throughout the program, although progression through concepts is slower and more bite-sized at lower levels. The first portion introduces the concept, gives a short discussion on its importance, and offers an introductory activity for the student to start thinking about it. The next section is based on a reproduction of a masterpiece that demonstrates the concept being learned. This gives students the chance to simultaneously learn the concept and see how the great artists used the same elements in their work. The other half of the unit is where the “how-to” is brought in. For example, in the high school unit on form, the how-to part of the lesson concentrates on using a light source to produce the desired effect in a three-dimensional drawing, using a simple snowman to illustrate the effects under various light sources. The student is challenged to find a simple object to study (and draw) under different lighting situations. Finally, we reach the last part of the unit, culminating in a project. Brief but clear instructions are given, along with a list of needed materials, and a few hints; and then you’re on your own. Pick up that pencil and cut loose! This open-ended approach offers nearly unlimited room for creativity on the part of the student, as far as what to draw and how. He or she is reminded not only to concentrate on the concept learned, but also to continue to use all the concepts previously learned (this is exemplified by the many examples of student work displayed in these lessons). Projects at the lower levels are more likely to include simpler activities like drawing a picture from a photograph, and also use less complicated (and messy, incidentally) supplies, such as watercolor pencils rather than the pan watercolors used in the Senior High level.
From a teaching standpoint, the lessons are easy to use. You can read the lessons together, or teach from the textual lesson given. The discussion questions are all included in the book, but you are by no means limited to those if you both really get into an artwork or style. Because the art reproductions are included right in the books, you don’t have to search the library or internet for examples to use. The projects are well-thought out with a lot of potential for creativity, and require mostly common arts and crafts supplies. However, because the lessons in each book expose students to a variety of different mediums, you will need to have a variety of art materials on hand, and specifically recommended ones are listed after each level.
While the format is similar throughout the program, the emphasis on specific artists and periods varies. In the high school level, the emphasis is on European artists, including: Da Vinci, Raphael, Toulouse-Latrec, Monet, Renior, Picasso, Vermeer, Van Gogh, Cezanne, and Constable. The middle school level focuses on World Art, while the Grades 4-5 level examines American Art. Grades K-3 cover art history from ancient to modern. I would suggest using the levels in the titles below as a general guideline. Young students (upper elementary) who are very artistic and already fairly skilled will likely get more out of the middle school level than the Grades 4-5 Level. Regardless of the level you choose, you will want to start with the first book to lay the foundation of art basics before you jump into more advanced concepts.
All in all, this is a flexible, user-friendly program which seamlessly blends art history, art technique and exposure to different media. At the same time, it keeps the subject understandable for beginning artists and more experienced ones alike. Though the format is fairly simple, it will spark excitement and creativity through each lesson, especially as the student progresses and surprises even herself with her new skills. I’m confident that any student interested in art at all will enjoy the variety, the use of different mediums, and the practical art appreciation, and the open-ended projects.