Teaching art history to kids can be as easy as opening a book. Don’t stress about knowing it all before you start teaching about some of the greatest artists of all time. Check out the artist list below, pick a time period that interests you and your young artist and start teaching kids art history through literature!
Teaching art history through literature…
If you read the Kitchen Table Classroom often you know that I love teaching just about everything through books. Art history is no exception. There is a plethora of children’s books that bring these great artists and artists movements to life in a way that a textbook just can’t do.
While most of the books listed are picture books I urge you to share them not just with your elementary children, but also with your middle and high schoolers. These illustrated stories tell many facts about the artists as well as set such a great context for the time in which the artist lived.
Art through the movements….
An art movement is a title given to a group of artists or art that have some things in common. These commonalities might include artistic ideals, styles, technical approach, or time frame. While the movements listed below are in chronological order the list of movements is in no way complete.
Orphism, Neoclassical art, Bauhaus art, Art Deco, and Deconstructivism name just a few. Just because these movements aren’t listed here doesn’t mean they’re not appropriate for kid’s discussion and viewing.
I’ve created this free printable timeline to help you and your kiddos have a bit of context for each art movement you’ll be reading about! This art movement timeline is sized to fit on standard 8.5 x 11 copy paper. Print and use for display or as a reference in an artist’s notebook. It’s easy to refer back to as you read through the books below.
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Art of the Stone Age
30,000 b.c.–2500 b.c.
Greek & Roman Art…
850 b.c.– a.d. 476
The art of ancient Greeks and Romans is called classical art. Greek and Roman artists and architects pursued the beauty, harmony, and proportion. Subject matter often dealt with the relationships of the Greek and Roman people in relationship to their Gods.
Indian, Chinese, and Japanese Art…
653 b.c.–a.d. 1900
Japanese wood cuts…
Byzantine and Islamic Art….
Byzantine art is the art of the Eastern Roman Empire. It was less realistic than the classical work of the Greeks and Romans. The purpose of Byzantine art was to glorify the Christian religion so the art of this time tended to have religious subject matter.
While children’s books about Byzantium art aren’t easy to come by this Art That Changed the World: Transformative Art Movements and the Paintings That Inspired Them by
Art of the Middle ages…
The art of the Middle Ages includes Celtic art, Carolingian Renaissance, Romanesque, and the Gothic periods.
The art of architecture…
Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists Series by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Titian. These books contain a LOT of information but balance it all out with playful excerpts and cartoon illustrations as well as reproductions of the artist’s work.
Explore a fun play on pop culture with Turtles Were Named After Them! Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michelangelo by
Mannerism is also known as the Late Renaissance. Where High Renaissance art emphasizes proportion and balance, Mannerism exaggerates such qualities. The result is compositions that often look artificial, as opposed to a more natural look.
El Greco from the Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists series will introduce your kids to the work and life of “the Greek.”
Encourage your kids to “play with their food” after reading Hello, Fruit Face!: The Paintings of Giuseppe Arcimboldo by
Baroque art began in Rome, Italy in the 17th century. It was known for drama and grandeur. A common characteristic of the Baroque period is chiaroscuro or the interplay between dark and light to create drama and contrast.
And of course Mike Venezia from the World’s Greatest Artist series has a Rembrandt edition.
Neoclassical art draws inspiration from the classical art of the Greeks and Romans. Finding kid friendly literature about Neoclassical period isn’t easy. For more info look into the art of Jacques-Louis David and Antonio Canova.
The Romantic period…
The work of Henri Rousseau is thought to have inspired the Romanticism movement. He has many kid friendly titles including The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseauby Henri Rousseau: Art for Children by
The Realism movement…
The Realism movement began in France in the 1850’s. Realism rejected the Romantic period and instead embraced an interest in more everyday subject matter like common laborers, and ordinary people in ordinary surroundings engaged in real activities.
It pains me to admit that I struggled to find kid’s literature that fits this category. I’ll add that some of the more well known artists of this time were Gustave Courbet, Jean-François Millet, and Honoré Daumier. I encourage you to research these artists with or before you encourage your children to as some are more child friendly than others.
The Impressionism art movement…
Impressionism emerged in France in the 1870’s. The Impressionist movement rejected the realistic detail of the Realism movement for looser impressions of their subjects, which were often found outside. Visible brush strokes and an emphasis on color and light make this style easy to spot.
This colorful style is popular and easy to talk about with kids. The children’s literature choices for this movement are varied and many! I’ll divide them here by artist.
For even more book suggestions and a free printable artist response worksheet see this post about writing and talking about the work of Claude Monet.
Renoir for Kids (The Great Art for Kids Series) by
For additional book suggestions and free artist printable and Degas word search see this post!
Cassatt is one of my favorite artists to introduce young kids to. Her subject matter is relatable, often about mothers and children. She is also one of the earliest female artists to be included in popular children’s literature. For more Mary Cassatt info plus a free printable artist response page and a Cassatt word search see this post
Post-Impressionism is an art movement that developed in France in the late 1880’s. This term encompasses several different styles that came about, chronologically, after the Impressionist and before the Fauvists.
Vincent Van Gogh
Van Gogh is one of the most recognized artists in the world and a plethora of kid’s lit is available about him. For a more complete list as well as a Van Gogh artist response worksheet and a fun word search click here!
Paul Cezanne by
Fauvism and Expressionism
The Fauves is French for the wild beasts. What fun art movement to discuss with kids! This group, led by Henri Matisse, used bright unnatural colors in an expressive manner.
The Expressionist movement took place during the early part of the 1900s. Th Expressionists used vivid, shocking colors and distorted unnatural forms in order to express feelings.
The Cubist art movement, led by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, began to look at new ways to divide up objects. The same object was often looked at from many different angles within the same artwork
Dada and Surrealism
The Dada movement was founded in Switzerland and was meant to poke fun at the meaninglessness of the modern world. Surrealism was born out of the earlier artistic movement of Dada. Surrealist art often focused on the subconscious thoughts of the artist. It sometimes made little sense to the viewer and appeared dreamlike.
Pop Art used images of the modern, commercial culture. It began in the United Kingdom but moved to the United Stated and flourished with artists like Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns.
Contemporary art isn’t a specific style but refers to the time period the art was made. Contemporary art is often referred to as being made since WWII. It can also mean made by artists that are currently or recently living and making art.
Writing about Art…
By now your kiddo have read about so much art. There’s so much knowledge and inspiration to be gained through the books above. Let’s take that information to the next level by providing a place for your child to write about what they’ve learned. Check out this printable artist’s biography book and these free printable artist study resources. Both of these resources are appropriate for use with any artist of any art movement. They’re just one more tool to use to get your child used to talking and writing about art and expressing their opinion!
If you enjoyed this printable art timeline for kids and art history book list I hope you’ll share it.
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And if you’re looking for a complete art history curriculum check out the Artists and the Elements. It’s designed to connect the elements of art, art history, and fun hands, on art projects for elementary through middle school!