• Part 1: Artists and Children Making Art

Chapter 1: Artists and the Images They Create: Artworks Across Cultures and Eras

Artistic subjects from all cultures – both past and present – are abstractions that inform us about the societies and individuals who created them. Understanding why these artworks were made leads to a better understanding of ourselves. These subjects are rooted in the thinking, emotions, and ideas of a society or in the beliefs, perspectives, priorities, values, customs, religions, tragedies, and triumphs of an individual.

Our view of art worldwide should be considered into the various functions of art – its purpose has served and continues to serve in different cultures and in different times and places. Have you found artworks in your community created for each of the purposes below?

1. Art Serving Society

  • Art tells stories related to historical events, mythology, religion, and literature. 
  • Art can persuade, inform, inspire, criticize, convince, or motivate people to take action regarding religious, political, national, or social issues.
  • Art objects are often used in ceremonies and rituals that require protection and assistance in controlling natural forces.
  • Art is frequently used as a memorial or to honor a person, place, or special event.

2. Art Depicting Images and Expressing the Emotions and Imagination of the Artist

Over the years, art has shown us what people, places, and objects look like. 
  • Art reflects how an artist perceives people, landscapes, nature, cities, seas, and many other things.
  • Art represents the creativity of an individual and conveys the artist’s unique ideas.
  • Art can illustrate the dreams, whims, and rich imagination of an artist. Art can reveal the visual impact of organizing colors, shapes, lines, and textures.
  • Art can please our senses with the embellishment and decoration of objects in the environment.
  • Art can serve as a symbol of an idea.

3. Art serves basic needs

  • Art can meet functional needs, such as architectural design, urban planning, furniture, containers, tools, clothing, and jewelry.
  • Art provides us with forms of advertising, layouts, logos, and elements of graphic design.

* Art in Society: An Overview

Artists were considered a lower class in terms of social scale in ancient Greece and Rome, despite the high quality of their products. Throughout antiquity and the Middle Ages, artists of the same rank were called laborers because they worked with their hands. The roles of artists (those who performed ritualistic and practical works) were clearly defined in the central churches of medieval Europe; they held the same status as weavers, bakers, and merchants. Artists joined guilds in the later Middle Ages. Painters belonged to the Guild of Physicians and Pharmacists in the 16th century, perhaps because their work involved the collection and use of crushed materials.
Michelangelo’s father did not want his son to become a sculptor because he believed manual labor was beneath the dignity of their family.

The status of artists was elevated during the Renaissance when interest in art as aesthetic objects was renewed. Artists regarded imagination, learning, and inspiration as essential components for creating art. The Church was the primary patron of artists during the Medieval and Renaissance periods. Later, the palaces of kings and nobles commissioned artists to paint their portraits and decorate the palaces. By the 17th century, court artists were bestowed with titles.

Throughout the 18th century, sculpture and painting began to reflect the tastes of the upper class. Art no longer served a utilitarian purpose but was created to please the eye and uplift the spirit. At this time, male artists often considered themselves on a higher social level and made significant efforts to prevent women from becoming artists. In the 19th century, artists often found themselves at odds with society as the public and critics complained and refused to accept new styles of painting. These artists persevered but did not achieve fame or fortune during their lifetimes.

In ancient Egypt, artists worked as professional teams: a scribe sketched the preliminary drawing, a second person carved the relief, and a third artist added the paint. Similarly, groups of 10 to 15 Indian artisans worked together to create paintings and sculptures, with some workers focusing only on faces while others completed other parts. The works were typically anonymous by tradition, and the artisans were required to work within rigid specifications such as poses and symbolism. Before European influence, all art in India was created for religious purposes.

In African tribes, artists often held significant status, serving as both blacksmiths and healers. They were trained in their craft and selected based on their talent. Many tribal sculptors were farmers, but rulers gathered court artists with exceptional skills to create objects that reflected the wealth and power of their kingdoms. In certain regions of Africa, individual carvers were remembered as masters of their trade. African sculptors spent years learning to use tools and materials to create symbolic works of art that local villagers would understand. A ram’s horn might symbolize aggression and strength; small triangles within circular shapes might denote an individual’s rank and prestige.

