A visual overview of the Art of Western Civilization from prehistoric times to the present, revealing what is important to each era
The History of Art of Western Civilization is divided in this curriculum into large understandable pieces. The history of art is complex, so it is simplified here for greater comprehension, knowing that interested students will choose to learn and investigate the complexities of this subject far beyond elementary and secondary education.
The lessons in this section relate strongly to those presented in the Montessori Method for the formation of the universe. The beginning lessons for the history of art are stories illustrated by photo reproductions of actual art, as each era of art history is introduced. There is a story within the story of each new art period introduced. Studying the progression of artistic expression, modes and styles through art literally teaches us history – often with greater detail than a history textbook could describe – just by observing closely what the artist pictured, what the subject illustrates, and what the work expresses.
Timelines, charts and other familiar mechanisms are offered here to help bring alive a sense of the span of each art era compared to human history. The beginning and ending dates of eras are made visible, to create a bigger picture that emerges from this more sensorial approach.
It is up to each Montessorian to decide how to integrate the history of art within the other disciplines we teach. The more we learn about this rich discipline the more we can bring it alive, and that is true of everything we teach is it not?
The introductory lessons are given as short stories using a single reproduction to represent each period. The presentation needs to be very general with very little detail. The presentation is meant to highlight those characteristics of each period that distinguish it from those which came before it. Each story should encourage the children to want to learn more.
When I started teaching the history of art to elementary children, I had some resources that are no longer available. My favorite resource was a book on the history of art for children published by Usborne Publishing Ltd. Using two copies of the book I made each Period of art into moveable materials. I removed the pages from both books and mounted each page on colored cover paper. Each Period was mounted on a different color, in order of the colors of the Bead Bars. Period 1 pages were mounted on red, Period 2 pages were mounted on green, etc. Instead of numbering pages within each period, I placed colored paper dots on the upper corner of the mounts, so the pages of similar content could be sorted and studied together. The first group of pages to be studied had a red dot on each mount, the second group had a green dot on each mount, etc. Each finished page was laminated both sides. All pages for each Period were presented in a separate container for that Period, and the containers were lined up in Period order on the shelf.
Note: The history of art is filled with artwork depicting nudes both male and female. I was told by my principal that I was to avoid using any image that included exposed breasts. She did not mention genitals but the message was clear. Check with your administration as to the school’s policy regarding such matters. If a painting or sculpture includes nudity, it is possible to present important details without showing the whole work.
Before you initiate this discipline in your environment, I suggest you go to your school library and then your community library to request any books about the history of art written for children.
Suggested book, with my notes: Enjoy as you prepare for teaching the History of Art of Western Civilization.
Merlo, Claudio. The History of Art: from Ancient to Modern Times. Chicago: Peter Bedrick Books, A Division of NTC/Contemporary Publishing, 2000
- I suggest you read this book before introducing the History of Art of the Western Civilization.
- The book has 124 pages that cover the history of world art. The illustrations are as informing as the written text.
- Prehistoric and ancient art are not as fully depicted as are the other periods but are still informative and very interesting.
- The book is an easy read. At first, I decided to skip any part of the book devoted to world art, but I found even those sections were too interesting to forgo.
- This book attacks its subject matter with much the same feeling as the Usborne book that I used when I was teaching. Enjoy this find.
Bibliography, with my notes: Used to write the introductory History of Art presentations for this course.
- Ocvirk, Otto G. et al. Art Fundamentals: Theory and Practice. 8th ed. New York: McGraw Hill, 1997 (Latest edition, 2012)
- The dates of each era of art history were taken from this edition.
- I suggest this book be a part of your library.
- Buy any edition you can afford.
- Janson, H. W, History of Art: A Survey of the Major Visual Arts from the Dawn of History to the Present Day. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1963
- I refer to this book often, in this section and others.
- Steves, Rick, and Gene Openshaw. Rick Steves’ Europe 101: History and Art for the Traveler. 7th ed. Emeryville, Calif: Avalon Travel Publishing. Distributed by Publishers Group West, 2000.
- Rick Steves presents the history of art in chronological order, just as you will be teaching it. He describes not only the artwork itself, but also where it can be found.
- Steves’ book includes maps and timelines that are very helpful. Read the timelines carefully, and you will find examples of Steves’ sense of humor.
- Zaczek, Iain, editor. A Chronology of Art. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2018
- Ruskin, Ariane. The Pantheon Story of Art for Young People. New York: Pantheon Books, 1964
- This charming book is written for young people, and can be used by 9-12 students to research particular periods or artists.
- Hodge, Susie. The Children’s Interactive Story of Art. London: Carlton Kids, 2015
- Manning, Mick, and Brita Granström. The Story of Paintings — A History of Art for Children. New York: Sterling Children’s Books, 2017
- See page 83 for a discussion of the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat, the newest of my favorite artists.
