A welcome variety of perspectives

11th November 2005 at 00:00
How to Talk to Children About Art By Francoise Barbe-Gall Frances Lincoln pound;9.99

How Artists See series Nature; Families By Karen Hosack Heinemann pound;9.99 each

Toulouse-Lautrec By Robert Burleigh Abrams pound;9.95

Art by African American Artists: A Resource for Educators By Lisa Gail Collins Yale University Press pound;20

Francoise Barbe-Gall's title might suggest an attack of cultural anxiety, but the text is relaxed and sensible. Writing as much for parents as for teachers, she begins with general guidance about visiting galleries - start from children's interests and recognise that "It's OK not to know".

There is advice about what's likely to appeal to different age groups, and helpful question-and-answer sections on history, style and method. Thirty examples of paintings range from the 15th to the late-20th centuries. The Arnolfini portrait by van Eyck is closely scanned, with thoughtful attention paid to dog, fruit, shoes, mirror, candle and solemn gestures. The exploration of Turner's revolutionary technique in "Rain, Steam and Speed" and of the mingled pain and pleasure in Picasso's "Weeping Woman" are characteristic of this intelligent and helpful book.

Karen Hosack's books are for children aged about eight, and focus on topics that are broad enough to encompass many kinds of work. Families are found on an ancient Greek plaque and in a celebratory millennium portrait of our own Royals. Boisterous Brueghel peasants, stiff-necked Gainsborough gentry and a cool Hockney couple are eye-catching, but the most appealing characters are a Klee family made entirely from lopsided triangles, rectangles and semi-circles. "Nature" is an even broader category, and here we meet designs that escape the picture frame. Medieval tapestry and illuminated letters, hennaed hands covered in flower designs, William Morris wallpaper and Andy Goldsworthy's ephemeral sculpture made from rowan leaves show how the human imagination is stimulated by the non-human world.

Robert Burleigh provides a wonderfully rich and enthusiastic account of Toulouse-Lautrec's extraordinary career; it can be read by eight-year-olds and enjoyed by adults. He vividly evokes the disabled genius working in the "swirl and joy" of Paris when its entertainments made it the City of Light. There are good contemporary photographs of the city as well as the artist, but pride of place goes to Lautrec's early drawings of animals, his pastels of circuses and - of course - his posters and paintings of dancers and cabaret performers. The author touches on the coarser and unrespectable side of Parisian life, but the main emphasis is less on the artist's association with drink and decadence and more on his unstoppable creativity and dedication to his vision.

The 16 20th-century African-American artists whose work is collected in a pack from the Metropolitan Museum in New York may have less familiar names than Toulouse-Lautrec's, but there is much here to celebrate. We get poems to go with the pictures, an informative booklet with good reproductions, and 24 slides. Two big posters are especially striking. "The Block" is an epic collage by Romare Bearden, showing a vibrant street scene, while "Freedom of Speech" by Faith Ringgold is a subversive version of the Stars and Stripes, inscribed with names from the entire spectrum of the fight for civil rights. Photographs of Jazz-age Harlem, sculptures, portraits, quilts and forcefully political lithographs remind us that art knows no boundaries.

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