Are You an Art Sleuth?

We’re lucky to have a fantastic art gallery nearby which regularly offers exhibitions curated specifically for children. We usually pack lunch and make a day of it, but, I confess, we don’t linger over the “grown-up” art. Sometimes, we don’t look at it at all. My girls love art (Little Man, 3, requires some coercion) and, while I love crafting with my kids, my knowledge of art is fairly limited. Are You An Art Sleuth offers a terrific introduction to “proper art” and it’s pitched perfectly at children. Author Brooke DiGiovanni Evans has spent the past 15 years working in museums teaching children and adults about art, among other things. For this book, she has handpicked paintings from 21 museums around the world to introduce children (and their parents) to renowned artists and show us what we can learn by really looking at their works.

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The book devotes two double-pages to each artwork. The first spread shows the painting covering at least a whole page. Alongside it is a list of items to try to find within the picture. For example, for The Children’s Holiday by English painter William Holman Hunt, the reader is challenged to find a blue bow, a berry necklace, two spoons and a hat that’s turned into a bowl. They’re easy enough for my eight-year-old twins to find, although we all expected the bow to be worn by one of the girls in the picture. On turning the page, the author suggests we look again and see what else we can discern from the painting; this picnic scene is far more elaborate than today’s customary rug casually spread out on the grass. It’s as if a fancy dining room – complete with table, chairs and silverware – has been moved outside. The author also invites us to look closely at the children to discover how they entertained themselves and consider how that relates to what children do at picnics today.

Throughout the book, she shows us how to “read” each painting – to look for details that tell us about the weather, the time of day and the people pictured. She also points out techniques the artists employ: using colour to set the mood; painting backgrounds smaller to show they are further away and; crowding items together to make a scene appear busy and bustling. These are great tips which young artists can have a go at incorporating into their own artworks.

Many of the paintings that feature in the book include children, which draws the interest of young readers and helps them relate to the artwork. They’re also a great prompt for discussing how children’s lives have changed over the years. There’s a section at the back of the book that provides details for each featured painting, including who painted it, in what medium and its size. There’s also an answer key marking the locations of each item readers were asked to spot in the pictures.

This is a terrific book to introduce children to renowned artworks, as well as pique their interest in creating their own art. We’ve pulled this book out to read a few times now, mainly to try to spot everything listed in the pictures, but with school holidays starting next week, I expect my girls won’t need much encouragement to create their own children’s holiday scene of our modern-day picnic. And perhaps next time we visit the Gallery of Modern Art, we’ll spend a little more time looking at the “grown-up” artworks. At the very least, I’ll now have some leading questions to try to pique their interest!

Are You An Art Sleuth is written by Brooke DiGiovanni Evans, published by Rockport Publishers, an imprint of Quarto Publishing Group,22 June 2016, 96pp, $21.99 (hbk) ISBN 9781631591310.

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