Before They Were Famous- How Seven Artists Got Their Start : BOOK MAMA’s Review For Kids

By: Rob Raczka

My older daughter was the one I thought was going to be an artist.  She was utterly compelled as a toddler and even into her early grades to draw and paint—all the time.  I had stacks and stacks of her drawings and various “mixed media” artworks.  It was absolutely an every day thing for her…to the point where we have always dedicated an area of wherever we are living to ART and MESSES.  I had major trouble finding places to store everything, and for both girls, I’ve always saved as much as is humanly possible before the scary “hoarding” zone.  I’ve had tons of their work framed and most of our house is decorated with their artwork and my artwork and my grandma’s paintings and come to think of it, my mother-in-laws’ paintings as well.  So she comes by it naturally, for sure.  But slowly but surely, other interests have begun to occupy her.  She loves to write and read now.  She’s busy with horses and soccer and just school, so if she does a piece of art, it’s generally part of a school assignment.  But every now and then, the mood will strike and she’ll drag everything out and make an extraordinary birthday card for a friend—with glitter and pipe cleaners, markers, paints, colored pencils and oil sticks—everything she can get her hands on.

I do think she has talent.  She has some of those skills that not everyone has—she can take a pencil and render something recognizable on a piece of paper.  But I’m biased.  Plus I’m a big abstractionist at heart, and when my other daughter would do giant swipes of PINK and BROWN and JADE GREEN on her BIG PIECE OF BUTCHER PAPER as a toddler…I thought those were brilliant too.

My husband always asks me why I don’t paint from photographs…or why I don’t paint more realistic pictures, and I always say that I like a photographs then I’ll happily hang it,  but if I’m going to createsomething,  I don’t want it to look like a photograph…does that make sense?

But to each his own.  I have a tremendous appreciation for all art, and I’m fascinated by artistic talent—and where it comes from, and can it be taught?  And if one decides to be an artist—of any kind, does one have to devote one’s whole life to their art?  Some artists would say that it was never even a choice…they were incapable of living any other way.

This book –by Bob Raczka (who has an entire Art Adventure series for kids) focuses on the childhood works of seven artists, with lots of interesting facts about who or what influenced them when they were children and young adults. Three works from each artist are included, showing how their style developed and changed over time.

Short and easy to follow biographies introduce each of the seven great artists. From Dürer to Dali, the featured artists are presented chronologically and clearly on two page spreads that include beautiful full-page reproductions. Raczka was able to find childhood work produced by each of the featured artists, and these pieces are shown opposite a known masterpiece by the same artist. Photographs and in many cases self portraits of the artists are included as well as descriptions and explanations of their inspirations and the evolution of each artist’s style—and in some cases the details of the beginnings of entire artistic movements such as Picasso and cubism.

The information and detail is incredibly interesting and easy to read—a great book for both kids and adults.  But to go back to our question, it seems that in the case of these extraordinary talents: yes, they were born with tremendous gifts, but they truly devoted their entire lives to their arts.  And maybe it sounds clichéd,  but only because it’s true, they all seemed to suffer for art, to some extent.

As an example closer to home, I have a great friend from college who is an extremely talented painter.  I don’t know that anyone will ever know her name.  She is known, for sure, in her hometown in New Hampshire.  She is always learning—always exploring new styles, new mediums.  She has always been surrounded by artists.  She has never had children and was only briefly married to a man who eventually realized she only had one real love.  She just cared more about painting than anything else.  She’s very happy…when she’s painting.

This book is amazing because there is a tremendous clarity to it.  The reader can see the process and the growth of these incredible artists, plus Raczka puts the painters in historical context—giving the reader a bigger picture of the circumstances within which each artist found himself.

If you’ve ever wondered what Klee drew as a child and how he came to his beautiful cat-bird fantasy paintings, this is a perfect book for you and your child!

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