Folk artists understand, practice, and teach their community’s cultural art, passing down artistic traditions from one generation to the next. They share a deep pride in their heritage and a desire to transmit skills and knowledge. While folk art is inherently owned, understanding the symbolic significance it carries enhances our appreciation for the artistic objects and the culture that created them. While traditions may have ancient roots, folk art pieces often don’t replicate what came before but reinterpret beliefs and thoughts of a culture, updated in more contemporary methods and often through current materials.

Folk art includes high craft and beautiful works made for both individual and communal use, intended for purifying, religious, or even humorous purposes. It may involve toys, jewelry, masks, clothing, containers, drawings, and other forms. We are excited by the Santa Claus figures carved in New Mexico, the beautiful quilts of Hawaii, the embroidered shoes from China’s children, and the paper-cut paintings in Poland, which illustrate the diversity and universal creative impulse. But we are also happy when we see the strange animals and drawings made from bottle caps and plastic boxes

Research into the lives of artists and the images they create helps us understand the sanctuary that art provides in our lives. Investigating how artists work, what inspires them, and the nature of their early artistic education can assist us, like elementary school teachers, in providing an environment for the maximal development of students.

* Artists, Creativity, and Self-Expression

Creative art and self-expression is a relatively recent concept. In fact, individuality wasn’t significant until the Renaissance, when most artists first signed their works. Before that, some wall painters were paid by the square foot or how many shapes they included.

Western art since the Renaissance has become powerful based on the creativity and self-expression of individual artists – those who carved out their place among the ‘great men’ by having a new idea, applying paint in an innovative way, choosing unique themes, viewing the world in special ways, or exploring new and different methods to handle color, line, and shape. Critics and the public initially often rejected these new images, but in the end, these works inspired other artists and added another ‘rung’ to the ladder of art. Successors built on the creativity of earlier artists as they climbed the ladder of art to explore and create many new worlds.

Jackson Pollock achieved a significant position in 19th century art for his action paintings. Some mocked Pollock’s works and declared, ‘My child could do that – anyone could do that.’ However, by this view, Pollock was the first to do action painting. No one else had the audacious idea of dripping paint onto a canvas laid on the floor, with the artist immersed in the action of the work as it progressed.

Since the Renaissance, Western artists have been less constrained by the media with imposed restrictions, thus personal artistic creativity has developed strongly. During the Renaissance, imagination separated art from craftsmanship and traditional precedent, as artists held a higher position than artisans and were seen as creative intellectuals. The concept of art, opposed to utilitarian objects, emphasized the creative value of an artwork and encouraged artistic personality. Although individuality was somewhat obscured, people of the time often believed that work should be carefully, thoughtfully, and beautifully executed. However, independence and imagination in handling materials and technical issues also demonstrated creativity and innovation began to have new significance.

A brief overview of the period in Western art marked by creative artists and groups of artists expressing new ideas and methods: A major breakthrough in creativity occurred in the early 14th century when the artist Florence Giotto perceived three-dimensional space in his frescoes by portraying figures with a warm human quality placed in lively, lifelike positions. However, it’s noteworthy that while using shading techniques to depict round shapes, he inadvertently painted shadows casting onto the ground. These new techniques were much more realistic compared to the flat, stiff figures of artists preceding Giotto, who acted as icons. Giotto’s creativity motivated the Italian Renaissance when other artists emulated his ideas. The history of Western art is full of other examples of artists whose creativity inspired major changes in how other artists perceive the world and create art.

Afterwards, viewers demanded noble themes and heightened emotions as suitable content for art, with paintings and sculptures creating stories in a realistic and authentic way. They wanted themes of futility or attraction, with messages conveying anger, patriotism, or heroism. Another genre of subject matter became prominent shortly thereafter with artists like Fragonard, who depicted wealthy commoners at play on their estates in their country. Meanwhile, painters such as the Le Nain brothers, Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Chardin began to paint peasants and ordinary people dressed in everyday clothing as they engaged in daily activities. Critics of intelligence have rejected these paintings as mediocre, showing that the common folk often engage in ordinary activities.
The concept of art as a means of self-expression first emerged during the Romantic era in the early 19th century, with artists exploring both introspective and outward-looking approaches. Romantic artists challenged the idea that noble and heroic themes were the only worthy subjects, believing in the contemplation of human emotions. Their subjects could be eerie, strange, or mysterious. Romantic artists even imparted landscapes with a character to express profound emotions.
In the Western world, the power of tradition diminished further in the 19th century as experimentation and expressions of personal creativity became fashionable—despite calls from the public and critics mocking and rejecting artists’ and producers’ new perceptions of art. Political, social, and economic factors played a role in changing the paradigm. The Catholic Church, along with the patronage of royalty and nobility across all aspects of life, declined; the conservative attitudes and demands of these institutions no longer restricted artists. Artists were now free to create art for a rapidly growing middle class and cater to diverse personal tastes. Artists began to question: What subjects beyond church and royalty will customers pay attention to? What styles can they develop into suitable regimes? Whose needs do they serve? Can an artist create in any way he or she chooses?

