Archive for the ‘Appreciating Art’ Category

Artist Highlight: Vincent van Gogh

Artist Highlight Vincent van Gogh

This May is all about Art Appreciation in the Brave Writer Lifestyle, which makes this the right time to break out some Vincent van Gogh art!

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Vincent van Gogh is considered one of the greatest artists to have ever lived, but in his own lifetime he was considered something of a failure. While alive, he had difficulty finding buyers for his paintings and was financially supported instead by his brother Theo. This might feel somewhat hard to believe nowadays when we’re used to seeing his works on display in museums next to plaques explaining their great significance to the art world, but Van Gogh’s fame only came about posthumously.

Van Gogh was born on March 30th, 1853, in Zundert, Netherlands. He spent much of his early career as a painter drawing and painting the downtrodden, particularly coal miners. Even later, when his paintings became brighter and more vibrant, he still liked painting people at work. We traveled across Europe, perhaps most famously to France. He struggled with his mental health throughout his life, painting many of his most famous works during his stay in an asylum, before eventually taking his own life in July of 1890.

Vincent van Gogh, the man behind the art, can be challenging to discuss with children due to the sad way his life ended. The rebooted British children’s show Doctor Who has an episode in its fifth season (aptly titled Vincent and the Doctor) which shows Van Gogh’s illness in a gentle and sympathetic light that may help with contextualizing these issues for kids (we do recommend that parents view the episode first, before deciding if it is right for their families). Its time travel concept also allows for the inclusion of a beautiful moment of wish fulfillment, since one of the great tragedies of Van Gogh’s life is that he never knew that his art would one day be considered essential viewing for the art lover.

But even if your kids aren’t ready for the details of his life, you can still bust out the art books this month and enjoy the riot of colors and the uniquely expressive beauty of Vincent van Gogh’s artwork.


Vincent’s Colors – “Van Gogh’s descriptions, arranged as a simple rhyme, introduce young readers to all the colors of the rainbow and beyond.”–Amazon

Vincent and the Doctor – Doctor Who episode in which the Doctor and Amy Pond travel back in time to meet Vincent van Gogh

Art Appreciation Through Projects and Stories – From notbefore7 (includes Van Gogh and other artists)

Brave Writer Lifestyle

Playing What They are Learning

"Dutch Masters" in the studio

Brave Writer mom Lise (Free to Be a Child) writes:

Yesterday “Vermeer” and “Rembrandt” were at work in the studio, taking turns sitting for portraits by the other. L has been listening to a series of books about artists (Art for Children), and is particularly interested in Dutch artists, as she is part Dutch. So those names stuck with her.

She spent the day in her Dutch-inspired costume, and when S arrived, he joined her for some klompen (Dutch clogging) dancing.

Naturally, when they later decided to paint, they took on the names of Dutch artists.

"Dutch Masters" in the studio

Playing what we’re learning is common here, a Reggio-inspired early childhood program in my home (where I also unschool my daughter). But becoming artists who paint portraits of each other is clearly influenced by some of Julie’s scopes, which inspired me to incorporate a morning basket, including lots of art appreciation.

🙂 Lise

Learn more about art appreciation in your homeschool:

Check out Brave Writer’s Art Appreciation Workshop!

Art Appreciation Workshop

Art Appreciation with Julie Bogart

Don’t worry if you missed the Art Appreciation Workshop live.

It’s as good as new on REPLAY!

Just download the FREE Guide, gather materials then watch the broadcast below.

You’ll guide your kids in new ways to engage art and discover its pleasures!

Art Appreication Workshop

Such good fun!

I love helping you bring joy and practical growth into your home education experience. Art is one of the easiest and most satisfying, if you can enter it with some child-friendly strategies!

Images by Brave Writer moms Teeshalavone and Nicola

Email: What other curricula did I use?

Hi Julie,

Thanks to The Writer’s Jungle, I can now relax and teach writing in a more natural and fun way. Your blog has helped inspire our homeschooling and remind us of what really matters. I like your homeschool style and wonder if I could get your recommendations on any particular materials that you used over the years that you found to be valuable.


