With a little information under their belts, children's visits to museums can be rich and rewarding. At the Museum of Natural History recently, for instance, a 10-year-old inquired about a giant pleistocene blob with a multicolored center. When she saw the attached sign that labeled it as a cell, she was delighted to relate what she knew about the nucleus and cell-division. She spent time reading the display and asked questions related to the components of the human cell.
But how do we take children to museums and places of learning with just the right factual materials to prepare them to appreciate an exhibit? Some museums, especially visual art pieces, could be intimidating and confusing to children and adults who don't understand the displays."The Art for Children Series" may just be the answer. These 16 volumes present some of the world's most important artists and art techniques in a simple yet sophisticated way. The books contain a short biography of each artist, full-color reproduction of representative works as well as supplementary sketches and designs with an interpretation of the artist's body of work.
It's the interpretation that extends this series beyond other art books aimed at a child audience. For example, in MARC CHAGALL, one of his best-known pieces, "I and the Village," is shown in a 9-by-12-inch true color print. To an inexperienced viewer this painting is a collage of angular heads and incongruent objects, animals and humans wearing jewelry, houses, churches and a tree of questionable origin and production.
The explanation by author Ernest Raboff, an eminent art critic, gives the novice a steady focus, a sensible interpretation: " . . . in the lower left corner the sun and moon are combined and repeat a pattern that makes a diagonal path across the picture . . . Chagall shows us the village from many points of view, right side up and upside down. The happiness of the artist and the life of the village is shown by the colorful beads . . . "
In LEONARDO DA VINCI the author makes comments regarding the technical qualities that may be overlooked: "notice how the white hairs of the animal's coat pick up and reflect the colors of the lady's clothes and skin . . . " and "the virgin and the infant Christ are separated by an arm's length from the mother and the grandmother. In this way Leonardo effectively divides the attention between the two women and the boy . . . "
Raboff uses "artistic grammar" from the simple to sublime, addressing line, shape, color, texture, mood and space. He notes the various mediums used on the paintings, sculpting and sketches as well as the presumed intent of the artist. Of Michelangelo's "The Prophet Josiah," one of the panels in the Sistine Chapel, for example, he says, "The mother's strength is hidden beneath the folds of her white veil and her purple robe . . . "
The diversity of the artists chosen for the series is another asset; from Spanish baroque painter Velasquez; Rousseau, a prominent French primitivist; Gauguin, well-known 19th century painter; to contemporary Swiss modernist Paul Klee.
Readers of all ages should not only find a favorite artist among the group but possibly an unknown one to add to their understanding.
Each book, edited by Raboff, is 9 by 12 inches with 15 or more full-color and 15-25 black and white illustrations, with full-colored jacket. Both trade ($11.95) and paper editions ($5.95) are published by Harper and Row, Junior Books.
The 16 artists are:
Albrecht Durer, Frederic Remington, Henri Matisse, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Marc Chagall, Leonardo da Vinci, Paul Gauguin, Paul Klee, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Pablo Picasso, Raphael Sanzio, Rembrandt Harmen-szoon van Rijn, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Henri Rousseau, Vincent van Gogh and Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velasquez.
* Marilou Sorensen is an associate professor of education at the University of Utah specializing in children's literature.