By the mid-19th century, some artists began to attract attention with neo-classical, romantic, and realistic depictions of the life they observed, painting everyday landscapes in an undefined and uncomplicated manner. These realist painters sought to portray the real world and real life, with artists like Millet and Courbet choosing farmers and the working class as their subjects. Later on, Edouard Manet shattered academic tradition with nude paintings depicting ordinary people rather than goddesses. His loose brushwork, sharp edges, and dark outlines were unsettling to the public but inspiring to the impressionist painters who followed him.

In the latter half of the 19th century, the impressionists provoked people with their unmixed palette of colors and the spontaneity of their brushwork. They attempted to capture the shimmering quality of the atmosphere and the effects of light on objects; their subjects often focused on pairings (often beautiful figures in charming landscapes) without a specific message. Before long, people realized that a painting created with this new style didn’t necessarily need a dramatic theme or true heroism to be quite beautiful

However, the fervent creative enthusiasm of the post-impressionists steadfastly rejected the carefree world of Renoir and Monet not long before. Artists of the realist school like Van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, and Toulouse-Lautrec painted with deliberate indifference and expressionism. Artists such as Paul Cézanne began to see the world as blocks, cylinders, and spheres. He painted it with square-edged brushes — a creative breakthrough that led Picasso and Braque to invent cubism, a true “jolt” for 20th-century modern art. Where tradition once guided artists, they now had a more creative outlook. They believed in what they were doing and in their own ideas. For instance, Van Gogh boldly painted in a way unlike anyone else, in a manner that was not accepted in his time. However, he persisted and believed that his ideas were good and right.
A 19th-century invention, the film camera, had a profound impact on the creative development of Western art. While some artists used photographs as sources of inspiration and imagery, many concluded that realism was no longer as important because photography had taken over that role. These artists began to paint and express their intense creativity. Bringing their talents together, these individual artists created the modern art of the 20th century, where creativity and self-expression were considered a right that should not be censored.
While the creative spirit of each artist is unique and personal, the culture in which they live places special values on specific activities, providing the needs, formats, and materials for fashionable art objects for individuals. In many different cultures outside the Western world, the creativity and invention of the individual artist is not emphasized or desired. The needs of a particular culture or tribe supersede the artist’s creativity in that art objects must carry on highly structured traditions and inheritances. A particularly skilled artist may emerge in this context and have contributions that alter the tradition somewhat and create a gradual development within the tribe’s tradition. Tribal and folk artists – for example, Native American artists living along the northwest coast of North America, Australian Aborigines, and the Cuna Indians of Panama – must work with a high level of skill within a narrow range set by tribal or group tradition. Ritual and utilitarian art created is highly valued and is an integral part of the culture of that tribe.

Each granite wall is 250 feet long and 10 feet high. A 21-year-old Chinese-American art student designed the monument as a class project at Yale. The names of the deceased are engraved in the order in which they were killed. Lin planned the design so that observers could see their own reflections in the polished stone.

In fact, some cultures have no word for “art”. Art masks are produced, containers or other objects – so integrated with function and ritual that they are inseparable from life.

