Head, Hands, Heart: Getting Smart About Art

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I usually plan one ongoing project each summer when I have some downtime from school, and this year’s choice is a family art study.  It involves a little bit of art history, a little bit of theory and technique, and a whole lot of making art together.  I do not have a degree in art, and I don’t consider myself particularly artistic (I’m much more likely to create on the computer than with my hands), so this is an opportunity for me to embrace the “be a life-long learner” attitude that we teachers strive to instill in our students!


I’m posting about our experiences here at the blog, but I will also be updating this page with all of the resources we are using to enhance our exploration of art.  We’ll be using a combination of web resources, videos, art books, and picture books in our journey.  If you have any additional resources to recommend, please leave a comment!


Modern Art

I thought it would be less intimidating in terms of creating our own works to begin this summer’s family art study with modern art.  Our goal is to learn more about modern art and artists, and to create our own art inspired by their work.


See blog posts tagged Modern Art



We began with a study of Matisse, working backward from the cut-paper collages he created at the end of his life. All of our resources are listed below. I’m also including the Blendspace presentation I created for sharing all of the resources in order.



Books We Used

The links take you to Amazon.com, where you can read reviews, look inside the book (usually), and purchase a copy if desired.


snail trail Snail Trail: in search of a modern masterpiece by Jo Saxton
An art-loving snail with a colorful collage shell invites the reader to follow him in search of a special painting.  He passes examples of modern art by Jackson Pollock, Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, and others before showing us Henri Matisse’s The Snail.  (How did we use it?)


usborne introduction to modern art The Usborne Introduction to Modern Art: Internet Linked by Rosie Dickinson
Explains the development of modern art in a simple, straightforward way and includes over a hundred illustrations of major works.  Includes a timeline of important dates in modern art history, an alphabetical collection of thumbnail biographies for each artist featured in the book, a glossary of names and terms, and an index of works and artists.  Bonus: Usborne maintains a website of links to web pages that correspond to the art included in this book. The sites are current and reputable, and offer a wonderful extension to the information provided in the book!  (How did we use it?)

lives of the artistsLives of the Artists: Masterpieces, Messes (and What the Neighbors Thought) by Kathleen Krull
Presents the humor and the tragedy of twenty artists, offering interesting tidbits about them along with the basic facts of their lives.  The illustrations provide visual clues for the artists’ trademark styles and famous works.  (How did we use it?)


great big art activity bookThe Great Big Art Activity Book by Sue Nicholson and Deri Robins
I love the oversize format and clear examples in this book, as well as the simple instructions complete with step-by-step photographs for each project. Readers are encouraged to use the suggestions to make unique artwork, rather than simply copying the samples in the book. Includes a well-organized table of contents, a detailed index, and glossary of art terms; and includes over one hundred techniques to try.  Ends with a page of notes for teachers and parents.  (How did we use it?)


usborne art treasuryThe Usborne Art Treasury by Rosie Dickins
Each project in this large collection of art projects begins with a particular work of art, including paintings, scratch art, collages, mobiles, African masks, and more.  After a double-page spread showing the original art along with information about the work and its creator, the next two pages show the reader how to create a piece of art inspired the work. The instructions are clearly written and practical, but not so specific that they result in a mere copy of the suggested example.     (How did we use it?)


what's the big idea abstract art What’s the Big Idea?: Activities and Adventures in Abstract Art by Joyce Raimondo
This book highlights the work of six famous abstract artists and encourages kids to interpret what they see in the artwork shown; then try the techniques themselves.  It includes great discussion questions that lead the reader to closely examine the works shown and think about the choices the artist made.  The accompanying easy-to-follow activities provide hands-on experience with the artist’s techniques, subject, and media — each illustrated with examples by real kids.  (How did we use it?)


my-very-first-art-bookMy Very First Art Book by Rosie Dickins
A book of simple, colorful art projects inspired by actual works of art.  Techniques include drawing, painting, printing, and making models.  The author presents a work of art on the left page and an art activity to try on the facing page.  Perfect for younger children, but easily adaptable for older users.  (How did we use it?)


matisse from a to zMatisse from A to Z by Marie Sellier
As the title suggests, this is an A-B-C book featuring the work of Henri Matisse arranged in vignettes that focus on a key element of his life or work.  The twist is that the word for each letter of the alphabet is in French; for example  F is for FENÊTRE (window) and features the painting Open Window, Collioure.  You get a French lesson and an art lesson combined in one book!  (How did we use it?)
ben's trumpet Ben’s Trumpet by Rachel Isadora
This Caldecott honor book tells the story of a young boy who is excited by the jazz music he hears in his neighborhood and longs to play the trumpet himself.  He practices outside the corner jazz club with an imaginary trumpet, until the laughter and jeers of some of the other kids send him sadly home.  Just when he’s given up on his dream, his persistence is rewarded.  (How did we use it?)

bring on that beatBring on that Beat also by Rachel Isadora
It’s Harlem in the 1930s, and when a jazz trio begins playing under a streetlamp, everyone comes out to listen and dance.  The author/artist uses rhyming couplets and energetic splashes of color in a tribute to Duke Ellington, with a nod toward modern artists Klee and Kandinsky.  (How  did we use it?)


snow white in new yorkSnow White in New York by Fiona French
A “modern” retelling of the Snow White tale, featuring the jazz clubs and gangsters of the Roaring 20s, with gorgeous Art Deco-styled illustrations.  A Kate Greenaway medal winner.    (How did we use it?)

colorful dreamerColorful Dreamer: The Story of Artist Henri Matisse by Marjorie Blaine Parker
We follow Matisse’s life from boyhood until his death as an old man, and experience his passion for beauty and color in a black-and-white world.  The illustrator — Holly Berry — draws the real world in shades of gray, but shows the world Matisse lives in (at first only in his art, but finally in his home as well) in glorious, vivid color.  She incorporates many of the elements of Matisse’s life in her illustrations (his birds, his violin, etc), and she also faithfully reproduces many of his best-known  paintings and collages.  A true celebration of following your dream, and a wonderful look at an endlessly creative artist!

henri's scissorsHenri’s Scissors by Jeanette Winter
This book was PERFECT on so many levels: the endpapers feature quotes about Matisse, the prose is sparse but beautiful, the renderings of his paintings and collages remain faithful to the originals while staying within the art style of the book, Winter is true to Matisse’s color palettes in her own illustrations, Matisse himself is quoted in several places, and the ending is whimsical and satisfying.  An author’s note fleshes out the information provided in the text, and explains that Winter was inspired to create the book after viewing some of Matisse’s cut-paper collages at the National Gallery and being awed by the feeling that she was standing in Matisse’s garden.  I’m glad we saved this one for later in our Matisse study; otherwise we would have glossed right over some of the subtler elements in the book.  If you do use it as an introduction, by all means give it a second reading after you’ve learned more about Matisse and his art and see how many more details you notice!


 Videos We Used


Footage of Henri Matisse Making a Paper Cutout
Watch Matisse cutting and arranging paper shapes.


Elements and Principles of Design
Features Matisse-inspired cutouts, and discusses organic and geometric shapes.


 This page was last updated on 6/21/14




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