Children’s School students study art from the masters


An upcoming exhibition at La Jolla’s Children’s School marks the end of a program that focuses students’ learning through the works of some of the greatest artists of all time.

For six weeks, every classroom at the Children’s School studied a different artist. The children in each classroom would study the artist’s style and attempt to duplicate it in their own work, but the teaching went far beyond art. The program integrated other subjects by teaching children about the time and place in which the artist was working, the cultural and social conditions that inspired them, and the math and science behind the physical creation of their works.

“Art is so important,” said Julie Lee, the school’s director of admissions and coordinator of the Great Artists program. “Children who have good art experience early in life do much better in math and science later in life.”

The Great Artists program began seven years ago in one of the school’s pre-kindergarten classrooms. Today it has expanded to include every classroom in the school, from toddlers to preschool up to sixth grade. In this year’s program, the toddlers studied Gyotaku, the Japanese art of fish printing. One preschool class studied Pablo Picasso, and another focused on Annie Leibovitz. The pre-kindergarteners studied Jacob Lawrence and Vincent Van Gogh, kindergarteners learned about Andy Warhol and Frank Lloyd Wright, first graders studied Piet Mondrian, second graders studied Fred Makubuy, third graders focused on Robert Wyland, fourth graders studied Jan Vermeer, and fifth and sixth graders studied the art of animation.

The students examined and discussed each artist’s work before attempting to emulate their styles. The children’s artwork will be on display at the school’s Great Artists Grande Finale Exhibition on Thursday, March 29 from 6 to 8 p.m. The event is open to the public. It has garnered such community interest in recent years, a pre-exhibition has been scheduled for 5 p.m. for educators from other schools around San Diego.

“We found we had so many people from other schools coming and looking around and asking questions,” Lee said.

The exhibition highlights the artistic results of a curriculum that incorporated every aspect of the children’s learning for the last six weeks, including social studies, math, science and language arts.

“The children are not only learning about the artist’s style, they’re learning about their country and culture, about the time period and what the world was like at the time the artist was working,” Lee said.

In addition to learning about the visual aspects of art from a painter such as Andy Warhol, the students also delved into the messages behind the work and the artist’s possible motivations.

“They begin by looking at the piece, talking about what was in his mind and what was happening in the world at the time,” Lee said. “One preschool class studied Picasso. They studied the Blue period, so they know how he was feeling and how that was reflected in his work. They talked about the Rose period, and how that was a better time in his life. Then they talked about times in their own lives when they felt sad, and times in their lives when they felt better.”

The students also got quite technical when it came time to try and create artwork in the style of their assigned artist. The preschool class studying Annie Leibovitz took their own photos and experimented with a wide variety of photographic media, including polaroid, digital, 35 millimeter, black-and-white and color film.

“They’ve even done solar graphics, which is where the sun develops the work,” Lee said. “They’ve really been studying perspective, bird’s-eye views and worm’s-eye views, studying light and learning about shadows, which is a great example of how we incorporate the science aspect.”

In every classroom, the students read and write extensively about their assigned artist, which is where the language arts portion of the curriculum comes into play. Other aspects of the curriculum included field trips and cultural education. One second-grade class assigned to the African artist Fred Makubuy was paid a visit by African drummers and dancers. The group studying Robert Wyland took their sketch books to Birch Acquarium to see Wyland’s ocean subjects in person.

“One class studied an artist from Harlem, and these kids here in La Jolla may not know anything about Harlem,” Lee said. “They learned a lot about New York, and talked about the artist and the people there. What is his message? What is their message?”

Lee said the multi-faceted program provided all kids, even those without a natural artistic side, an opportunity to become inspired.

The Children’s School is at 2225 Torrey Pines Lane. For more information visit