Written by Teal Triggs
Illustrated by Daniel Frost
Wide Eyed Editions, 2015
Like all books from Wide Eyed Editions, School of Art is beautifully presented and illustrated. The cover blurb promises the reader will ‘Learn to make great art with 40 simple lessons,’ which sounds pretty good.
The lessons are presented by five ‘professors of art’ – plus a very brief and unexplained guest appearance by an extra professor. He's apparently based on the Bauhaus artist Johannes Itten, but there is nothing to help the child reader with this identification or explain his odd name, Professor Itten. (The others have names like 'Professor of Form'). The professors are slightly magical, odd figures who explain aspects of art theory to each other and seem to have no students. I guess the readers are the students, but it still looks a bit odd, having them all talking to each other and being professors yet not knowing about things like perspective. Maybe I'm being too fussy. (I’m not sure, either, whether many children will warm to adult professors as the only characters in a book.) A good many words are expended on developing the narrative scenario, and that contributes to my principal grouch with the book (we'll get to that...).
The lessons cover the nitty-gritty of art theory, such as the colour wheel and how colours work together, composition, how to use shading to convey solidity, how to show perspective – all of which is really useful stuff for young readers making their own art. Personally, I would have liked to see examples of the lessons put properly into practice, but the illustration style doesn’t really allow that. (Hmm. I'd have picked an illustration style that *did* allow it; but there you go.) There is also a long section on information design and communication – which are the author’s particular area of expertise. It doesn’t really fit very well alongside the previous very practical lessons, though. Good advice such as ‘You need to have an idea of who your audience is and then think about the best way of communicating with them’ doesn’t mean a lot to a child with no concept of audience, let alone experience of information design. And it's a bit of a 'do as I say and not as I do' thing, too, because I wasn't actually very sure of who the audience for the book was, and when I made a guess, I didn't think it had found the best way of communicating with them.
|A great deal of intimidating text - if you are a new reader|
The text is suitable for a much older age group than either the activities or the conceit of the slightly wacky professors. A child who is old enough to be able to read the text easily is likely to find the professors patronizing, but a child who likes the professors and activities might very well struggle with the language in which it is all presented. If the book had a third of the words, it would be a lot better.
|Bit of a design glitch - black text on a dark green |
For a child with a passion for art and an engaged grown-up to help them through the text, this might be a welcome gift.And indeed with adult assistance, a child could learn a lot from it. But I still think it's odd. It's odd, too, that the author/publisher are promoting the idea that it's good to get children to think about art college. Well, yes. But at age 9? Maybe not. Let's go with the exciting experimentation that the book promotes at the end and leave thinking about art college for later years.
Now, I'm willing to acknowledge that I seem to be out of kilter with the rest of the world in my view of this book; it seems to be getting rave reviews everywhere else. It might win prizes and stuff. But I do feel it needs an attendant adult for children to get the most out of it.
Verdict: Like one of those books with split pages you can flip over independently to make up a monsterised animal, it is neither one thing nor another
Ideal reader: a keen young artist who was also a gifted reader ahead of their years. (I have no problem with books for advanced readers, but I do think they should make that requirement clear, to avoid disappointment.)
The legally gumph: I was sent a review copy of this book but not paid to review it; all opinions are my own and as likely to be flawed as anyone else's.