- Gaff, Jackie, and Clare Oliver. 20th Century Art. Milwaukee, WI: Gareth Stevens Publishing, 2001
- This is the first of a series of six books on 20th century art for young readers. The bibliography at the back of each book gives links to art-related websites that will be useful in your teaching. For more details, see the publisher’s website: https://garethstevens.com
- Little, Stephen. isms: Understanding Art. New York: Universe, 2004.
- Duchen, Monica, and Janet Cook. Understanding Modern Art. London: Usborne Publishing, 1991.
- Carson-Dellosa Publishing Group / Mark Twain Media books: https://www.carsondellosa.com/search-catalog/?fq=brand_string-AND|Mark%20Twain%20Media
- World Civilizations and Cultures Resource Book
- Egypt and the Middle East Resource Book
- Greek and Roman Civilizations Resource Book
- Medieval Times Resource Book
- Renaissance Resource Book
- National Geographic History Magazine. Washington D.C.: National Geographic Society. Published six times annually.
- The May/June 2018 issue of this magazine is an especially rich source of material for art classes. I suspect that other issues would be as well, as would the original National Geographic magazine. I used images from National Geographic often in my studio.
- Ehresmann, Julia M., and Mervyn Levy. The Pocket Dictionary of Art Terms. Greenwich, Conn: New York Graphic Society, 1971.
- This volume has very helpful and accurate definitions.
- Mayer, Ralph, and Steven Sheehan. The HarperCollins Dictionary of Art Terms and Techniques. New York, N.Y: Harper Perennial, 1991.
- The HarperCollins Dictionary is especially good for explanations of materials and processes.
- I recommend you have copies of both this volume and the Pocket Dictionary.
For all Periods:
Prerequisite: Traditional Ideas, Art Continuum, Elements of Art
Direct Aim: To identify the six time periods (eras) in which art developed, and to recognize the characteristic changes in artistic expression
Indirect Aim: To see and understand the development of civilization and what factors bring about change in artistic expression
Point of interest: “What is/are your favorite period(s) of art? What attracts you to the works of art from that/those period(s)? Is your own artwork influenced by what you are learning?”
Materials: All Periods
- 1 reproduction to represent each period of art
- 1 large label color-coded for each period of art
- Use the Bead Bar colors as your code or choose your own colors that make sense to you.
- White copy paper to print name of period
- Arial 72-pt. font in landscape format
- Heavy colored paper for mounting
- The finished label will be 2¾” high.
- Laminating material for the labels. (see photos)
- Make labels for all six art periods now if you wish.
- Print the labels from the PDF file here if you like.
- Print the Art History Pie Chart PDF file here, in color, as big as you want.
- Print the Art History Timeline PDF file offered here if you want
- Use landscape format, one-sided
- Print, trim, line up and glue the pages together
- Best glue – ph Neutral PVA by LINECO, at www.booksbyhand.com for Product # BBHM217
Preparation: Prehistoric Art: 35,000—3,000 BCE
- Create a story that includes information pertinent to that period. Find a story to tell within the story, e.g., how the Lascaux (pronounced “Lass-kaw”) Cave Paintings were found by a group of teenagers.
- Make the large color-coded label.
- Print the period name on white paper, mount it on red heavy cover paper and laminate it.
- “There are six periods of art that explain our artistic history. To begin, we will be studying the basics of each period. There is much to learn about each one, so you might become fascinated by the history of art. You may wish to pursue this study in high school, college, and even earn advanced degrees in the subject.”
- “In order to appreciate the first period in the History of Art, which is called Prehistoric Art, we will need to look around us and imagine that everything we see here disappears. I mean everything.”
Wait for their reaction and answer any concerns they might have.
- “We are left sitting on the ground in the middle of a deciduous forest [or wherever you are geographically]. We are wearing clothing made from animal skins. We are part of a group of people who hunt for meat and gather wild berries and vegetables for food.”
- “We have a language to talk to each other, but we have not yet created a way to write it down.” This is a key point regarding this period – we have art, but the people who created it left no written records.
- “To create art we use ivory, stone and natural pigments (flowers, vegetables, soft rock, dirt) to enhance our simple life by recording our experiences and expressing our concerns.”
- “This is a reproduction of a cave painting”.
- Give the story within the story – see the following sites for information about how the Lascaux Cave Paintings were found. The cave was discovered by teenagers in September 1940. Ask the children if they have a relative who was born about that time, to give them a sense of the time period in which the cave was found.
- Present the Pie Chart and identify the section that represents Prehistoric Art
- Proceed when ready to introduce Ancient Art.
Resource: prehistory cave painting
- These sites include an excellent video, and details of the art and the history of the cave.
Ancient Art: 4000 BCE—146 CE
- Create a story that includes information pertinent to that period. Find a story to tell within the story. For example:
- Explain the importance of the ceramic vessels made by Greek potters. (See: Resources)
- Make the large labels.
