Friday May 25, 2007

Every few months I introduce a new artist to my children. This summer our artist is Henri Matisse. While I do use living books almost exclusively in my homeschooling, I am not a Charlotte Mason homeschooler.  We do not do “picture studies”, nor do we keep notebooks and such.  We simply read.  We sometimes discuss, but this is not something I initiate.  I wait for the boys to initiate these discussions.  I rarely need to wait long!

As I’ve mentioned before, finding appropriate books for studying fine art can be tricky.  However, with a bit of modification to the books, I’ve been able to introduce my boys to several artists.  This past year we have studied, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Johannes Vermeer.  I have found a wide variety of wonderful books to use as we have studied these artists.  The books have been as varied as lively fictionalized accounts of the artists in picture books, to biographies of the artists written for the young adult, to a thorough overview of the artist geared to adult readers.

Here are the books we will be using for our study of Henri Matisse, and how we will be using them.

1. Henri Matisse, by Ernest Raboff (Art for Children series).  This is an incredible series, and I am working on  obtaining the entire set for our home/heritage library.  This book on Matisse is my latest purchase for the series. The book is about 28 pages long, and includes a brief biographical sketch of Henri Matisse, and features 13 full page, full color prints of Matisse’s work.  Two of the thirteen works are photographs – The first is a photograph of a Matisse statue, and the second a photograph of a French chapel Matisse designed.  There are also many smaller pencil sketches that the artist made.

This book is an appropriate read-aloud for all ages, but the vocabulary might make it a challenging independent read for children younger than about 9 or 10.  We will read this book aloud together, with all three of us taking turns.  I can double check on the boys’ pronunciations this way, and I can also explain difficult words as we run across them.  A highlight for me, in using this series, is the way that it has helped art “make sense” to Aaron (13).  Here is a sampling of the text from Matisse that explains what the artist was doing in his work “White Plumes“,

“White Plumes did not just happen.  It is the result of long, hard study and work.  Matisse did many pencil studies for his paintings so that they would be like music to the eyes.  The color of dress fills the canvas with light. The model’s concentration on her job is read on the expression of her face.  The white plumes, the feathers that brim her hat repeat the full curves of her hair.  The V of her dress points to the black belt, almost concealed in its folds, leading ones gaze back to the head.  The rich, velvety red background is a brilliant setting for the other jewel-like colors with her lips returning our attention to her interesting expression.  Matisse is a master composer with paint.”

2.  Henri Matisse, written and illustrated by Mike Venezia (Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists series).   Mike Venezia’s series on artists and composers have long been favorites of homeschoolers.  They are favorites here, too!  This book is 32 pages long.  The text is in a large font, and the independent reading level is about 2nd or 3rd grade and above.  While Venezia’s book incorporates many examples of the artist’s works, it is also illustrated with cartoon-like drawings by the author to represent the artist’s story as it takes place in the text. The author’s cartoonish drawings will in no way confuse a child as to which drawings are the author’s and which are the works of Matisse.  Venezia tells Matisse’s story in an engaging, conversational manner which appeals to all ages.

This book is one that I will place in Will’s (age 8) reading basket for him to read on his own.  Here is a small sample of the text, “On one of his many trips, Henri visited Algeria, a sunny North African country.  Henri saw lots of exciting designs on carpets, wallpaper, and people’s clothing there.  He began to add these decorative designs to his paintings.  In Harmony in Red, Henri used these designs to arrange the flat surface of his painting.  It’s interesting to compare this painting to the earlier one shown on page 17.  It is about the same subject, but looks very different.”

3. Henri Matisse – Drawing With Scissors, by Jane O’Connor, illustrated by Jessie Hartland (Smart About Art series).  This is the first book I have seen from this series, but I do like it.  I will definitely check out the other titles in this series.  This book is about 30 pages long.  The book is written as though it were a report done by an elementary school student on Henri Matisse.  The book begins with the assignment as given by the teacher with questions to be answered by the student in the report.

The book includes copies of Matisse’s work, but also includes several child-like drawings to accompany the fictional “report”.  The artist has also written notes and captions for several of the pictures, both those of Matisse’s works and those done by the illustrator.  I find this style particularly engaging, and I’m hoping my boys do, too.  I will have both boys read this book on their own.

