Jan Greenberg brings contemporary art to children through books | AspenTimes.com

Jan Greenberg brings contemporary art to children through books

If You Go…

What: Conversation with Jan and Ronnie Greenberg, moderated by Amy Cappellazzo

Where: Schermer Meeting Hall, Anderson Ranch Arts Center, Snowmass Village

When: Wednesday, July 19, 12:30 p.m.

How much: Free, registration required

More info: Register at http://www.andersonranch.org; The Greenbergs will also be honored with Anderson Ranch’s Service to the Arts Award on Thursday at the Ranch’s annual Recognition Dinner at the Hotel Jerome.

Author Jan Greenberg has been getting kids excited about contemporary art for more than 25 years.

Since her 1991 book "The Painter's Eye," co-written with Sandra Jordan, Greenberg has served as an unofficial ambassador to children and young adults on behalf of the art world. Her award-winning oeuvre includes books for young people on Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock, on the ceramicist George Ohr and the painter Chuck Close.

The part-time Aspenite has written more than 20 titles in all, and has also looked beyond visual art, to architecture and dance.

"We're storytellers trying to tell a story, and we want to grab the kid by the hand and lead him or her to the end of the book," Greenberg explained. "So we want it to be entertaining and we hope it is inspiring."

Greenberg and her husband, Ronald – who founded the Greenberg Gallery in St. Louis – will be honored with Anderson Ranch Arts Center's Service to the Arts Award on Thursday at the Ranch's annual Recognition Dinner at the Hotel Jerome. The couple will discuss their relationships with art on Wednesday afternoon at the Ranch, in a free public presentation, moderated by Amy Cappellazzo of Sotheby's.

This fall, Greenberg is publishing a new book about photographer Cindy Sherman. The groundbreaking portraitist, Greenberg found through her research, began her journey as an artist by playing dress-up as a child. The artist's love of costume and character helped her discover her distinct conceptual self-portrait style. That kind of connection between childhood play and adult art practice, Greenberg said, was a perfect entry into the book for kids, titled "Meet Cindy Sherman: Artist, Photographer, Chameleon."

"I thought it would be an interesting for kids to see how her childhood affected the art as an adult," Greenberg said.

She has also included opinions and reactions from children about Sherman's work.

Teaching kids about art and art history is a vital mission, Greenberg said, especially with the reduction of art programs in American schools.

"For me, the importance of art education is not just about creating, which is very important," she said. "Also it's about teaching young people to interpret and learn to analyze critically, to improve critical thinking."

Giving kids the ability to talk and write about art – or music or other forms of expression – also improves self-confidence, she argued.

Greenberg, with Jordan, has calibrated the tone and style of her books based on the audience and grade level she wants to reach. Her books about Warhol ("Andy Warhol: Prince of Pop") and Van Gogh ("Vincent Van Gogh: Portrait of an Artist") are traditional biographical narratives aimed at an older, middle-school-aged audience. While her Jackson Pollock book ("Action Jackson") is a picture book for kids as young as six – it follows Pollock through the breakthrough summer of 1950, when he laid a canvas on the floor and began his most significant works.

Greenberg and her husband have been visiting Aspen for more than two decades. The summer stays, she said, began as two-week jaunts. But they soon evolved into summer-long residencies, during which Greenberg wrote and the couple immersed itself in the cultural life of Aspen, becoming familiar faces around local galleries, the Aspen Music Festival, Anderson Ranch and the Aspen Institute.

She has written novels and poetry, but found her calling in children's art books as she got to know the art world intimately through Ronald's gallery and their private collection. The stories of artists' lives, and the joys of art appreciation, she realized, hadn't been told in children's books.

"There was a gap on the bookshelf in books about artists," Greenberg said.

She changed that.

atravers@aspentimes.com