Dutch artist Piet Mondrian once said “The position of the artist is humble. He is essentially a channel.” The artist depicts the world as they see it, putting all of their influences and emotions into every piece. This means that art serves as a mirror, reflecting the emotions, values, and events that mark the artist’s life — the good, the bad, and the revolutionary.
As your child enters their teenage years they may find a stronger connection and understanding of artwork with more complex themes. You can help them realise that art is all around us. From postcards to pop-culture references, people are exposed to some of the greatest pieces from the world’s greatest artists from a young age and learning about influential works can open a whole new world of art appreciation for your child.
Here are 13 examples of popular artworks for your child to explore.
- Starry Night, Vincent van Gough
Starry night is probably one of Van Gough’s most famous works. In fact, there’s a good chance that your child has probably already seen it, either in books, in a movie, or even on a t-shirt. Starry Night was painted while van Gough was hospitalized and struggling with his mental, and it can be seen in the darker, duller colors of this painting as compared to his other works. But that might just be what makes it so popular. The swirling almost abstract vision of the night sky is highlighted by broad brushstrokes to create a mesmerizing visual.
- The Marilyn Diptych – Andy Warhol
Your child may not have seen the Marilyn Diptych, but they will definitely recognize the style — it’s referenced and parodied across pop culture! The Marylin Diptych is a silkscreen painting created by pop artist Andy Warhol and is made up of two canvases that feature the image of actress Marilyn Monroe repeated 50 times. The canvases are opposites, one a mix of vibrant colors and the others in pure black and white. The painting became one of the artist’s most well-known works of the actress, and one of the most iconic works of the pop art movement.
- The Persistence of Memory – Salvador Dali
Dali is famous for being an eccentric, and cut quite an impressive figure, from his manners to his mustache. His big personality certainly shines through in his work, as he is one of the most famous painters of the surrealist movement. Dali’s The Persistence of Memory is easily one of his most notable works and he creates a fluid dreamscape where even time ceases to exist. This work is a great introduction to surrealism, and your child will have a blast noticing more fantastic details on each viewing.
- The Great Wave off Kanagawa – Hokusai
This woodblock print is an iconic piece out of Japan — your child may have seen it in movies, on posters, or even restaurants. It’s a powerful image of a wave about to engulf some fishing boats, with mount Fuji hiding in the background. The work was printed between 1829 and 1832 and was part of Hokusai’s series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji. The print can be found in museums around the world has become synonymous with Japanese culture and aesthetics.
- Shakuntala — Looks of Love – Raja Ravi Varma
Raja Ravi Varma is one of India’s seminal painters, known for breathing life into both scenes depicting the common man, and scenes from religion and mythology. Shakuntala — Looks of Love is one such work, depicting a scene from the life of Shakuntala. Here, she pretends to remove a thorn from her foot but is secretly looking about for her husband, Dushyanta. Her friends have caught on, and are teasing her. Works like Shakuntala are a great way to bring traditional stories and myths alive in your child’s mind.
- Tamil Girl with Her Parrots – S Elayaraja
S Elayaraja is known for his photorealistic portraits that depict everyday life in Dravidian communities. Tamil Girl with Her Parrots is one of the most well-known examples. The painting draws the viewer in with its use of light, color, and detail. The simplicity and familiarity of the subject make it a great way to introduce your child to contemporary Indian art.
- David – Michelangelo
Michelangelo’s David is considered by many to be the world’s greatest sculpture and is a great jumping-off point for introducing your child to sculpting as an art form. The statue, depicting the titular character from the story of David and Goliath, was sculpted from a single block of marble. In its perfection, the David has become a symbol of the renaissance period of art history.
- Krishna (Spring in Kulu) – Nicholas Roerich
Roerich was a Russian artist with the heart of an explorer — his travels took him all over Asia, including through India. His works are a great way for your child to experience the beauty of nature and gain an appreciation of global culture. Many of Roerich’s paintings showcase scenes from his travels and blend mythology and spiritualism with the views that stretched in front of him. Roerich’s masterful use of light and color makes his paintings appear to be backlit, shining with an almost ethereal glow that captures the imagination.
- Guernica, Pablo Picasso
Picasso’s works are famous for their unique style, and are a quintessential example of the Cubism movement. He’s famous for saying “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” However, there is nothing childish about Guernica, an enormous mural-sized painting that Picasso unveiled at the Paris World’s Fair in 1937. This was just before the start of World War II, and General Fransico Franco was attempting to gain control of the Spanish government. That year, Adolf Hitler, with Franco’s approval, dropped bombs on the defenceless village of Guernica as part of a training exercise. Picasso, a Spanish native living in France, used the mural as a way to protest a horrific act of war that took place in his home country. The mural shows the pain of both the people of Guernica and the artist himself upon hearing of this horrible event.
- The Ambassadors, Hans Holbien the Younger
At first glance, The Ambassadors seems like a normal painting, depicting two men standing in a typical pose. But on the floor the between is what appears to be, at first glance, an ugly smear of paint. However, when looked at from the correct angle, the smear transforms into a grinning skull. Though the skull is a show of marvelous skill, Holbien wasn’t just showing off by adding it into the work. The optical illusion was meant to catch the eye, sure, but it also served as a memento mori — a reminder of death. Memento mori was a popular practice in renaissance artwork as a reminder that all men, no matter how worldly or prominent, are mortal in the end. Basically it was a way to remind the wealthy patrons of these works to stay humble!
- New Clouds, Nandalal Bose
Nandalal Bose was an artist of the Bengal School of Art, or the Bengal School, which flourished during the Early 20th Century. In much of the 18th and 19th century, Company Paintings that focused on flora, fauna, and the ‘exotic’ Indian people, were the primary artworks coming out of India. They catered mostly to British Collectors. The Bengal School was an attempt at rediscovering the Indian identity in art, through traditional techniques and subjects that would not have interested the British. Bose’s New Cloud is one of the premier examples of this school, depicting a simple scene of village girls walking through a forest. Bose’s focus on village life made his works very popular among people in rural areas.
- The Two Fridas, Frida Kahlo
Frida Khalo’s life was defined by pain, both physical and emotional — and this pain often translated onto the canvas. Despite her vibrant and colorful style, Kahlo’s paintings often included darker themes and elements of body horror. Her piece, The Two Fridas is a perfect example of this. Created shortly after her separation from her husband, Diego Rivera, the painting shows two self portraits, one in traditional wear and the other dressed in more modern attire. The two Fridas hold hands, and have their hearts on display — literally. But while the modern Frida’s heart is whole, her counterpart’s is cut open. She later admitted that the painting was a reflection of the depression and loneliness she faced after the divorce. Kahlo’s work is a great example of how darker themes can contrast with bright colors to create a strong impact on the viewer.
- Migrant Mother, Dorathea Lange
Migrant Mother is one of the most well known photographs from the American Great Depression. It is one of the hundreds of thousands that were clicked by photographer Dorothea Lange at the time. The Great Depression was a time of national economic collapse, when many families were thrown into extreme poverty, and struggled to find even part time work to survive. In a country like America, which had been only recently prospering, it devastated the population. The Migrant Mother showcases the weary face of a farmhand and her two children. It, along with Lange’s other portraits, helped humanize the struggles faced by the common American, and became a symbol of courage and perseverance in tough times.