Artists are inspired in various ways

Artists have made many statements about what has inspired their work. They are often driven by observations and memories of their surroundings. For example, Monet was fascinated by the changing effects of light on his garden and water lily pond. Many artists can perceive the same object or place in multiple unique ways. This has inspired them to create a series of paintings about the same object or place because a single painting cannot capture everything they see. At the age of 71, Henri Matisse was bedridden, but he had a “library of images” in his mind, and he continued to use his memory to create bright, colorful works. Marc Chagall based many of his whimsical paintings on childhood memories from a village in Russia. He also drew inspiration from the rich and imaginative Russian folktales. Grandma Moses did not start painting until she was 60 years old, but her rich childhood memories provided plenty of material for her artwork.
Contemporary Native American Osage artist Gina Gray has said that motherhood and art are priorities in her life. She stated:
I have always drawn from and combined my Osage traditions with a contemporary lifestyle in my paintings. However, I do not consider myself a traditional Native American artist. In my early years, my family, along with many other Osage families at the time, was encouraged to move to a more urban settlement to experience mainstream society trends. Therefore, technically, my cultural upbringing was diverse.
This is probably the source of my use of many colors; the brilliance of the universe, the multi-heritage of urban collaboration, the character and influences of this multicultural lifestyle have shaped who I am, whether decadent or divine.
Let’s examine how their surroundings influenced the following artists:
  1. As a child, Louise Nevelson collected pieces of wood from various sources, and her family owned lumberyards in both her native Russia and the United States. These childhood experiences likely influenced the types of art she produced in her adult life.
  2. In his early work, David Smith collected cut metal pieces from scrap yards and welded them into sculptures. Smith was trained as a painter. To support himself as an artist, he worked in an automobile assembly plant, welding parts together to create cars.
  3. Another famous sculptor, Alexander Calder, created metal sheets and mobiles from large metal pieces. He was trained as a mechanical engineer at a time when steam boilers and steel bridges were being riveted together. Many of his supports were riveted together, as the art of welding metal came later.
  4. Japanese-American artist-teacher Yoshio Taylor draws ideas for his work from numerous sources—memories, everyday objects, and daily occurrences. His work includes narrative, figurative sculpture combined with geometric shapes, reflecting his impressions of architectural and landscape forms from both Japan and America. His work is often an extension of himself, where he attempts to capture and express emotions common to all of us. (See Color Plate 25 in the Color Library.)
  5. Artist-teacher Frank LaPena has said that his art is created to honor and show respect for the important people in his life. Foremost among these are the elders and traditionalists who shared with him the rich cultural heritage of his Wintu-Nomtipom tribe and who helped build cultural bridges between many tribes in the Northern California Valley. (See Color Plate 24 in the Color Library.)
When children recall their own experiences, observe their world and its myriad sights and activities, and use these sources for their artwork, they are working like an artist. Teachers can guide students to explore these sources before an art activity by asking questions and making comments that trigger the students’ thoughts, feelings, and perceptions.

The works of other artists have always been a source of inspiration for artists

Contemporary artists have access to a wider variety of artworks than ever before. These come in the form of beautifully reproduced books, slides, inexpensive posters and large reproductions, videos, the Internet, CD-ROMs, and exhibitions in art museums, galleries, and the wider community. These sources allow access to contemporary art as well as art from previous centuries. Henry Moore was inspired by sculpture from various cultures and periods, especially African and Mexican sculpture. Picasso and Braque drew inspiration from African masks, while Mary Cassatt and Van Gogh were fascinated by Japanese prints.

Darren Vigil-Grey, a Jicarilla Apache artist, was inspired when he saw two of his cousins who had returned after studying at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. He saw “this transformation… that they had been exposed to something different… I saw a lot of important things happening. So that affected me.” His tribal upbringing resonated through his work, with animal figures frequently appearing. He loved birds of prey and included half-human, half-bird figures in his paintings. His works depict an orderly world of natural harmony, with humans living in accordance but not in domination. He is attuned to the human soul, and his brushstrokes illuminate human emotions.

When Vigil-Gray visited Europe, he found the long-standing artistic traditions of Europe equally inspiring: “Looking at European art, you realize that these people have been painting for thousands of years. They’ve got it down.” He also absorbed ideas from contemporary artists:
“What I find interesting is, for example, Abstract Expressionists like Jackson Pollock, and even before him, Picasso, who turned to the art of native peoples and found something soulful, authentic, and direct, and so simple that they had to use it. So why can’t we do the reverse, why can’t I use an element of Picasso or an element of Pollock or De Kooning?”
Not following mainstream trends, Vigil-Grey is inspiring a new generation of artists to think beyond the regional confines of Native American art. For him, the artist’s job is to “see things that can’t be seen.”
Robert Bechtle, a Photorealist painter, revealed in an interview with Brian O’Doherty in the magazine American Artists on Art from 1940 to 1980, that inspiration for new work came to him from several sources and that he began to take an interest in figure painting because of his teacher, Richard Diebenkorn. He also admired American painters Thomas Eakins, Winslow Homer, and Edward Hopper, as well as holding great admiration for Vermeer and Degas.
Artists study the works of other artists, both past and present, and their work often reflects this historical knowledge. Jacob Lawrence spoke about his favorite artists and why they influenced him:
“Perhaps I can best explain [the influences I’ve experienced] by saying who I like—Orozco, Daumier, Goya. They are very powerful. Simple, Human. In your own work, the human subject is the most important thing. Then, I like Arthur Dove, I like to study design, to see how an artist solves his problem, how he brings his subject to the public.”

