If da Vinci Painted a Dinosaur
Da Vinci Painted a Dinosaur is a clever introduction to art history for very young children. The Newbolds’ previous title was If Picasso Painted a Snowman. So this husband and wife team have picked a lane and are zooming down it. Besides the main body of the book, they’ve added back matter to educate young artists and young art history buffs—in case there is such a thing. And why not?
We start out with an invitation; a bit of instruction on how to draw a dinosaur: You draw an oval, add triangles and a spikey tale. Simple diagrams are brought to us via a friendly cartoon character whose ID one can’t quite make out.
It’s a clever set up: Now we see how artists like da Vinci, Degas, Mary Cassatt, Frida Kahlo, Edvard Munch, Andy Warhol, Mark Rothko, and many others might confront the challenge to draw a dinosaur. So Greg Newbold goes where few have dared, giving us, in varied styles, the dinosaur-take of the greats.
It’s a stunning, original idea. It’s fun. It’s unexpected, and ambitious, but if you sense there is a “but” coming, you’re right. There’s a problem. Some of the renderings are simply ugly. In many cases, the presence of our cartoon guide destroys the graphics of these greats.
While many of the pages are quite lovely, or humorous, as in da Vinci’s classic Vitruvian Man, Cassius Coolidge’s dino card game, Katsushika Hokusai’s wave, Grandma Moses’ green valley, Frida Kahlo’s dino portrait, or Henri Matisse’s cut-outs. But some pages, unfortunately are simply creepy, such as the Degas ballerinas, Cassatt’s garden, Franz Marc’s abstract, and Munch’s cry. We finish with a da Vinci portrait which is a dino Mona Lisa—Dino Lisa replete with dino paws. One wishes it could be erased from memory.
In the end, it’s hard to tell if this book will turn young visually inclined children off or on.
What does work wonderfully well is the biographical info on the participating artist, a very handy guide, the explanation of the types of dinosaurs included, and a lovely encouraging note from Greg Newbold.
Like art, in the end, the take away is in the eye of the beholder.