Before They Were Famous: How Seven Artists Got Their Start

Before They Were Famous: How Seven Artists Got Their Start

By: Bob Raczka
Publisher: Millbrook Press
Publication Date: October 2010
ISBN: 978-0761360773
Reviewed by: Deb Fowler
Review Date: September 2010

Perhaps you’ve looked at a painting in a museum or in the pages of a book and wondered what kind of art the artist produced as a child. Bob Raczka spotted an interesting painting in a book painted by an eight-year-old. He was astonished to find out the artist was none other than Pablo Picasso and he became interested in finding other paintings by famous artists that were executed when they were children. Admittedly, he had his work cut out for him, claiming it “wasn’t easy,” but he succeeded in finding the childhood artwork of several famous artists. Each of the artists portrayed in this book, six men and one woman, are introduced to the reader and then we are shown two youthful attempts of their work and then an example of their life’s work. Just take a brief look at vignettes from the book about these artists and see what you think...

* Albrecht Durer

Albrecht was one of eighteen children who was said to have begun drawing at the age of three. His fabulous talent became evident at a young age, but even though he was apprenticed to his father as a goldsmith, he learned some valuable skills such as a “drawing technique called silverpoint.” His father, realizing his talent, reluctantly released him to artist Michael Wolgemut when he was fifteen. Albrecht went on to “become one of the greatest artists of his time.”

* Michelangelo Buonarroti

Michelangelo was so NOT into school that he often skipped it “so he could practice drawing famous works of art.” When he was young, his mother was too ill to take care of him so his father sent him to live with stone cutters. His father “thought that trades like painting and sculpting were beneath his family” and therefore he learned to read and write. A friend, Francesco, “showed his drawings to Master Ghirlandaio, who asked him to be his apprentice. The world now knows him by his first name.

* Artemisia Gentileschi

In Aretemisia’s day girls “were not allowed to be painters.” She was the oldest and only girl in a family of four siblings. Her father was an artist and the only way she would be able to become a painter was to become an apprentice to her father. She worked diligently and soon her father “bragged she had no equal.” Perhaps in her time he was correct. Her talent was phenomenal and she was even asked to paint for the Medici family.

* John singer-Sargent

John was a very talented, precocious child who was multilingual, very artistic, and could play the piano and mandolin. Both of his parents were artistic in their own right and encouraged him. When he drew he “always drew from observation, rather than from his imagination.” One of his most celebrated and beloved paintings took him two years to complete. Eventually John became “one of the most celebrated portrait painters of his day.”

* Paul Klee

Paul was the type of youngster who was so into drawing that when he was in school he “liked to draw in his schoolbooks.” His grandmother encouraged his work and “even read fairy tales to jump-start his imagination.” Paul would draw with his left hand and write with his right. He was also a very talented musician and his father, a music teacher, taught him to play the violin. “Paul had to decide between music and art.” We’re all glad he chose art!

* Pablo Picasso

It’s a rare thing to find a boy who “often chose to draw instead of playing with his friends.” He was another child whose mother claimed that he was very, very young when he began to draw. Pablo’s father was an art teacher and museum curator, but eventually he overtook his father and became a better artist. His idea of fun was to skip school and visit museums. As a young man he headed for Paris where “he changed the course of modern art.”

* Salvador Dalí

Salvador was definitely spoiled by his parents. When he was ten-years-old “his father let him turn their laundry room into a painting studio.” He would even do things like scratch up a balcony table to “make pictures of swans and ducks.” Salvador’s parents were not artistic, but they encouraged his talent. A major influence in his life was when his father bought him a “complete set of Gowan’s art books.” They did something right because when we think of Salvador, we think of “the word surrealism.”

Quill says: An excellent book to encourage a love of art.

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