Today’s artists study the works of others and know who their favorites are, and this visual information provides them with inspiration or a foundation for their own work. Most painters do not start as abstract painters; in fact, today, most artists are still trained to draw from real objects, whether natural or human-made. Their training often includes a long and challenging search to find their unique subject and mode of expression.

Knowledge of artists and their works can inspire elementary school students. Introducing them to the variety of artworks created across different cultures and periods can provide students not only with knowledge of art but also with the attitude that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to create art, even if the subject matter or objects are the same.

Artists sometimes use photographs and literary and historical references as resources for creating art.

Throughout the 19th century, an artist’s connection to artists in other countries and the images created by those artists was limited.
Some artists traveled long distances to study the paintings and sculptures being produced elsewhere. However, today, the advanced technology of the 20th century brings cameras, videos, films, computers, and reproductions of artworks to people everywhere. These visual influences have made artists aware of the images and ideas of other artists from diverse cultures and often impact their own works.
The invention of photography in the 19th century inspired several artists. For example, Edgar Degas often cropped his works in a snapshot-like manner, and Henri Rousseau photographed his friends in a horse-drawn carriage and used the photo to make a painting. Contemporary painters like Chuck Close, Maria Winkler (Color Plate 38 in the Color Library), and Robert Else are among many artists who have created highly diverse artworks from visual images in photographs.

Historical and literary references also inspire artists. Jacques Louis David used the historical story of two Roman families who swore to fight to the death in Oath of the Horatii. George Caleb Bingham depicted the adventures of Daniel Boone in his painting of the frontiersman and his family as they journeyed west to Kentucky. Emmanuel Leutze’s colossal painting Washington Crossing the Delaware is a favorite among viewers at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Judy Lowry’s The Funeral of Frida Kahlo (Color Plate 36 in the Color Library) is based on a description she found in the biography of the notable Mexican artist.

When children compare and contrast a series of photographs related to a specific subject (e.g., horses, flowers, figures in action, etc.), they can perceive the various types of a subject, analyze shapes, colors, lines, and textures, and observe angles and proportions. Enhanced perceptual input leads to richer artistic expression.

Artists are collectors. They gather objects that stimulate their artistic vision. The uniqueness of an object or any of its aesthetic qualities can be appealing.

For example, pop artist Andy Warhol collected a range of unusual objects. Fritz Scholder, a contemporary painter, amassed a variety of items he was fond of, though he did not directly use them as inspiration for his paintings. Georges Braque surrounded himself with a variety of collected objects in his studio for visual inspiration: rugs, guitars, thistles, reproductions of artworks, bones, African masks, pebbles, and more. Some artists, such as Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, and Georgia O’Keeffe, collected animal bones for inspiration. Rembrandt spent considerable sums on exotic items from around the world, which he used as costumes and props in his paintings. Artists are often very selective about what they choose to view or what can inspire or influence their thinking. Marisol mentioned that her art was influenced by pre-Columbian Mochica pottery, Mexican boxes with paintings inside, and early American folk art.

Sculptor Louise Nevelson collected “found objects” from the streets of New York because they captured her vision, and she later incorporated some of them into her sculptures. She also collected rugs, works by Paul Klee, Mexican Santos, and African sculptures.

A young Pablo Picasso disregarded his toys and carefully collected items that fascinated him. It is said that once, when he broke one of his shells, he flew into an inconsolable rage: he had discovered that each shell was unique. Children are natural collectors and should be encouraged to gather or not discouraged from collecting interesting shells, stones, feathers, leaves, and other items.

Artists sometimes learn more about their work by reading or listening to reviews from art critics.

American artist Jasper Johns spoke about how an art critic can help others see in a new way and may even influence the artist’s future work:
“There are many intentions in painting: that is unavoidable. But when a work is released by the artist and deemed complete, that intention loosens. Then, it is subject to all kinds of uses, abuses, and interpretations. Sometimes, someone will see the work in a way that even changes its meaning for the person who made it; the work is no longer ‘intent,’ but something seen and responded to. They will perceive it in a way that makes you think, which is a possible way of viewing. If you like, you might try to express that intent more clearly in another work.”

