What are the secrets behind a painting? For example, what did Leonardo da Vinci eat while he painted Mona Lisa's famous smile?
He could, apparently, paint all day without eating; but when he stopped, his favorite meal was minestrone soup.
A book doesn't write itself and a painting doesn't paint itself. A person is behind both, and learning more about that person can provide insight into the work, into the uniqueness of individuals, and into the creative process.
A picture book like Dream is an especially interesting opportunity to learn about a variety of artists. It was the creative vision of author and educator Susan V. Bosak. 15 top children's illustrators from five countries participated in the project. Exploring each work, some of the meanings in it, and the artists behind it is an appealing and accessible introduction to art appreciation, encouraging young people to look at works of art more closely.
Some look at illustration as a "lesser" art form. Two-time Caldecott Medal winners Leo and Diane Dillon disagree: ''We take great pride in illustration and the fact that we are illustrators. We've never thought there is a difference between 'fine' art and illustration other than good art or bad art. One publisher once complimented us by saying that they were going to give us credit on the book jacket as 'paintings by the Dillons,' rather than illustrations. We said, 'No, we want illustrations.' That's what we are, that's what we do, and we're very proud of it. If it's good, so much the better that it should be called an illustration."
Exploring the art in a picture book develops both text and visual literacy for all ages. We need to consider children's picture books as literature -- not as children's literature, but as literature. And we need to recognize the value of economy and suggestiveness over explicitness. Brevity of text is not a concession to young readers but a part of the art form of the picture book. Text can introduce ideas at one level, while the illustrations can then take the words to another level, introducing rich concepts. A broader view of literacy, particularly in a society highly dependent on images, looks at how pictures and written language work together.
Explore all the secrets in the illustrations in Dream. The first secret? Each artist has included at least one star in their illustration. Can you find each star? Don't forget to make a wish when you do! Making wishes on stars is something even young children can relate to. Hunting for the stars engages the viewer with the piece of art, and making the wish (a new wish with every star) encourages awareness and discussion of dreams and goals.
Click to discover more secrets of the artists...
Susan V. Bosak
Leo and Diane Dillon
Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher
The Dream CD has a special interactive version of this Secrets of the Artists activity.
The Art Gallery: Stories by Philip Wilkinson. Peter Bedrick Books, 2000. A look at selected paintings through history that includes a reproduction of the work, the story behind it, and biographical information about the artist.
Lives of the Artists: Masterpieces, Messes (and What the Neighbors Thought) by Kathleen Krull and Kathryn Hewitt illus. Harcourt Brace, 1995. Humorous anecdotes and little-known facts highlight biographical profiles of twenty distinguished artists, including Michelangelo, Mary Cassatt, Vincent Van Gogh, Frida Kahlo, and Andy Warhol.