Reflections on Art History: Paint Your Way Through Art History

Reflections on Art History: Paint Your Way Through Art History

Courtney Sanford teaches a live, online course titled Paint Your Way Through Art History, and she has put much of that course content into her book, Reflections on Art History: Paint Your Way Through Art History, to make it readily accessible to more students. (Students in Classical Conversations will find that this course matches up well with Classical Conversation's Challenge II's Western Cultural History strand.)

Intended for high-school students, the book teaches art history plus drawing and painting skills. Elements of a Christian worldview thread through the lessons. The beginning of the lesson on Giotto is a good example, as the first paragraph reads:

Towards the end of the Middle Ages, there was an increased interest in the humanity of Christ. This can be seen in Giotto’s art. He painted Christ in a more accurately human form. Giotto kept the halo, though, as if to say that Christ was fully human and fully God at the same time.

The first few lessons cover the Lascaux Cave Paintings, the Mycenaean Octopus Vase, and the Temple of Artemis, then the lessons continue with selected artists (e.g., Van Eyck, Durer, Monet, van Gogh, and O’Keeffe) up to Jackson Pollock (modern art). The artworks are primarily paintings and drawings but also include illuminated books, the design of the Cathedral Notre-Dame de Chartres, and Michelangelo’s Pieta. The eclectic mix of artworks and projects makes this course more interesting than some others.

Each lesson begins with a discussion of the featured artwork's setting and influences, and this is where worldview elements fit. One central artwork is discussed, with information about the artist included when it is known. Images of other artworks are shown as the lesson moves into student projects. Some lessons walk students through one project step by step, while others suggest two or more potential projects, usually with fewer detailed instructions.

In many lessons, students study one or more artworks by a particular artist, but their own projects will focus on only one small aspect of a larger work. For instance, they learn about Rembrandt and view four of his artworks: The Denial of St. Peter; Self-portrait 1659; Self-portrait in a Cap, with Eyes Wide Open 1630; and Self-portrait 1660. For their project, students look primarily at the three self-portraits, then practice drawing eyes. Learning only one element at a time makes projects much more manageable.

The projects offer students a wide variety of art media experiences such as drawing shadows, drawing with a perspective, working with gesso, painting with acrylics (possibly working with egg yolk as a binding agent), and combining media in multi-media works. In the book’s introduction, the author encourages students to select one or more of the suggested projects when there are choices, work with another piece by the same artist, change the subject of the composition, use unusual color combinations, etc. The projects are meant to be very flexible.

Students already familiar with art techniques can work through the book on their own, although they might need occasional parental assistance. Most students will benefit from a group class for help with techniques and to have an opportunity to share their artwork with each other.

A list of supplies included in the book is fairly close to the list provided for the online course, so you can check that out to see the various art media students will use.


Reflections on Art History is an interesting option for Christian students because it makes meaningful connections between the worlds of art, faith, history, and sociology.

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Instant Key

  • Need For Parent or Teacher Instruction: optional
  • Learning Environment: all situations
  • Grade Level: grades 9-12
  • Educational Methods: lots of variety, hands-on, drawing activities, creative activities
  • Educational Approaches: worldview, traditional, eclectic, classical
  • Religious Perspective: Christian

Publisher's Info

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