Art: A journey through life and civilization

By Watanabe Reiko

Introduction: My personal journey with Art

Now we may be contemplating a bleak wintry season ahead, but there are still plenty of things we can enjoy during winter. One of them is visiting museums and art galleries I find spending some time face to face with art masterpieces to be a blissful escape from the daily irritations and mundane chores of life.

Since little, I have always liked looking at paintings, porcelains and aesthetic architecture. My parents used to take me to museums or art galleries I regarded those visits as treats. Then on my own, I took to visiting various galleries and museums in and around Tokyo. But in those days, I just liked reveling in the beauty of great art pieces, not so much thinking of their esoteric meaning, or of their social, cultural or historical backgrounds.

The turning point was when I moved to London and started to frequent the National Gallery, London. There was an exquisite art collection with an unsurpassed world reputation, yet the entrance fee was free! That meant I could visit as often as I liked owing to London’s generous policy that every person in the country should be granted the pleasure of owning and enjoying great pictures. If you felt you owned all those masterpieces it would surely be natural to want to know more about your treasures. However, despite repeated visits to the gallery, I felt I was not fully appreciating its great works. Without a background knowledge about art, those masterpieces were like pearls cast before swine!

Thus I decided to take History of English paintings at a college nearby. Commentaries by the lecturer upon masterpieces chronologically or thematically served to engrave vivid images of an England of the past upon my mind. I gradually came to understand both the background and messages of those masterpieces. Now intrigued, I took three more history of art courses (art of the 17th, 18th and the 19th centuries). Together they covered the great works of the Western World. This time the horizons of my understanding of art were broadened geographically as well as culturally.

The knowledge gained in these classes came in handy not only when I visited historic places, castles, palaces, churches and country houses as well as museums or galleries in England but also when I read classical or historical literature. Such pleasure and satisfaction have I derived from these studies that I regret not having studied art in my youth.

I would like to approach the topic of art studies by addressing the following areas:

A. Why are art studies important? Why should we learn to appreciate art? What is the History of Art? How should we teach the History of Art to children?

B. Some ways of introducing a methodical study of the History of Art at home

C. Art Resources


Why should we study and learn to appreciate art?

gMuch of what is said in the arts cannot be said in another way. To withhold artistic means of understanding is as much of a malpractice as to withhold math, said Howard Gardner, author of the Multiple Intelligences theory. Learning art skills also has intrinsic benefits of acquiring perspective and observation, important aspects of creativity aspect. Many great inventors were also great artists. (See article Art, Creativity, & Invention by Sharon Jeffus) There are numerous studies about the positive effects of right brain and left brain interaction upon learning efficacy when visual arts methods are applied to learning (Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Dr Betty Edwards). Studies have shown that schools report 20 per cent increases in reading, writing and math scores as a result of visual arts experiences (Mona Brookes, Founder of the Mona Brookes Drawing School).

Notwithstanding the benefits of the arts upon learning, I would like to address the more pleasurable aspects of an encounter with the arts. The great art commentator Sister Wendy Beckett wrote of the value of art:

Art is only great if it draws you down into the depths of your being and exposes you to the truth of what you are and what you could become. In many ways I am an inadequate person. I am completely uncreative: I am no good at cooking or sewing or gardening, let alone painting. I have no gifts, yet I am lit up by the wonder of what I see. I am taught about pain and joy, and if a limited person like me can receive this enrichment, so can anybody! — Odyssey — A Journey of Artistic Discovery, Sister Wendy Beckett

I would like to confine our discussion here to the study of the History of Art, and in particular to the History of High Art. High Art, according to Gregory D. Wilbur tends to be skillful, intellectual, requires much study to master, and sustains repeated viewing, hearing, or sight. Such is regarded the art of Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Monet; the music of Bach, Beethoven; or the drama of Shakespeare. High Art has the most to teach children (or adults for that matter) because of its depth, long lineage of history and ability to sustain repeated study. Given the limitations of space, the discussion will further be confined to only visual arts forms.

The main reason why the study of the history of art is so important is that it is one of the essential components of history. The art of any era reflects the world that produced it. Variations in style of the different period works are the result of influences in the social and political climate of the artists’ times. Art represents the ideas, ideals and philosophy of the people of the times. As such, children derive vivid images of the past when studying the history of Art and connect with the past.

