Art Appreciation 101 · Art History

How To Teach Children About Art History

Women's Art Class by Louis Lang
Louis Lang, Women’s Art Class, c. 1868. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Photo via metmuseum.org (Open Access/Public Domain).

It’s time for a surprising confession. I wasn’t a big art lover when I was a child. My parents took me to museums whenever we went on vacation, but I don’t remember having any strong feelings about the experience. This seems so strange to me now. Becoming obsessed with art history in college was definitely unexpected. (I talk more about this here.) But my experience doesn’t mean that many other kids won’t enjoy artwork at a young age.

Since I’m always trying to get everyone more interested in art history, I’ve started thinking up some ways to teach children about the subject. With all the world’s schoolchildren currently learning at home, right now seems like a pretty good time to write about this. I made some suggestions of books, videos, and more in a recent article for DailyArt Magazine.

Teach Kids About Art During Quarantine“. Published on Daily Art Magazine on April 14, 2020.

I’ve also given some thought to the artworks children might like the most. The answer will be different for every child, just like it is for every grown-up, but here are some general suggestions to get started.

This should go without saying, but please preview specific artworks before showing them to your kids. Don’t assume that any work in these categories will be appropriate for children of all ages. That’s definitely not the case. Let my suggestions guide you, but rely on your own judgement.

  • Ancient Egyptian Art – Mummies, scarabs, bold hieroglyphs, and lots of colorful animal forms.
  • Knights, princesses, and fantastic creatures in Medieval and Renaissance art.
  • Still-life paintings – Familiar objects painted in all different styles across history.
  • Impressionist landscapes – Pretty, cheerful, and easy to enjoy.
  • Portraits of children – Super relatible. Examples include Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas, Thomas Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy, and John Singer Sargent’s The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit.
  • Fashionable ladies – Portraits by John Singer Sargent, Giovanni Boldini, and Franz Xaver Winterhalter, and others.
  • Folk Art Paintings – Grandma Moses and Edward Hicks are two American favorites.
  • Modern & Contemporary Art – Comic strip art by Roy Lichtenstein, soup cans by Andy Warhol, and desserts by Wayne Thibaud.
  • The Terracotta Army – Who wouldn’t love it?
  • Northwest Coast (of the U.S. and Canada) Masks and Totem Poles – I was obsessed with these growing up.
  • Geoglyphs and Cave Paintings – These are some of the oldest artworks the world has ever known. The fact that they actually alter the landscape makes them even cooler.

Were you a young art lover? If so, what were your favorite artworks growing up?

2 thoughts on “How To Teach Children About Art History

  1. Growing up in a very rural area and with few opportunities for travel, my mother cutting some images from magazines served as my introduction. She framed and hung both the Velasquez work you mentioned and Blue Boy. She knew there was another Gainsborough work of a woman known as Pinky that lived large in my imagination and didn’t quite measure up when I finally saw a reproduction in a book. We also had some jigsaw puzzles of art works. Like you, my art history class really started my love affair with art museums.

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