Art and books
Updated: Oct 12
The books teeter on a precarious stack beside my bed. On my nightstand is a bit of a joke. My husband built the nightstands this summer. We chose minimalist designs, just big enough for an alarm clock, a mug of tea (or glass of wine) and a current read. I store all my books on the floor. My non-fiction is a mix of all kinds. Books on art and faith and how they intersect. Novels based on a piece of art. I'm fascinated by the process of connection and how one book (or conversation) leads to another good read and discussion.
Art is my subject right now. We didn't do a ton of artist study in our homeschool growing up. I knew a few famous pieces and the artists but that was all. What I was given were the tools to learn and research and become fascinated by something and I am forever grateful for those tools from my parents.
I teach art to my children because I want to learn alongside them. We take them to museums and they recognize Van Gogh and Cezanne. Our time at MOMA in New York City was with hundreds of others on a free admission Friday night. Was it the best choice for travel weary young children? Maybe not. But I stood in front of Starry Night and teared up. Van Gogh's beauty from incredible personal pain will always speak to me. The girls recognized a Cezanne when we ducked into a random room away from the crowds. We shuffled through with the hordes in the Louvre earlier this year so that they can see the Mona Lisa in person, it's not my favourite experience but I do think everyone should see the real version. We traipsed throughout the D'Orsay looking for the Van Gogh display and all my children knew the Yellow Room and Haystacks. I cried when we saw Degas' Little Dancer in person (clearly I'm fun at musuems, I propel us through massive crowds and then I cry). He was our gateway artist, the one that captured our attention and imagination. We marvelled together at artists' renditions of the French Revolution or an ordinary seaside picnic.
Art is history, it's beauty and truth and goodness. It may not seem necessary to the survival of society but I believe it is absolutely necessary for the thriving of ourselves. My children and I are drawn to Monet and Degas, Michelangelo and Cezanne.
I read and the more I read, the more I want to read and know. I force myself to learn about Picasso and his response through art to the bombing of Guernica. I don't love Picasso but I love how he used art to process the horror. I read about how artists became some of the first illustrators of the Bible to illiterate people, one could stand in front of a master's work and 'read' a whole sermon. The artists often painted themselves into their work- some because they were egotistical and wanted to be remembered that way, others because in putting themselves in a biblical story we are all experiencing the story in its humanness.
Art speaks to creating beauty in a broken world. Knowing art speaks to preserving beauty and calling forth the importance of it. The creation of art, the collection of art and the culture of art fascinate me.
Some of the novels I've enjoyed this year with an art focus: Girl from Guernica by Karen Robards, The Portait Thief by Grace Li and Portait of an Unknown Woman by Daniel Silva. You can read all of them simply for the good story-telling or you can read them and google the art referenced and learn something great.
Rembrandt is in the Wind: Seeing Art through the Eyes of Faith by Russ Ramsey is an excellent non-fiction read on the importance of art and seeing the beauty of the redemption. I really can't recommend it enough, faith background or not, it gives a concise introduction to nine or so artists and a well-known piece of their art. It's the perfect art book for those of us who want to learn but don't know where to start. If a podcast is more your thing, here's a link to an interview with the author of Rembrandt is in the Wind: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/podcasts/gospelbound/love-art-eyes-faith/
To read with your kids: Vincent's Starry Night and Other Stories -this is a beautiful book that has it's permanent place on our bookshelf. It's a brief introduction of an artist, their work in three or so pages from the earliest cave drawings to modern art. It's fantastic. We read a story a week in our homeschool.
To deep dive on a particular artist we have loved the Katie books by James Mayhew, a fun time travel book into different artists lives. These are beatuiful picture books. I would start with Katie Meets the Impressionists. As well as the whole series by Laurence Anholt- these books are all illustrated in the style of the artist and told from the perspective of a child in their life. Start with Degas and the Little Dancer.
I hope my children see the stack of books teetering by my bed and see a lifelong learner, one of the things I pray over them each day as we start our homeschool day. For me currently, I'm fascinated by art and it's history. For them, it may be something totally different. I can't wait to see.