When children look at a piece of art, they will have questions. By introducing art masterpieces to children, we can stir their curiosity and help them develop inquisitive minds. The answers to their questions are mostly found in the historical background of the art works. For example, why were old maps painted in so many Dutch paintings around the 17th century? Those old maps represent the nationfs status as a Great Power and its dominance over the seas around the world at that time. Or, why did Turner and other artists paint many Venetian landscapes. They painted the beautiful city of Venice not just because its landscape was spectacular, but because they sympathized with the tragedy caused by Napoleon’s invasion of Italy and the following domination by Austria. Turner’s famous painting titled Rain, Steam and Speed may appear to be a typical dreamy impressionist painting but if you remember that Turner lived during the Industrial Revolution, the steam engine dashing towards you and spitting black smoke in the painting portrays the impact of the newly invented machine upon the common people in the 19th century. By closely relating themes and styles of art to the times and culture in which the artists lived, children will know not only know more about history, but art will come alive for them.


Some possible ways to approach art studies include:

-A chronological study of the History of Art

-A study of 100 masterpieces (chronologically or otherwise)

-A study of selected artists and their art, the historical periods associated with these (interest-led study).

Chronological Study of Art

The most orthodox way to learn the History of Art is to study masterpieces chronologically according to the eras and epochs in which the works were painted.

The major Western Art styles and periods are outlined by Andela Mulden-Slater as follows:

30,000 BC – 3000 BC [Prehistoric]

Paleolithic; Mesolithic; Neolithic.

3000 BC – 331 BC [Ancient Civilizations]

Egyptian Art; Mesopotamian Art; Aegean Art.

800 BC – 337 AD [Classical Civilizations]

Greek; Hellenistic; Estrucan; Roman.

373 – 1453 [European Christian Art/Middle Ages]

Hiberno-Saxon; Byzantine; Islamic; Justinian; Carolingian; Ottonian; Romanesque; Gothic.

1400 – 1800 [Renaissance/Baroque]

Renaissance: Italy, Europe; Baroque; Rococo.

1800 – 1880 [Pre-Modern Styles]

Neo-Classicism: Federal/Greek Revival (USA), Georgian Style (Canada); Romanticism (Victorian); Realism; Impressionism.

1880 – 1945 [Modernism]

Post-Impressionism; Expressionism; Fauvism; Cubism; Dada; Bauhaus; International Style (architecture); Surrealism.

1945 – Present [Modern to Post-Modern]

Abstract Expressionism; Op; Pop; Minimal; Neo-Expressionism; Conceptual; Performance.

But how do we actually get children to appreciate art? In my view, there is no substitute for a face-to-face encounter with art masterpieces, and this entails a visit to the museum or art gallery. The National Museum of Western Art in Ueno has a good chronological collection of Western Art and is worth visiting. To take your pick of the many excellent museums or galleries in Japan, see the Museums in Japan website.

However, exposing very young kids to real masterpieces may not necessarily be the ideal or practical teaching method when they will neither keep quiet nor stand in line to view the gallery’s works. I have to confess my two daughters had developed an allergy to galleries, palaces and manor homes by the end of our two year-stay in London as a result of too many such visits.

Perhaps a better way is to introduce art in measured doses. Showing reproductions of major paintings of the period of the history subject you are teaching in your home-school is as effective as taking your children to art galleries. For instance, if you are going to teach about the events of the Baroque period, show your kids reproduction prints of some famous baroque paintings. Kids’ curiosity and imagination will be stimulated they will find particular fashion, lifestyle or home interiors of the era of those paintings fascinating.

For those of us who live in remote areas, it may not be easy to visit good museums or galleries. Still, we should take heart that Sister Wendy Beckett, a nun living in seclusion in Norfolk, England has become one of the foremost and most popular art commentators today. I am often overwhelmed by her masterly and marvelous interpretations of paintings in her many best-selling books on Art. She wrote:

Even those who, like me, cannot very often visit art galleries can gain an immense amount from reproductions, looking at postcards or books at home or perhaps in library. Obviously you have to make an imaginative leap to experience the size and the texture which the reproduction cannot give you, but this has its own advantages. It makes you look with concentrated attention, and the attention can be all on the art rather than on the gallery and the other people and the images on either side. The great essential for art appreciation is said to be a chair: very true!

— Odyssey — A Journey of Artistic Discovery Sister Wendy Beckett

Study of 100 greatest artists and their masterpieces:

Listed below in chronological order is a selection of the greatest 100 artists of the Western Art. The selection, mainly based on the books 100 Masterpieces of Art by Marina Vaizey and Handbook of Fine Art by Syuji Takashina, has been made on the basis that the works are considered to have broken new ground and are some of the most enduring and familiar pictures in the great museums of the world.