The dialogue between the art critic, fellow artists, and/or the public stimulates the artist to change or expand an idea, and this dialogue never ends. Art teachers perform a similar function to art critics when they assist their students in approaching their own artworks.

Teacher comments can particularly focus on the positive aspects—what the student has done to make the painting show balance, harmony, and unity; how the student has been especially creative or imaginative; or how the student has expressed a particular mood or emotion. Comments and questions can also help students focus on how they might alter the painting or how they might choose to approach it differently next time.

Artists work in many different ways

When we study the lives of artists through what they have said or written, or what has been written about them, we can gain a better understanding of their working habits and how their thought processes develop in the creative process. When we enhance our knowledge of the meaning and function of artists’ works, we can understand better how art can function in the lives of elementary school students.

Artists focus on a specific theme, medium, or technique for their artworks over a period of time. The significance of this for us as art educators is that in elementary school classrooms, multiple experiences with the same theme, medium, or technique are prioritized over exposure only once.

On the other hand, artists are challenged by diversity or changes in media or themes. For example, after working intensively with oil paints for a period of time, an artist may find new inspiration and opportunities to address aesthetic issues by moving to printmaking or perhaps three-dimensional media. Pablo Picasso, who created many paintings throughout his long and productive career, combined scrap iron and children’s toys to produce fantastic sculptures.

Artists create sketches or preparatory drawings before executing their final artworks. Some artists make preparatory sketches or drawings on graph paper. A similar grid drawing is then transferred to a larger grid on canvas for the completed artwork. For example, Joan Miró used this grid system to plan his larger paintings. Some artists, such as action painter Jackson Pollock, use a more spontaneous approach, but more often than not, artists contemplate ideas or experiences over a period and execute sketches before creating the final artwork. Time for reflection is an important factor. Elementary school students should be encouraged to sketch and think to present an artwork.

Artists are completely devoted to their work. As expressed in an old saying, inspiration arrives in preparation, and a lot of sweat is associated with inspiration. For most people, a painting or sculpture may appear directly and immediately from the hands and genius minds of artists. However, most artists develop ideas by making multiple sketches before starting their final artworks. Their sketchbooks constantly refresh their vision and hone their skills, helping them to choose viewpoints, frame compositions, observe the nuances of light and shadow, and simplify and abstract fundamental elements. They may draw the same subject or pose repeatedly, emphasizing, erasing, and distorting it.
Degas kept a wooden horse in his studio after making several sketches at the racetrack.
Thomas Eakins made a small boat from a cigarette box, placed small figures of rags inside it, and then tried to create a real effect by placing the box and the figures outside in sunlight.Sculptors such as Michelangelo and Rodin always modeled in clay or wax first. Modern technology has provided today’s artists with cameras, duplicating machines, computers, and other tools to help plan their creations.

Some artists do not sketch preliminary drafts, but they have a general idea of what they want to accomplish, and as they progress, the work itself guides them. American painter Robert Motherwell, when asked about the meaning of one of his paintings, said, “I realize there are ten thousand brush strokes in there and each one of them is a decision.” The work in progress becomes a source of inspiration as each change occurs. Or, as Motherwell put it, with each new brushstroke applied, a different decision is made. This is often how children paint.

The mixture of colors can determine how an artist works. Artists think about the color mixture while they make their preparatory sketches because they have extensive experience with specific color mixtures. If the artists are unfamiliar with a material or a new technique, they often approach it freely and cheerfully until they can appreciate what they can and cannot do. Likewise, primary school students need to experience multiple iterations with each artistic medium to gain knowledge of their expressive potential.

Some artists respond to their environment not only with sketches and drawings but also with verbal descriptions. Vincent Van Gogh was extremely eloquent with both language and brushes. The letters he sent to his brother Theo attest to this, as he often vividly described the details and beautiful perceptions and feelings about how he painted things around him, as well as about the people who inspired his works of art. One of his letters described his painting “Night Café”.

I have tried to express the idea that the café is a place where one can ruin oneself, go mad or commit a crime. I have tried to express the terrible passion of humanity with red and green. The room we are in is blood red and dark yellow, with a green billiard table in the middle; there are four lemon-yellow lamps with a glow of orange and green. Everywhere there is a clash and contrast of the most alien reds and greens of the figures in the empty room, with its green-lilac wallpaper. The white clothes of the landlord, watchful in a corner, change from lemon yellow to light green.

