Lives of the Artists: Masterpieces, Messes (and What the Neighbors Thought)
This is a short, but punchy little book. Each artist gets about 4 or 5 pages of usually large font commentary with a big caricature of the artist in each section. It mentions the artist's famous works at the end of the section with a bit of commentary, but does not show any pictures of their art. It's a distilled version, but you'll be surprised at how much you don't know about these famous men and women. The only caveat I have is to not let your little ones who can read enjoy this alone. It might seem like a perfect research tool because of the large print and fun pictures of the artists, but it makes reference to the assumed sexual preferences of the artists. It's not crude about adultery, people living together, being gay, etc. (and is actually quite brief and matter-of-fact about it), but unless you are willing to explain things to your young ones when they use the word homosexual, I'd say you need to read the entire book yourself first. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed learning much more about the artists because without being salacious these short stories don't sugarcoat their sometimes tortured souls -- the good, the bad, and the ugly that makes up the "artist's temperament". Uncovering the depths of sin and depression and how art is often borne from suffering is a part of learning how to live in our fallen, tension-filled world.
As I was looking up the picture for this book, it appears that they makes these Lives of... books for writers, musicians, etc. I may have to look into those as well.
Getting To Know the World's Greatest Artists
The other series I like is Mike Venezia's Getting to Know the Great Artists books. These, like the Lives of... books, also have music, presidents, etc. in the series. We are learning about Rembrandt for our first week back at Classical Conversations, so I started with it. It had funny little cartoons (that will go over some kid's heads depending on their age) about the artists interspersed with the story of the artist. It is written very simply for children and it seems very purposeful about leaving out sexual commentary. I read Rembrandt with my 4 year old and we really enjoyed it . I suppose if there was a caveat it's that unlike the Lives of... this book does show a lot of the famous art and that sometimes involve nudes. You might end up answering questions about anatomy (and you may be completely comfortable with that) with your young ones, you might be prudent to read the book first.
Same as with the Lives of... series, apparently Mike Venezia's books venture into musicians, presidents, etc. Also might be worth checking out.
I love DK books! They look so deeply into the categories of our world. You really get the "eyewitness" part of their books because they have great photos and often at very close range. What makes Great Paintings so wonderful is that it's a very tall book so the artists' painting are exceptionally large on the first page. On the second and third pages they split up the painting and zoom in on particular sections. You're in so close that you can see the timeworn, cracked surface of the painting! They have little commentaries on the artwork by each section, so if you're like me and not an art critic, they give you a leg up and some great insight. Same anatomical warning as for the Getting to Know... series as this focuses more on the art than the artist.
And then if you just want to have some EASY non-messy art fun with your little ones, I found some great Pinterest ideas on watercolor paper towels (very impressionist style!) and cosmic sun catchers with glue and food coloring. I say it's not messy -- My husband didn't know that we were trying out the suncatchers and accidentally plopped his bag down in the food coloring glue. Thankfully it came out of his clothes, but not completely from his bag :)
Have you read any good artist books for children? Comment here!