The most popular and important 100 artists of the Western Art are generally considered to be:

1. Giotto di Bondone (c. 1266-1337)

2. Pietro Lorenzetti (c.1280-1348) / Ambrogio Lorenzetti (c.1285-1348)

3. Simone Martini (1284-1344)

Donatello (1386-1486)

4. Jan van Eyck (1390-1441)

5. Paolo Uccello (1397-1475)

6. Fra Angelico (c.1400-55)

7. Masaccio (Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Mone Cassi) (1401-29)

8. Giovanni Bellini (c.1430-1516)

9. Andrea Mantegna (1431-1505)

10. Sandro Botticelli (c.1445-1510)

11. Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) Lesson plan here and here

12. Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516)

13. Albrecht Durer (1471-1528)

14. Lucas Cranach der Altere (1472-1553)

15. Giorgione (c.1477-1510)

16. Raphael (Raffaello Santi) Lesson plan

17. Titian (Tiziano Vecelli) (c.1487-1576)

18. Hans Holbein the Younger (1497-1543)

19. Jacopo Robusti Tintoretto (1519-94)

20. Pieter Brueghel, the Elder (1525/30-69)

21. Paolo Veronese (1528-88)

22. El Greco (1541-1614)

23. Annibale Carracci (1560-1609)

24. Michelanelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1573-1610) Lesson plan

25. Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640)

26. Frans Hals (c1580-1640)

27. George de La Tour (1593-1652)

28. Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665)

29. Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641)

30. Diego Velazquez (1599-1660)

31. Claude Lorrain (Claude Gellee) (1604/5?-1682)

32. Rembrandt van Rijin (1606-69) Lesson Plan

33. Bartolome Esteban Murillo (1617-82)

34. Jan Steen (1625/6-79)

35. Jacob van Ruisdael (1628/9-82)

36. Johannes Vermeer (1632-75)

37. Meyndert Hobbema (1638-1709)

38. Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721)

39. Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696-1770)

40. Antonio Canaletto (1697-1768)

41. William Hogarth (1697-1764)

42. Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin (1699-1779)

43. Francois Boucher (1703-70)

44. Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-92)

45. George Stubbs (1724-1806)

46. Thomas Gainsborough (1727-88)

47. Jean-Honore Fragonard (1732-1806)

48. Francisco Goya (1746-1828)

49. Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825)

50. Louise Vigee Lebrun (1755-1842)

51. William Blake (1757-1827)

52. Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830)

53. Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840)

54. Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851)

55. John Constable (1776-1837)

56. Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867)

57. Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796-1875)

58. Ferdinand-Victor-Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863)

59. Honore Daumier (1808-79)

60. Jean Francois Millet (1814-75)

61. Gustave Courbet (1819-77)

62. William Powell Frith (1819-1909)

63. William Holman Hunt (1827-1910)

64. Dante Gabriel Rosetti (1828-82)

65. Sir John Everett Millais (1829-96)

66. Camille Pissarro (1830-1903)

67. Edouard Manet (1832-83)

68. Sir Edward Burne-Jones (1833-98)

69. James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903)

70. Hilaire Germain Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

71. Paul Cezanne(1839-1907) Lesson plan

72. Alfred Sisley (1838-99)

*Rodin (1840-1917) Lesson plan

73. Claude Monet (1840-1926) Lesson Plan


74. Pierre-august Renoir (1841-1919)

75. Berthe Morisot (1841-95)

76. Henri Rousseau (1844-1910)

77. Mary Cassatt (1844-1926)

78. Paul Gauguin (1848-1903)

79. Vincent Van Gogh (1853-90)Lesson Plan

80. John Singer Sargent (1856-1925)

81. Georges Seurat (1859-91) More about Seurat

*Anna Mary Robertson aka Grandma Moses (1860 – 1961)

Remington (1861 – 1909 )

82. Edward Munch (1863-1944)

83. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901)

84. Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947)

85. Henri Matisse (1869-1954)

86. Gustav Klimt (1862-1918)

87. Vassily Kandinsky (1866-1944)

88. Paul Klee (1879-1940)

89. Pablo Ruiz Picasso (1881-1973) Lesson Plan

90. Georges Braque (1882-1963)

91. Edward Hopper (1882-1967)

92. Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920)

93. Marc Chagall (1887- 1985) Lesson Plan

94. Joan Miro (1893-1983)

95. Paul Delvaux (1897-1994)

96. Rene Magritte (1898-1967)

97. Salvador Dali (1904-1989)

98. Francis Bacon (1909-92)

99. Andrew Wyeth.html (1917- ) Lesson Plan

100. David Hockney(1937- )

*More than 100 artists are listed, sometimes an alternative artist is also included for study.


