Art, far from a stuffy, straightforward school subject, is part of your child’s everyday life, whether he is left- or right-brained, or introverted or extroverted. "Art is a way of making a statement about the world, and expressing profound emotion,” writes author Antony Mason, who specializes in art books for young readers.
But, art can also say something about your child's personality, according to psychology professors at University College London. They explored the connection between art and personality and found that those who like neoclassical paintings and realistic landscapes tend to be less open to new experiences than those drawn to the abstract expressionist brushstrokes of Jackson Pollock. They also discovered that males prefer Renaissance artists, like Leonardo Da Vinci, while females are drawn to impressionism, like the light-infused, pastel works of Claude Monet.
While art curriculums in schools are among the first to be cut when a budget is tight, art remains a window into both natural and magical worlds. Art helps children understand other subjects much more clearly -- from math to geography, says Andrea Mulder-Slater, the co-founder of KinderArt, a website of art lesson plans and resources. Paintings and sculptures introduce kids to the human condition in a visual way, teaches them to respect other ways of thinking and working, and helps them communicate ideas in new ways, she says.
Peruse art's primary movements and artists below – and the personality traits associated with them. If your child dabbles with paints or scribbles with markers, chances are she may be responsive to a particular style. Some of the information below was gathered from the BBC's Art and Personality experiment, a psychology study that collected more than 100,000 survey results. Because art is malleable, these connections between painters and personalities should be interpreted loosely, and serve as an introduction to the vast world of art.
If your child likes the classical figures of the Renaissance, from the anatomically perfect and proportional bodies of Michelangelo (like those featured on the Sistine Chapel ceiling) to the romantic, feminine figures of Botticelli (see La Primavera), she may be idealistic, passionate about science, or comfortable with tradition. She may prefer to do things by-the-book – but does it well – and pays attention to detail and elements like perspective, depth, and symmetry. Related traits: conscientious, orderly, disciplined.
Impressionists, such as Renoir and Degas, captured the fleeting moment of the present. If your child loves being social, under the sun, or engaged in nature, she may prefer the Impressionist’s rapid brushstrokes and soft colors. Renoir’s La Moulin de la Galette, for example, reflects her cheerful mood and responsiveness to movement and light. Impressionists “were realists, but they were not interested in grim reality,” writes Mason. Your child likely views life through her own, often rose-tinted lens. Related traits: worldly, spontaneous, opinionated.
Some Postimpressionist artists exist outside of the genre because their styles were so unique, like Van Gogh, Cezanne, and Picasso. Van Gogh used thick, swirling brushstrokes and vivid colors. If your child is drawn to Van Gogh's recognizable style, he may have a strong sense of self and particular interests. Cezanne, a painter of the outdoors, broke up his canvases into blocks of colors and shapes, so many of his works look unfinished. Likewise, Picasso, a Cubist, divided his paintings into flat, rectangular surfaces, which illustrated objects from different angles (see his Portrait of Ambroise Vollard). If your child likes this "fragmented" art, she may be analytical, comfortable with abstract ideas, and able to identify (or control) her emotions. Related traits: methodical, emotionally intelligent, exploratory.
The Surrealists, such as Dali and Magritte, were wacky and nonsensical: think elephants on stilts and melting clocks in eerie landscapes. In Surrealism, “the subconscious mind – not rational thought – held the key to the truth about the real world,” writes Mason. If your child prefers these dreamscapes, or the absurd artworks by the Dadaists – namely Duchamp’s famous urinal, Fountain – he has a vivid imagination, an understanding of others’ ideas and inner thoughts, and an ability to identify subtext in art, media, and culture. Related traits: intuitive, introspective, daring.
Abstract expressionists like Pollock and Rothko moved far from nonrepresentational art: Pollock spattered paint on a large canvas, creating tails and blobs of paint that directly expressed the emotions he felt, and also showed the actual process of art: a technique called action painting. Rothko is known for his color fields – like Untitled (Orange and Yellow) – to which viewers respond based on the way the colors and shapes interact with each other. Your child may be drawn to the mental energy generated by both works: the sudden strokes of Pollock or the quiet, spiritual elements embedded in Rothko’s paintings. Related traits: observant, introverted, impulsive.
Islamic art is ornate, lush, and often embellished with gold. It is marked with an "arabesque" design, composed of repeating elements, like geometric patterns, floral designs, and calligraphy. Islamic art focuses on designs rather than figures, which symbolizes the infinite nature of Allah, the creator of the universe – although the art pertains to Islamic culture, not just religion. If your child likes these ornamental patterns, she has a liking for intricate and opulent décor, and probably envisions stories and ideas vividly in her mind. Related traits: conceptual, elaborate, abstract.
Japanese woodblock prints, or Ukiyo-e art, feature scenes of Japanese society, history, theater, and natural landscapes (check out Hiroshige’s 36 Views of Mount Fuji). These “pictures of the floating world” fuse traditional yet exotic iconography with dynamic, off-center compositions and colorful palettes. Your child may be attracted to the creative process of woodblock printing, or the simplicity and precision of Japanese art, which reflects a high intellectualism and maturity. Related traits: minimal, exact, sensible.
Of course, there are many other artistic styles which your child may identify with. A young art buff can discover more about art with books like Julie Appel’s Touch the Art Series and Julie Merberg and Suzanne Bober’s Mini Masters board books, while your middle schooler or teen can check out Antony Mason’s A History of Western Art.