Saturday, May 20, 2006

Art (July 2004)

You don’t have to visit a museum to see great works of art. Without ever stepping into a classroom, studio or gallery, you can learn how and why artists work the way they do, and even make art of your own. The Internet is a wonderful jumping-off point for families who want to explore what makes art tick – or just enjoy it.

Do your children like to draw on the sidewalk with chalk? Take them to Kurt Wenner’s website to see how a former NASA illustrator uses the most humble medium imaginable to create amazing pictures that seem to leap right out, or sink into, the concrete. No matter what you think about modern art, a lot of contemporary artists have a playful exuberance that kids can really appreciate. The late artist Keith Haring, who got his start scribbling crawling babies and barking dogs on subway posters, is the subject of a website made specifically for his youngest fans. And Chicago stonecarver Walter S. Arnold inspires budding clay sculptors with his site featuring the scary and goofy gargoyles he created for the National Cathedral in Washington. Glassmaker Dale Chihuly is a showman who’s dropped giant glass bubbles into the canals in Venice and strung colorful chandeliers that resemble enormous sea creatures in the courtyards of castles in Britain. On his site, you can see his work and hear him talk about it. Or find links to online images by more than 7,500 other artists, living and dead, whose work is on display at museums worldwide at Artcyclopedia. You can even find original art at prices even kids can afford by clicking on Artomat. Here are listings of dozens of vending machines – converted cigarette machines – in restaurants and other locations that distribute miniature artworks by real starving artists, for prices ranging from $2 to $5.

Museum websites themselves are a great resource for art lovers and students. You can learn about favorite artists or movements or add to your understanding of different cultures. At the Art Museum Network’s website there are links to more than 200 museums, big and small, around the globe, including the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA, New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Firstgov for Kids is a government portal to family-friendly sites, including a great page of art museum links, both public and private.

It’s worth searching for other art sites too. Last year we enhanced our study of medieval Asia with sites like, which has a kids’ page that takes you step-by-step through an intricately-detailed painting called “The Buddha’s Challenge.”
Lots of sites offer art lessons, crafts and projects you can try at home. Former middle school art teacher Judy Decker has a site called The Incredible Art Department, with illustrated lesson plans, links to age-appropriate sites, information on art careers and much more. The website has a page of links kids will like about architecture and building design. Or find more kids’ art lesson sites at's kids' drawing page.

Personally, I much prefer making art with atoms instead of bits, as one site puts it. But I have to admit there are a lot of fun sites where families can make art online. You can draw cool mathematical designs with a virtual Spirograph, play around with a gray-tone mosaic at the Museum of Web Art’s kids wing, or try activities like PixelFace and the Collage Machine at the National Gallery of Art’s kids Art Zone. And even though I used to think coloring pages on the computer was silly, I did spend a happy hour filling in the self-portrait of Frida Kahlo at Enchanted Learning, which also lets you pick your own color scheme for great works from the Mona Lisa to American Gothic.

And if you’ve got a picture that’s just crying out for exposure, many sites have virtual “refrigerator doors” on which to display your masterpiece. Try Education Index, Scribbles Kids Art, or just do a search for “refrigerator door,” “kids” and “art.” And start creating!

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