Artists begin from an early age or adulthood: their art education

The starting point in the education of an artist is their early sensory impressions. These initial impressions are also diverse in style, as evidenced by the individual personal styles displayed in their mature artworks. Some artists use their awareness to start drawing and creating images from a very early age; others have artist parents who provide early guidance.

The age at which artists first demonstrate their special ability and intense art motivation varies significantly. If we look at the careers of some familiar artists, we see a great disparity in the time of life when they began pursuing an art career.

Charles Russell, a famous artist of the American West, is said to have drawn pictures of characters that appeared in his mind when his mother read stories from the Bible. At the age of four, he wandered away from home and followed a man with a trained bear on a chain. That evening, he scraped mud from his drawings at the St. Louis County Fair. From his early years, Russell loved the West, learning about adventures and life on the frontier from relatives who had built a fort on the Arkansas River and traded furs on the Upper Missouri. After receiving a colt on his tenth birthday, he decided that someday he would go West and become a cowboy. Later in military school, where he was sent by kind-hearted parents, he filled his notebooks with sketches of cowboys and Native Americans, then spent much of his time on guard duty as punishment for his lack of attention. A semester there ended Russell’s formal education program.

Famous artist Cimabue discovered Giotto, a precursor to the Italian Renaissance, one day when Giotto was a boy drawing with a pointed stone on a flat rock. French artist Toulouse-Lautrec, Spanish artist Pablo Picasso, and American artists Edward Hopper, Thomas Hart Benton, John James Audubon, Winslow Homer, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Mary Cassatt were all talented and ambitious from an early age in unique ways. French artist Maurice Utrillo was encouraged at the age of eighteen by his artist mother, who bought him paints and postcards when he was hospitalized for alcoholism. Southwest Native American artist Darren Vigil-Grey says he began painting as a youth and always wanted to, never wanting to become ‘a carpenter…electrician…plumber, I never wanted to be a President.'”

“Wassily Kandinsky, a Russian artist, started his artistic career later in life. He had a law degree and was a law professor, but went to Munich to study painting. French artist Henri Matisse was also trained to become a lawyer, but began painting while recovering from illness and soon abandoned his legal career. Vincent Van Gogh decided to become an artist at the age of twenty-seven, after failing at other efforts. French naive artist Henri Rousseau was a customs officer until he retired at the age of forty to paint. The artistic explosion of Paul Gauguin caused him to abandon a successful stockbroker career and the constraints of city life. He fled to the French countryside and then to the South Seas to paint.”

“Perhaps you know a child who likes to draw and draw, often doing so with skill and creative mind, and is supported by their parents; this child may have said they ‘want to become an artist.’ Yani, a young Chinese girl, began showing her remarkable talent at the age of three. Her paintings have been widely exhibited in U.S. museums. Later in life, you may have parents or grandparents who ‘drew’ for the first time in an adult education class and realized they could achieve a lifelong goal. Americans Horace Pippin and Mrs. Moses are prime examples of late bloomers.

Training many artists in the past included the study and copying of great artworks. Many artists were apprenticed to work in the studios of professional artists when young. But a common thread among all artists, regardless of age, is the inner creative drive. Nothing else is as important to them as the impetus to produce art. It is an all-consuming passion that, in most cases, significantly alters their lives.

Today, in our high-tech world, most artists receive formal art education. They often begin their artistic careers at home under the guidance of a parent who is an artist or in art classes for children. Public schools support training for artists as well as for doctors, lawyers, engineers, and elementary school teachers. Some outstanding contemporary artists teach at major universities.

There is a way to train or educate an artist. Anyone who draws or paints may at some time or other copy from drawings, photographs, or paintings. Contemporary artist Grace Hartigan copied works of famous artists throughout history to try to understand where she really came from. She had to find her roots.

Learning to be an artist is like learning any other profession: You study the content of the course. Most artists declare that they became artists because a strong feeling inside always told them it was what they wanted to become. At the age of nine, Louise Nevelson said when a librarian asked the little girl what she wanted to be when she grew up, “I want color to help me.” Nevelson didn’t become a world-famous artist just because she wanted to. She was trained, studied art, and raised her self-awareness to accomplish her goal.

Donald Herberholz & Barbara Herberholz
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