Getting excited about art

posted in: Alison Baverstock, Florian Heine | 9

13 Art Inventions Children Should Know by Florian Heine and 13 British Artists Children Should Know by Alison Baverstock are two incredibly well produced nonfiction books I think every school library should have on their shelves. They are eye-opening, they are thought-provoking and they are beautiful. And if you’re taking your kids to visit a gallery then reading these books together before you go will really enrich your experience.

13 Art Inventions Children Should Know highlights 13 seminal developments/approaches in the history of art. You could argue about the use of the word invention, but that would be missing the point; this book is a great way in to breaking down that monolithic question: “What is art?”

13 Art Inventions Children Should Know has mini chapters on the earliest known paintings (including photos from the incredible Chauvet caves in France), taking painting outdoors, self portraits, copperplate engraving, photography, cartoons, everyday objects in art and graffiti amongst others.

As you would hope, each 3-4 page spread contains really high quality reproductions of an example of the art form in question, and this is put in to context with a timeline, some historical background, quiz questions and suggestions for your own art activities. A glossary and answers to the quiz questions at the back complete this substantial book.

A similar format is adopted in 13 British Artists Children Should Know and again, the choices made about what to include are interesting and not always what you might have expected (for example, Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst do not feature in this book, whilst Mary Beale and Yinka Shonibare do).

These books are physically gorgeous. The stories told, both of turning points in art history and of the people who have created some of the art we know, are engaging, surprising and definitely worth reading. If your school library doesn’t own these books, demand your local library order some copies!


Using the 13 Art Inventions Children Should Know as our guide I created a treasure hunt notebook for each of the girls to take with them on a recent trip to our local art gallery and museum. There was a page for each invention, with a question encouraging the girls to find a piece of art using that invention eg Can you find a painting of weather? What’s the oldest painting you can find? Can you find a photo? etc Here’s the pdf of the file I created if you want to make your own notebook.

I printed the pages two to a sheet, cut them in half and then stapled them together with cardboard so that the girls had something a little firm to lean on as they walked around the gallery. To complete the notebooks I added pencils on strings, attached to the notebooks with velcro so they didn’t get lost.

Using our 13 questions was a great way to give a little focus to our gallery visit, and to encourage us to look at objects we often walk past in our haste to visit our regular favourites.

Fun kids’ music on a theme of art, art galleries and museums includes:

  • That’s My Art by Vince Junior
  • Art Car by The Hipwaders

  • The Art Project by Margie
  • Fine Art by The Jimmies (you can listen for free here, on their Myspace page)

  • If you can’t make it to a museum/art gallery with your kids you could try these activities instead:

  • Making your own art gallery, to include art in the style of each British artist, or each invention. For some great ideas on framing your kids art take a look at this post from Blissfully Domestic, this round-up of ideas and links from Silly Eagle Books, and more ideas from Be a fun mum.

  • Take the painting outdoors! Be brave (if you’re in the northern hemisphere and it’s winter), and take some paper and paints outside. Even if the kids don’t paint the landscape they see, in my experience they’ll be pretty excited by painting in an unusual location. We now keep paper and paints in our shed at the allotment. If you’ve got snow you could try painting on the snow with food colouring – take a peek here for tips on how to do this.

  • Create an art treasure hunt but complete it virtually, using Google Art Project, an amazing resource allowing you to view the collections in many art galleries around the world.

  • What tips do you have for getting kids excited about visiting art galleries and museums?

    Disclosure: I received my copy of this book from the publisher. This review, however, reflect my own and honest opinion.

    9 Responses

    1. sarah zama

      The Laurence Anholt series of books about artists such as Da Vinci, Degas and Monet are cleverly written and beautifully illustrated. We were also lucky enough to be able to adapt them at Living Paintings to ensure that blind and visually impaired children can appreciate works of art in the same way as their sighted peers.

    2. Zoe

      Hi Sarah, Yes I like Anholt’s books too. I think he’s got a new one due out soon with art projects for kids to do in style of masters.

    3. Clara

      This a fabulous post – thank you so much. Your ideas to get young people looking at and responding to art are really inventive and creative. Your homemade notebooks are such a good idea. What lucky girls!

      And once you’ve stood in front of a painting balancing your notebook and managed a little sketch (however modest your effort is – that doesn’t matter) you never ever forget that painting. Because drawing IS seeing – and those treasures belong to all of us, after all!

    4. Zoe

      Hi Clara, couldn’t agree more with you about drawing being seeing – you do notice quite different things and in a different way if you are drawing what you see (at least that’s how it is for me)

    5. Clara

      although it’s a shame that art is sometimes rather low on the list of priorities in school life (below music, sport, drama – everything in fact!), looking at art is best served in peace and quiet at one’s own speed in one’s own time. It’s treasure in the bank for these lucky young folk!

    6. Becky from babybudgeting

      GREAT POST ZOE. v IMPORTANT CHILDREN UNDERSTAND ASTISTS CREATE IN A VAST ARRAY OF WAYS AND THAT GREAT ARTISTS DO FAR BEYOND DETAILED COPYING (DESPITE WHAT SCHOOLS CONVEY!) oops didnt mean to shout but do feel passionate about this so will leave it there! My son has a n expresive colourful sweeping styleof painting that is so moving. The school tells me he needs to try and copy the oBjects more closely and he had been stopped from painting because he get carried away and last time got paintt is someones hair. I think he is a fabulous artist. let him cover the classroom in blue paint!

      • Zoe

        hi Becky, maybe you and your son would like Eric Carle’s latest picture book – inspired by when he realised he could paint horses blue – ie that they didn’t have to look like real life. I reviewed it here: In a way it is too young for him probably, but the idea is very important and one that matches what you express here – about the importance of creativity, and not being made to confine oneself.

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