Oct 13, 2017

Art Appreciation: Wyeths, Monet, and Oscar

I continue to gather the nominated titles for the CYBILS POETRY category (nominations close 10/15/17). When the list is complete I'll begin commenting on some outstanding titles in these posts, so I'm going to offer a mash-up of picture books in other categories before turning my full attention to poetry. 

What better topic should I start with than ART? In particular, the three titles featured in this post include fiction and nonfiction, representational art and impressionist, expository text and storytelling. In other words, something for everyone. 
Chronicle Books, 2014
Let's begin with a book for older readers that includes reproductions, quotations, sources, and an index:  EVERYBODY PAINTS! The Lives and Art of the Wyeth Family. Written by Susan Goldman Rubin, this multi-generational biographic profile of the Wyeth family is a stunning book, in narrative, in visual content and in design. Widely recognized as the preeminent American family of painters, the abundance of art and anecdotes from which to choose must have been daunting. In fact, though, biographer Rubin has achieved her own masterpiece of storytelling and placement of selected pieces within each chapter. 
Just as the art of each individual (N.C. Wyeth, Andrew Wyeth, and Jamie Wyeth) portrays specific images yet resonates with hidden stories and emotions, so too does the story of this incredible family. 
Rubin acknowledges that the women in the family were comparably talented, dedicated, and distinctive, but the focus in this book is on the legacy passing from grandfather to father to grandson.
Sprinkled throughout with concise nuggets of wisdom ("Study nature, not books.") and intricately woven aspects of real lives with images on canvas, even the most iconic illustrations or individual pieces take on new depth and significance in this reading.

Charlesbridge, 2012
Moving from a century-long triple-biographic profile of artists to a day-in-the-life approach can be a bit disorienting, and yet each works perfectly for its subject(s). 
MONET PAINTS A DAY is written by Julie Danneberg and illustrated by Caitlin Heimerl. My comments about the book must begin with a disclaimer: I'm a full-bore Monet fan. 
That said, I love the multiple text forms used in this book (first person voice, letter excerpts, and expository side bars). 
I particularly enjoy the insights to Monet's personality, the interactions he had with the local children, and the impressionist style used by the illustrator. The author's note at the back extends biographical content as well as addressing the narrative approach used and the reasons for it. 
The Wyeth biography requires an older reading audience, perhaps one with some background in modern American art, or at least a virtual field trip to examine works by this iconic family of painters. The Monet biography could serve a wide range of audiences, with an accessible voice and images for the youngest while providing text features for advanced readers, including an author's note, bibliography, and descriptions of art tools and techniques in the back matter as well as those concise side bar notes on each page.

Charlesbridge, 2012
Finally there is a charming little book, THE ART COLLECTOR, written by Jan Wahl and illustrated by Rosalinde Bonnet. Young Oscar knows what he likes. He likes art: watching it emerge from the media, attempting to make his own art, and appreciating specific aspects of art when he sees it. 
His appreciation is expansive, noting the figures, the colors, the patterns, the movement, and the aesthetics of various visual art pieces. There is a role for collectors in the art world, particularly when he shares his work with the public. 
The character/narrative art is consistently 2-dimensional and simplistic throughout, while the framed images reveal a wide array of art periods, styles, and techniques. One strength of the narrative is that everyone can collect art that they enjoy, if they shop wisely, save their pennies, and are willing to pull lots of weeds to make the extra cash. The thought that art collection is not limited to the rich is a powerful message.
There are a few cautions to note in this work, though. First is how easily Oscar's early interest in creating his own art succumbed to discouragement (despite his family's effort to admire and encourage his attempts). Next is the universally white population of the street fair, the frame shop, and even the final museum visitors. The message that art is for white people may be inadvertent but is a miserably clear one from a young child's perspective. If this is addressed directly when used with young audiences it still has much to offer. 

While we're talking something special to offer...
 I'm excited to report that an exhibit of WENDELL MINOR's art that I wrote about HERE ,(including an interview),has been traveling and will open at HERITAGE MUSEUMS in Sandwich, MA on April 14, 2018.There's a remarkable hour-long video interview of Wendell Minor via Youtube, HERE.

So, while fall colors, a changing landscape, or anything else is tickling the artistic impulses of your kids- or your own!- start with these and express yourself!

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