I get the idea that you are probably not the type to use a curriculum – but thought I would ask anyway. I’m sort of a curriculum junkie. I have two daughters, 12 and 10.

For the moment we are using the follow…..

  • Math-U-See
  • Singapore Math
  • Apologia Science
  • History Odyssey
  • Writer’s Jungle and The Arrow
  • Worldly Wise

I’ve wasted a lot of money on plenty of other resources.

Thanks so much,



Hi Susie!

I certainly did use a variety of curricula over the years. Some of it I regret (and cringe to think about now). Some of it I loved and would use again. And then for a period of some years, we unschooled (though the definition of that word varies group to group, but from my perspective, that is who we were).

Some of my favorite resources follow, as well as how I “solved” some of the needs we had where I didn’t purchase curricula. I have omitted choices I regretted.


  • Miquon Math (For elementary school; combined with Cuisinaire rods—I literally didn’t understand multiplication until these books)
  • Family Math (I loved this book – we did everything in it)
  • Math-It (A game to learn multiplication tables quickly)
  • Keys to… (Fractions, Decimals, Percents)
  • Murderous Maths (Hands-down the most fun we’ve ever had with math; lots of volumes)
  • The I Hate Mathematics Book and Math for Smarty Pants by the Brown Paper School company
  • Saxon Math for Algebra and Geometry
  • Tutoring for math in exchange for writing help between homeschool families
  • Paid tutoring for high school math
  • Parttime enrollment at the local high school


  • Sonlight (back when the Instructor’s Guides weren’t so enormous)
  • Well Trained Mind for a reading list, and Story of the World books
  • Personal rabbit trails and my own interests
  • (My regrets are in this category more than any other so the list appears to be short.)


  • Charter member of HENSE (Home Educators Neglecting Science Education)
  • Kitchen chemistry experiments from books
  • Ring of Fire Rock Study Kits (These are fabulous!!)
  • DK books
  • A telescope
  • Nature journaling 
  • Bird study through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, including their BIG book and course.
  • Biology through our co-op
  • Chemistry through the local high school

Language arts:



  • Sister Wendy’s Story of Painting (Oh My Goddess!! I just googled and all of her “videos” are now online for free. Just the music alone sent me wheeling with memories and happiness. Don’t miss these.)
  • Linnea and Monet’s Garden (Then look at the recommended books and you will see all the others we read and enjoyed!)
  • Any museum in driving distance, regularly visited. Bought the books in the museum shop to review at home.

We also had fun with Ancient Greek, Rosetta Stone Chinese (didn’t get far in it, but it was fun to wet our feet), and Power Glide for French. Still, in the end, it was much easier for my kids to learn foreign languages in school (they attended the local high school for language learning, all except Noah who studied Klingon on his own <g>).

Hope that helps! Would love to hear about other favorite resources in the comments below.

Visiting the Art Museum

Visiting the Art Museum

When we recommend going to art museums, sometimes parents wonder what it’s got to do with writing. Isn’t art its own course of study? Why would Brave Writer specifically promote it?

I promote the enjoyment and study of art because a visual vocabulary is critical to a verbal one. We’re primarily stimulated every day through sight. As we observe the world around us, we form impressions that inform our attitudes, beliefs, preferences and habits. Art uses a visual vocabulary to communicate. We’re awed by the precision of strokes (to an almost photographic accuracy) in some paintings and then moved by the blurry soft edges of impressionism that tend to evoke a mood more than provoke a compliment. We see color manipulated to create atmosphere, we observe other times and eras (habits of dress, style of architecture, expanse of nature). We get to see style (we can compare and contrast artists within one era, and we can compare and contrast artists of different eras).

These encounters are different than nature or TV or flipping through a photo album. Artists are deliberate in ways similar to authors.