Though the “report” covers the entirety of Matisse’s work, it features his last few years work with cut outs of paper more than any of the other books I’ve found on Matisse.  From the section discussing Tangiers: View through a Window, the author, speaking as the child report writer, says, “I think all the shades of blue in this picture are beautiful.  I counted five different blues.  I bet if I saw the real painting, there would be even more.  Henri painted lots of pictures with windows in them.  You feel as if you are inside the room looking at what’s outside.”

4.  Henri Matisse, by Albert Kostenevich (First Impressions Introduction to Art series)   This book is 90 pages, plus an extensive index.  Since this series was recommended by Valerie Jacobsen, and her recommendations have never led me astray, I decided to buy it sight unseen.  This book is a more thorough look at the life and work of Henri Matisse.  It is written for the older student, and I believe it would make a good introduction to the life and works of Matisse for adults as well.  Virtually every turn of the page features samples of the artist’s work, and the text, generally, is commentary on the time in the artist’s life when the work shown was produced, or commentary about that particular work.  While the scope of this book is broader and deeper than the first three, it is still written in a pleasing and understandable manner.  Even so, it would not appeal so much to a younger child.  This book will only be read by my older son, Aaron (13).

5.  The World of Matisse, by John Russell (Time-Life Library of Art series).  You may be familiar with these beautiful books in lovely slipcover cases.  They are, as most Time-Life products, beautifully done.  However, these books were published for an adult market.  I can tell you that though we own several volumes from this series, I have not read any of them in their entirety.  Their value in my home is solely for the lovely works of art they contain.  Since these books, and the Matisse in particular, often include nudes, these books are considered “adult supervision only” in our home.

Since I do value the quality of the works as displayed in the Time-Life series, I carefully go through each volume choosing several pieces of each artist’s work to share with my boys. The pages are larger, and quite often one work spans more than a single page.  This gives my children the opportunity to see more detail in the artist’s work than they might see in the preceding books.

Since Matisse was alive until 1954, there are also many, many photographs of the artist in this book.  A particular favorite of mine is a photo taken of him in his studio during the latter years of his life.  The wheelchair bound Matisse is seen with a pair of long bladed scissors in one hand and a piece of paper in the other working on one of his famous cut outs.  The floor surrounding the wheelchair is cluttered with the remains of dozens of sheets of paper that he has already cut from.  I like that it shows the artist working even though his work is made difficult by his physical condition.   I appreciate the fact that he has, obviously, been working for quite a long time on the cut outs in one sitting.  Though it’s hard to admit, it’s good for me to see that even great artists make messes when they are creating!

As I have done with other books from the Time-Life series, I will use post it notes to mark the pages I want to share with my boys.  Then I’ll sit down with each of them individually (as they’ve finished the books on Matisse I’ve given them to read on their own) and we’ll look at each page I’ve marked together.  If history repeats itself, and it always does, this will mean a quick pass through with Will, and will involve a bit more discussion with Aaron.  Again, I don’t question or lead in discussion, but simply let the boys take the lead.  However, I have been known to offer up my own commentary as we go.  I just don’t expect my comments to motivate any sort of discussion.

Please do note that Henri Matisse’s works did often include nudity.  My husband worked his artistic magic on the Venezia, O’Connor and Kostenevich books. The Raboff did not require any “costuming” of models.  The Time-Life volume is left unaltered, but it is also off limits to my children without parental supervision.

Living books are a wonderful way to give you children a taste of fine art.  No tests, no quizzes, no reports – just reading.  I am amazed at the things they have learned about the artists we have studied, and at their recollection of facts months (and years) later.  My goal is that they will recognize an artist’s work when they see it. So far, so good!  If you are interested in a book list for the other artists we’ve studied this year (Michelangelo, Da Vinci, or Vermeer) please feel free to let me know via e-mail (address in the sidebar), and I’ll be happy to send the list to you.

God bless you as you look well to the ways of your households!
Proverbs 31:27

**I’m sorry.  Due to an administrative error (I blew it!!) all of the comments to this post were lost as of the evening of 5/25/07.  My apologies.**

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