Art resources need not be expensive coffee table books. The Internet is now your cheapest and most convenient means of access to masterpieces. You can download the pictures of virtually any masterpiece for free thanks to the Internet. There are plenty of virtual museums or galleries; you can net-surf and encounter world’s great artworks at home. See:

  1. Websites of some of the greatest museums in the world:

Prado Museum

State Hermitage Museum

Vienna Kunsthistorisches Museum

Royal Museums of Fire Arts Museum of Belgium

Uffizi Gallery

National Gallery London

The Tate Gallery

The Wallace Collection

Musee de Louvre

Musee d’Orsay

National Gallery of Art , Washington D.C.

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Museum of Modern Art

Frick Collection

Guggenheim Museum

Museums in Japan

Virtual Library Museums

Getty Museum great art lessons here!

French art themes explored at the Web Museum and French artists and biographies are presented

2. Art History resources on the web:

Chris Whitcombe’s History Resources on the web

The Prof. Christopher Whitcombe’s website covers extensive treatment of period art ranging from prehistoric to 20th century art. Good link to museums and galleries all over the world.

3. Excellent homeschooling article by Sharon Jeffus on Teaching art at Home/Encouraging Creativity here

Another good article is Art Appreciation the Charlotte Mason Way by Karen Andreola click here

4. The Artchive_site

This website provides concise description of more than 200 well known artists and their reproductions.

5. Artcyclopedia Comprehensive fine art search engine

6. Fine Art History Quick Reference Search engine by artists, styles, countries

7. Wonderful resource website with art lesson plans and projects : Kinder Art

8. More links to art lessons may be found at ExploreArt and Art Takes Time and Garden of Praise’s art appreciation lessons.

9. Art projects for major styles of art throughout history have been compiled for homeschoolers at Paula’s Archives Check out her pages CHRONOLOGICAL ART LESSONS (29 art projects related to the major styles of art throughout world history.); AMERICAN ART HISTORY LESSONS (24 art projects related to the major styles of art throughout American history.)

10. A Pintura Art Detective and Inside Art are exciting online art appreciation games for 4th graders and upwards

11. Museums Information of the World links here

This website covers some of the world’s best galleries and museums.

12. Japan Museums

This website offers a collection of links to most of the major museums in Japan

13. Kinder Art: offers seasonal activity ideas, hands-on materials and other information on art for children: click here

14. Art Timeline

15. Masterpiece Art Instruction

16. Website with art that kids can look at Famous Paintings

17. Japanese Art and Architecture from the Web Museum, Paris

Art Supplies:

Directory of Art Material Shops in Japan

Seibun (online art materials shop) Maruman 2-36-23 Cyuo, Nakano-ku, Tokyo 164-0011


Kusanoha Art Material Shop 3-13-3 Kinshi, Sumida-ku, Tokyo 130-0013. Tel: 03-3623-7799  art_shop link here

Art Material Shops around Osaka and they also have online-shopping section click here

Storefronts: Lemon Ochanomizu, Tokyo  03-3295-0431 ; Shibuya Loft 4 F Shibuya, Tokyo  03-3462-3884 ; Tokyu Hands Shibuya Tel:  03-3464-4784 ; Kawachi 1-8-1 Shinsaibashisuji, Chuo-ku, Osaka

Tel:  06-6252-5800  Fax: 06-6252-5469

Meininger’s offers the best supplies and the newest art products available in the industry, everything from exotic papers to fine writing instruments. Currently serving customers in Japan, England, South America, Australia and the United States, Meininger’s offers the highest quality art. see Meininger website

Dick Blick’s art catalog has a reputation for being clearly organized, easy to use, and full of useful information. For fast shipping, a huge selection and good customer service click here

Art Supplies by Pearl Paint Online!, World’s Largest Discount Art Supplier. Offering for over 60 years the best artist’s materials at the best prices: Artist Art Supplies by Pearl, World’s Largest Discount Art Supplier

Ken Bromley Art supplies. Artists materials at discount prices

Daniel Smith Art Supply. Art materials, supplies and accessories for oil, acrylic, watercolor, drawing, ink, pastel and other media from Daniel Smith Artists’ Materials:

Flax art & design. The creative resource for art supplies, crafts, kids stuff, fonts, home decor toys, and gifts to inspire all ages. Great sale section. Since 1938.

All rights reserved. Originally written for and published in the Homeschooling / Afterschooling in Japan Newsletter

1 thought on “Art: A journey through life and civilization”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s