  • They select the point of view.
  • They edit the scene in front of them, choosing what to paint and what to exclude.
  • They pull from a palette of colors like authors draw from a lexicon of language.
  • They tell a story through images.
  • They create pathos or joy, indignation or peace.

And all we have to do is stand and look carefully, allow the painting to speak through its images.

For writing, having a rich visual vocabulary is just as important as having a big word-filled one. Words help to express images and images give rise to words. They partner together to create meaning.

A trip to an art museum also offers visuals to go with some of the legendary stories of our collective history. Together, paintings partner with language to create new levels of appreciation.

What follows, then, is a window into how frequent trips to the local Cincinnati Art Museum enhanced our home education.

Be not intimidated! Get the stroller and go. You’ll be glad you did.


One thing I love about Cincinnati is that the art museum isn’t that far away. We went to it yesterday for the afternoon. We’ve been many, many times. As we walked in the door, Liam exclaimed, “I love that Chihuly chandelier.” Jacob added, “I could look at it every day.”

We made our way into the Greek and Egyptian displays and Caitrin noticed that they had rearranged them. She went on to point out which of the vases she liked best compared to last time. Liam wanted to stop and look at each of the hieroglyphs again.

We moved on and went into an exhibit that was put up by Proctor and Gamble – all Cincinnati art. I honestly didn’t recognize the exhibit but the kids did. They started reminiscing about the pieces they had loved the last time we’d been there. We marveled at the quality of the artwork. Later we found an entire exhibit devoted to Frank Duveneck (Cincinnati native) and were thrilled to see all his paintings together. That was new.

We made our way upstairs to see the Monets that are on loan from Paris and were blown away by the size and colors. Caitrin immediately told me the story of why this particular “Bridge at Giverny” was so hard to see close-up – “because Monet lost his eyesight as he got older and he would make paintings that were less and less realistic as a result.” She pointed out how much the bridge showed up if we were at the back of the room compared to up close when we could see each swirl of the brush up close.

Liam reminded me of the “Linnea in Monet’s Garden” book we had read and Jacob remembered the movie we had checked out from the library. We were amazed that the Cathedral at Rouen was so dull close up and so vibrant at a distance. You could see the source of light behind it and it glowed from across the room.

We walked into the modern art exhibit and all agreed again that we don’t like modern art, except that I really like Mark Rothko. Rothko asserts that he isn’t interested in form, line, or color but in creating emotions. He says that he knows he communicates because when people look at his work, many report that they cry. Jacob, who couldn’t remember who Rothko was when I spoke of him last week, was eager to see our Cincinnati Rothko. He didn’t cry. He didn’t understand why anyone would. I didn’t cry either, but I did feel this weird surge in my chest.

Liam wanted to see a real Van Gogh so I took him to the only one in the museum. He remembered it then and commented that, “That guy must really have liked paint. I like his blue.” Caitrin added, “He uses globs of it. It’s nice to see the real painting so we can see the globs up close.” We wished for a Van Gogh exhibit to come to Cincinnati.

Our favorite rooms were closed for renovation. We were sad. So we went to other rooms we frequent less and noticed all the Italians. We discussed the benefits of great art being dispersed throughout the world rather than collected all in one town. We talked about why the Italians artwork was so much more dramatic than the British in the room next door. We shuddered in front of a boyish, rosy-cheeked David holding the recently severed head of a bloody Goliath.

We ended up in front of a painting that showed a woman deranged with a pale face, flowers dripping down her white gown, restrained by a man in a renaissance costume. They stood before a queen in anguish and a king with his face in his hands. Jacob called out, “Mom, this is from Hamlet! That’s Ophelia.” And it was. The man was Laertes, her brother. Apparently this artist had wanted to make a series of Shakespeare paintings to display together in England, but the project failed and the pieces he painted have been bought up by a variety of art connoisseurs. This painting is the first to have been purchased for the Cincinnati Art Museum and its purchase preceded the museum’s construction by about five years.

It was a great afternoon. And it was fun to see that repeated visits yielded so much in my kids.

FREE Online Art Appreciation Workshop