During a recent visit to a Van Gogh exhibit with my young adult daughter, we listened to a cell phone description of the technical differences among the artist’s numerous paintings of a postman. Then we picked up a pamphlet describing the friendship Van Gogh enjoyed with the postman Joseph Roulin and his wife. “That’s what’s important to know!” proclaimed my daughter, who promptly bought the Washington, D.C., subway card displaying Van Gogh’s postman.
So why not let a work of art inspire youngsters to write their own stories?
Find paintings in a local museum or art gallery, online or in an art history book. Ask children to look at a painting with several questions in mind as they imagine their story:
- who are the people in the painting?
- how are they related or connected to each other?
- what were they doing just before the painter fixed them on the canvas? what will they do next?
- is the weather or atmosphere in the painting important to your story - is it a bright sunny day or a spooky, stormy night?
If children choose a landscape or building, they can create characters to fill the space. Or children can read an artist biography and then write their story. Two of this year’s Caldecott Honor books are biographies of artists - The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary Grandpré and Yuyi Morales’ Viva Frida. In the Noisy Paint Box we read how Vasya Kandinsky saw “Thundering arches of aqua and ebony, with shrill points of cobalt and saffron…Vasya heard the colors singing…and saw the music dancing.” With those noisy colors in mind, what words and stories could be inspired by Kandinsky’s Two Ovals or White Zig Zag?