Christianbook.com: Your graphic design experience and fine arts background absolutely shines in Drawing on History; how did your own experiences both as a homeschooler and as an artist contribute to its layout?
Deborah Swanson: My life is about art. I knew I wanted to be an artist from the time I was in 7th grade. I also dreamed of being a teacher. God granted me both. My college education in graphic design and illustration is a huge part of who I am today. My education in art has greatly influenced the way my own kids were homeschooled. Both of my kids had learning disabilities and learned better using tactile means, so introducing art in order to study other subjects was a very natural method for me. My kids responded very well to it and so did all the many kids that wanted to do school with us.
As a graphic designer, I recognize that I am very privileged to work within my passion and want to teach my students that it is possible to do so. I believe good design is important to the way we communicate. I want to communicate to my readers/students that when God gives you a certain gifting, you need to use it in an excellent manner. Everything I design, either for myself or for a client, must be to the best of my abilities – even a high school art curriculum book.
Christianbook.com: Other art curriculums don’t go as in-depth on many of the movements you cover. You were following Beautiful Feet Books to some extent, but how important was it for you to integrate other types of art, such as African-American slave art and Japanese woodcuts?
DS: There is a huge world of amazing art out there that may not fall into a major art movement. I want my students to see all kinds of art and to understand what spurred that art on. If you only look though an art history book, which only hits on the major art movements, you’ll miss some pretty cool stuff. It was also very important to me to use art that was happening during the time periods we were looking at and to use art that I knew a high school student would find exciting.
Christianbook.com: The research questions in the book not only address the integration of history and art, but also the meaning people have attributed to art throughout time. What do you see as the primary value and importance of art, whether in individual lives, or in society at large?
DS: Art tells us a story that a history book can’t. It is a visual record of societal, political, and emotional influences, whether the artist at the time recognizes it or not. As artists, we paint from what we feel happening around us. Some art is very difficult to read in this way, but when we can look back on art is becomes easier to understand why it was done a certain way, what statement the artist was trying to make, or how the artist allowed his times to influence his art. If we only study history through a literary lens then we may miss the emotional impact of that history.
Christianbook.com: Homeschoolers love their biographies and living books, and you certainly provide many for each chapter; do you have a particular “can’t miss” favorite that you’d like to recommend?
DS: Well, I guess I don’t have a particular “can’t miss” favorite. I do love reading biographies on artists though, probably because I can relate more to them than a political figure.
Christianbook.com: You take a direct but thoughtful approach towards controversial aspects of art; you address the use of drugs in 60’s art, you encourage comparing the debt from the New Deal to the resultant hope, and while there’s obviously no nude artwork in the book or examples used, there are recommended resources (with parental warnings) that do. What are some of the benefits you’ve seen from using this approach?
DS: Our kids are faced daily with controversial issues, on which they need to make a stand. As a parent, I want to talk openly about those issues, so that they have answers. I was raised in a Christian home, but then went to a small, private, secular art school with tons of controversial issues. If I had been allowed to discuss both sides of the issues, rather than having them being taboo subjects, I may have handled those controversies better than I did. I want my own kids, and my students to be thinkers and investigators of truth. Through this approach, I have watched my own kids and many of my students tackle though issues with confidence while being open to discover and proclaim truth.
Christianbook.com: Subjects like art can often get left off the schedule in favor of more time spent on “core” subjects. Obviously a resource like Drawing on History makes integrating art history easier for the upper grades, but do you have any tips on helping moms teach art and/or art history to younger students?
DS: I am working on that book! But until that comes out, spend time looking at art from the time period you are studying. Take your kids to museums, investigate the art together, talk about how it makes you feel, talk about how you think the artist felt and what made him/her create that piece of art. The more you can look at art, copy art, and talk about art, the more you give your students the ability to develop a deeper level of thinking about life around them, past and present, and about themselves.
Christianbook.com: What advice would you give to homeschooled students looking to enter into an art-related field, and/or receive an arts-related degree?
DS: It is a great choice. You may never make a lot of money, but if you can do what you were gifted to do, it can certainly be rewarding. I suggest that you get good training in the field that you are interested in, but don’t go into deep debt doing it. Since artists tend to be under paid and under valued, you certainly don’t want to carry a large debt into your career. Look at your particular interest in art and try and match it with training and a job on the commercial side of art, which you can make a living at. For myself, I chose graphic design even though my passion is in painting. I love graphic design, but when given the time, I want to paint. Graphic design pays the bills– the painting is for myself.
"What ever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men." – Colossians 3:25
You can find out more about Deborah Swanson's graphic design business at www.studio101westdesign.com or www.studio101west.com. Information about Drawing on History can be found at www.knoodleu.com. All of these websites are designed and created by Deborah Swanson.
Photo by: Dennis Swanson,
Studio 101 West