- “The ancient cultures of the western civilization were all clustered in or around the Mediterranean Sea. They were close to each other and, over time, influenced one another.”
- “Many cultures developed when people discovered that seeds grew into edible plants, giving rise to agriculture. They began to farm and found ways to keep certain animals close by to be fed and protected as a source of future food. People could live together in greater numbers. They built great structures needed by their culture and for their religious beliefs.”
- “Cities developed.”
- “People created ways to write down the words they were saying.”
- “They wrote poetry and stories that are still read today. They created plays and stages for performing them. There were even ancient historians who wrote about what happened and when.”
- “The people also needed a way to count things as a way of knowing what they owned, so mathematical concepts were formed.”
- “Leaders were needed, so early forms of government developed.”
- “The people had more free time to observe nature, wonder about it, and ask questions, which led to the beginning of Science.”
- “Religious beliefs became an important part of daily living.
- “The Egyptians in Africa, the Sumerians in the near east, the Greeks and the Romans in Europe were the main civilizations that have had the greatest influence on us today. There were still others that were absorbed into these larger cultures.”
- “The Greeks created the first democracy. Their sense of beauty and order is so profound that it is the standard for what is called “Classic” even today. We still celebrate the Olympic Games that started in Greece. Greek art was so appreciated by the Romans that they made copies of Greek sculptures. Greek art was collected even by other ancient people.”
- Show the reproduction. “This is a Greek amphora with a cover. The Greeks wanted their everyday objects to be beautiful as well as functional. This container was made to store food.”
- “This necked amphora depicts the marriage procession of a Greek hero and a Greek goddess.”
- “Pieces of pottery are important because few Greek wall paintings have survived; the ceramic pots give us an indication of how paintings might have appeared.”
- “The people who made these beautiful pots were not considered artists. That title was reserved for sculptors and architects.”
- Use the Pie Chart and identify the section that represents Ancient Art. Proceed when ready to introduce Medieval Art
Preparation: Medieval Art: 200 BCE—1300 CE
- Create a story that includes information pertinent to that period. Tell the story within the story. For example: What is a gargoyle?
- Make the large labels.
- “The Medieval period began because the Roman Empire came to an end. Rome, its main city, was destroyed by the Visigoths who were called barbarians. The Romans heard the Visigoth language as nothing but ‘bar bar bar’, and so the word for the Visigoths became ‘barbarians’. Anyone was called a barbarian if they came from outside Roman control.”
- “Before the Roman Empire fell, the Roman Emperor Constantine, who was Christian, moved to Byzantium, so Byzantine Art is considered medieval.”
- “The Medieval Art period is sometimes divided into two parts. The first is called The Dark Ages, the second is called the Middle Ages.”
- “The Roman government had given its people laws that regulated everyday living. Without that structure, the people were left unprotected and had to learn other ways of surviving.”
- “Feudalism was a way for people to farm and still be protected. The feudal lord protected the people from harm for a fee that was part of the farmers’ produce. The people were called serfs.”
- “Castles were built. Knights in armor protected the lords, kings, their serfs and the castle.”
- “Christianity spread over Europe. The church had money to build great churches. They are large, beautiful, and awe-inspiring structures. They employed builders and artisans for many years.”
- “Gargoyles were figures projecting from the gutters of church roofs to direct rainwater away from the building. They were sculpted as combinations of human and animal shapes, meant to be fearsome.”
- “Monks in monasteries were responsible for creating books by hand which were decorated with intricate initial letters and beautiful paintings around the margins. Copying one Bible and decorating it could take a monk a lifetime.”
- “Latin language was used by the church along with other Roman ideas. The title Pope came from the title given to an emperor ‘Pontifex Maximus’ which means high priest.”
- “A creative surge in farming introduced new ways to increase food production. New health products were developed using herbs.”
- “More roads and bridges increased trade, so people could do more than just farming for a living, and they had hope for a better life.”
- “The church courts tried and punished those who worshiped outside its dictates.”
- “Universities were formed for education, studying classical writing by non-Christian philosophers. From their point of view, human reason was not in conflict with religious faith.”
- “New business needed greater freedom from taxes, and governments that would help them prosper. Wars and disease helped redistribute the wealth. Kings were defying the Pope.”
- “When the feudal system began to break down, the world was ready for ‘The Renaissance’.”
Extensions: for all six periods
- Make an activity using the color-coded labels which include the dates of each period. Ask the child to arrange them in chronological order.
- Make black and white copies of the labels for a higher level of difficulty.
- Make another black and white copy of the labels, and separate the dates from the eras. Have the child match eras and dates, in chronological order.
- Schedule trips to a nearby museum to review the work in its collection for the periods the children have studied. Collect postcards and larger reproductions from the collection to use making materials.
- Choose one small reproduction for each period and have the children match the period to each example. Include the dates with the name.
- Make a sorting game with all periods studied.
- Keep enlarging the number of examples used.