5 Stories Of Famous Artists As Kids

Written by Katie Hintz-Zambrano
2:30 pm

Photo by Guillermo Kahlo

Looking for some inspiring stories for your children—and yourself? We just stumbled upon the Kid Legends series and we’re hooked. Written by David Sabler, the 4-book collection includes the titles Kid Presidents: True Tales of Childhood from America’s Presidents, Kid Athletes: True Tales of Childhood from Sports Legends, Kid Authors: True Tales of Childhood from Famous Writers, and—our personal favorite—Kid Artists: True Tales of Childhood from Creative Legends.

Each tome is chock-full of interesting facts about famous folks who have overcome odds to go onto have successful careers in a variety of fields. Ideal for the 4-and-up set, you’re certainly sure to find a tale that resonates with your kiddo (and yourself!).

To prove our point, we’ve summarized five tales of famous artists as kids (from Kid Artists), below. For a dozen more such stories (including intriguing bios on Vincent Van Goh, Yoko Ono, Jackson Pollock, and Dr. Seuss), be sure to scoop up the entire book, as well as its sister titles.

Frida Kahlo (1907-1954): Both Frida and her father, Guillermo, had a lot in common. When Guillermo was a child, he suffered brain damage from an accident and had epileptic seizures throughout his life, yet went on to become one of Mexico City’s most successful photographers (see his portrait of Frida, above). Likewise, when Frida was 6, a doctor diagnosed her with polio. While her doctors feared she might never walk again, her father encouraged her to enroll in sports (something frowned upon for girls in Mexico at that time). She went on to play soccer, boxing, skating, wrestling, and became a champion swimmer. The two would also paint together and study nature. She once said, “My childhood was marvelous because, although my father was a sick man, he was an immense example to me of tenderness, of work, and, above all, of understanding my problems.”

Georgia O’Keefe (1887-1986): A rebel born in rural Wisconsin, O’Keefe once remarked “From the time I was small, I was always doing things people don’t do. If my sisters wore their hair braided, I wouldn’t wear mine braided. If they wore ribbons, I wouldn’t.” Her rebellious streak continued at school, and at age 9 she started attending art classes. By age 12, she knew she wanted to be an artist for life. She was also art editor of the high school year book, and when she graduated in 1905, her classmates wrote the following poem about her: A girl who would be different in habit, style, and dress. A girl who doesn’t give a cent for men—and boys still less. O is for O’Keefe; an artist divine. Her paintings are perfect and her drawings are fine.

Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988): Raised in Brooklyn with two young sisters, Basquiat began drawing at age 3, using paper brought home from his father, who worked at an accounting firm. His first subjects were cartoon characters like Fred Flintstone and Bullwinkle. His mother, who once worked as a clothing designer, taught him how to draw scenes from the Bible onto paper napkins and took him to museums all over New York City. By age 6, he was enrolled as a junior member of the Brooklyn Museum of Art. His favorite painting was Guernica by Picasso. He was known as an artist in school and wore several pencils stuck in his hair. However, he never won a best artist contest. “I remember losing to a guy who did a perfect Spider-Man,” he recalled. When he was 7, he was hit by a car while playing ball in the street, breaking his arm and having to have his spleen removed. While recovering in the hospital for a month, his mother gave him a medical textbook, Gray’s Anatomy, which would enter into his art inspiration for years to come.

Andy Warhol (1928-1987): Andy Warhol was the son of Eastern European immigrants Andrei and Julia, who settled in Pittsburgh. Andrei worked in construction and Julia worked at home and was a creative, sometimes making and selling flower sculptures out of soup cans to earn extra money. The family was poor and spoke a mixture of Ukrainian and Hungarian, which lead to a language barrier between Andy and other children. Julia taught her painfully shy son about creating art (including drawing portraits of the family cat) and saved up enough money from doing housework to buy Andy his first projector, so he could watch movies and cartoons. Although Andrei died when Andy was 13, he had secretly saved up enough money to send Andy to college at the Carnegie Institute of Technology to study pictorial design.

Yoko Ono (1933- ): Yoko was born into a prominent wealthy family and as a child had 30 servants attending to her needs. When she was 4, her overbearing mother enrolled her in the most prestigious girls’ school in Japan, which was famous for its music program. Her mother continued to teach Yoko music and painting, often completing her assignments for her. When war between the U.S. and Japan broke out, her family hid in their underground bunker and later fled to a small farming village where they had to beg for food. When the war ended, Yoko went back to her private arts school a changed person. Her experience would later inform her performance art and pacifism.

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