Using Art History in your Nature Study
One of the best ways to begin an art appreciation practice with your kids is to get out into nature. Explore different settings together... beaches, forests, flower meadows. Look far off into the distance; look carefully at the details of things close up.
This is the foundation for inspiring a sense of wonder, curiosity, and love of beauty.
Let's take a look at 12 artists who created beautiful masterpieces based on their observations in nature. We'll look at art from all around the world, and from prehistoric times to modern day. Hopefully, looking at these with your kids will inspire them to get outside and create some masterpieces of their own.
I have a fun interactive guide to go along with this activity, so be sure to sign up and get access to the printable file.
1. The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai
Invite your kids to look at the way Hokusai uses pattern and repetition to stylize the wave.
2. The Tree of Life by Gustav Klimt
Klimt uses pattern and repetition, too... but in a totally different way.
3. Archaic Greek Black Figure Terra-cotta Lydion with Rooster
Take a look at an animal, and reduce it's shape to a simplified form.
4. Haystacks Series by Claude Monet
Check out Monet's masterful use of light and shadow.
5. Close-up of Leaves in Glacier National Park by Ansel Adams
Look at the texture of things, like the leaves in this Ansel Adams photograph.
6. The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh
Look up an study the amazing vastness of the sky... in daytime and at night.
7. The Koninderie Weedah (Rainbow Bower Bird) By C. Dan Purches (Naiura)
This aboriginal Australian art is symbolic, and represents a folk tale you can read here. Maybe your kids could find a symbol in nature and create a story of their own?
8. Summer: Peasants Going to Market by Peter Paul Rubens
Notice how Rubens uses atmospheric perspective to make the background fade into the distance. Invite your kids to look at a far away vista to see how the land far away gets paler, bluer, and blurrier, while the foreground is vibrant, colorful, and highly detailed.
9. Cave painting of aurochs, horses, and deer at Lascaux
Look at the beautiful energetic linework in these cave paintings. Invite your kids to try drawing animals or plants using only dynamic and expressive lines that get thinner, thicker, darker, and lighter.
10. Oriental poppies by Georgia O'Keeffe
Georgia O'Keeffe took something seemingly simple – a flower – and brought the viewer so close up to the details, you can almost smell it! Invite your kids to take a REALLY close look at something outside... and then paint it!
11. Landscape at Collioure by Henri Matisse
In this landscape, Matisse uses color and his highly expressive strokes to give us an overall sense of this place, rather that a picture perfect painting. His work is spontaneous and intuitive. Perhaps your kids would like to paint a place like this...
12. Studies of Crabs by Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo's studies show us how carefully he looked at his subject. Invite your kids to find something in nature – a small animal or an insect – and sketch it from different angles. Try to capture the way it moves, and the details of its form.
Don't Forget Your Guide
Sign up to get a free printable guide that goes along with this project! Your kids will love it, and it will make getting started, and getting them involved so much easier. The Learning Library even has a full length Artist Guide about Monet and his Haystacks series, so you can download that as well!
If you are interested in learning more about van Gogh's The Starry Night, you can find a fun guide in the shop.
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