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Thursday, November 29, 2018

Picture Study

Painting by Corot
You should have several works by the same artist. is a great resource, in my humble opinion.

Put one of the works up for display- on your computer screen, on the refrigerator, in a frame, on an easel, clothespinned to string on the wall or a curtain, taped to the front door or  pinned to a bulletin board- it's not that important.  Maybe your print is in a book you own.  Stand the book up on a small display easel.  They make some for plates that would work, depending on your booksize.  Other sources listed below.

After the picture has been out where the kids can see it for a few days, set aside some time where they have five minutes or less to look at it, then turn it around so they cannot see it and ask them to describe the picture back to you, or to each other if you have a class.

If you like, you can tell them the name of the artist and the name of the painting.  Sometimes you can wait to tell them the name and ask what they would call that painting.  You can ask a couple other questions sometimes, but it is not necessary every time.  You might ask if they can tell what time of day it is, or who the people are and what they are doing, or what the artist wanted people to think about.  Don't over do this.  The primary object here is for the children to see the work, look at it, describe it.   The next week you could have them try to draw a sort of map of the painting - not a duplication, a sort of sketch that just roughs in where objects are in relationship to each other. You could use ovals for humans, rectangles for trees and boats, - it is not an art project, it's a project to strengthen the image of the picture in the child's own mind's eye. 
Mason says what we want for the children is for them to be able to have ''clear mental pictures' and this is true in many areas.  This is part of what enables them to narrate well, to write well, to communicate clearly.

Q. But I have this great free curriculum that teaches about lines, perspective, schools of art, etc.

Charlotte Mason: There is no talk about schools of painting, little about style; consideration of these matters comes in later life, but the first and most important thing is to know the pictures themselves. As in a worthy book we leave the author to tell his own tale, so do we trust a picture to tell its tale through the medium the artist gave it. In the region of art as else -- where we shut out the middleman.

As mentioned elsewhere here, this sort of teaching definitely does come later, about ages 13 and up.  See the picture talk example in volume 3, for one model of how it would be done.  But we don't introduce ways to take things apart and examine and label the pieces and parts before there is a solid background of taking things as a whole, developing a relationship with, a fondness for (an affinity) the thing as a whole, whether we are discussing poetry, pictures, botany or beetles.

Q. But I want to read a good biography of the artist.

You can. More often, Mason had the teacher learn a few key points about the artist's life and share those briefly with the children when they were introduced to the first picture: 

 "A friendly picture- dealer supplies us with half a dozen beautiful little reproductions of the work of some single artist, term by term. After a short story of the artist’s life and a few sympathetic words about his trees or his skies, his river-paths or his figures, the little pictures are studied one at a time; that is, children learn, not merely to see a picture but to look at it, taking in every detail. Then the picture is turned over and the children tell what they have seen, — a dog driving a flock of sheep along a road but nobody with the dog. Ah, there is a boy lying down by the stream drinking. It is morning as you can see by the light so the sheep are being driven to pasture, and so on; nothing is left out, the discarded plough, the crooked birch, the clouds beautiful in form and threatening rain, there is enough for half an hour’s talk and memory in this little reproduction of a great picture and the children will know it wherever they see it, whether a signed proof, a copy in oils, or the original itself in one of our galleries." 

Here is a direct example of the type of biographical information her teachers would give the students on first studying the artist's work: "Tell the children a little about the life of Millet (giving them one or two pictures to look at meanwhile); give only a brief sketch, so that they will feel that he is not a stranger to them. Just talk to them a little about his early childhood, how he worked in the fields; how he had two great books––the Book of Nature and the Bible, from which he drew much inspiration; how later on he went to Paris and studied the pictures of great artists, Michael Angelo among them." vol 3 pg 354

It helps to understand the principles behind the practice.  This is not an academic subject on which a test could be administered. This is not about analyzing the works or knowing the right names for the techniques and styles- some of this the children will pick up on as you go along, and some will be addressed more specifically later.  The first and most important thing is to know the pictures themselves.  It is the pictures that communicate what the artist wanted to communicate:

""But we begin now to understand that art is not to be approached by such a macadamised road, It is of the spirit, and in ways of the spirit must we make our attempt. We recognise that the power of appreciating art and of producing to some extent an interpretation of what one sees is as universal as intelligence, imagination, nay, speech, the power of producing words. But there must be knowledge and, in the first place, not the technical knowledge of how to produce, but some reverent knowledge of what has been produced; that is, children should learn pictures, line by line, group by group, by reading, not books, but pictures themselves." 

The children are reading, NOT BOOKS, but the pictures themselves.

 "Every painter, every composer, worth the name, has a few master ideas, which he works out, not in a single piece, but here a little and there a little, in a series of studies.... And here is a sound foundation for art- education, which should perhaps, for most of us, consist rather in drawing out the power to appreciate than the power to produce."

Q. A few master ideas?  What does that even mean- some of these pictures are just farmers and trees.

The commonplace made beautiful is a master-idea. Mason speaks of children who will perhaps get to visit an art gallery or some great home where true art is exhibited on the walls, and " life itself is illustrated for them at many points. For it is true as Browning told us, — For, don’t you mark, we’re made so that we love First when we see them painted, things we have passed Perhaps a hundred times nor cared to see.” Here is an example of how beautiful and familiar things give quite new delight when they are pictured." She also notes:

Q. That's all?

 A. That's it.  Really.  That is the basic practice of picture study- one by one, over time, look at a series of pictures by the same artist (one at any given lesson), turn it over, describe it back.  Learn the name of the name of the artist. 

Start with the pictures. Look at them carefully.  Describe them without looking.  If you don't do this first, none of the other things will be starting from the right foundation.  Don't add anything else until you have spent some time just looking at the pictures in the manner described above.

After being able to describe them, you can add an occasional time period where you sketch them from memory.  You can also play with 'tableaux,' setting up a scene (something like charades, of different paintings.  This is a fun activity in a co-op.  Each family can pick a painting to represent to the group.

Digging deeper:

If you want to make your own selections:

Choose your artist.  You might want an artist from a particular cultural background.  You might want to choose from the artists who worked during the time period you are studying for history. 

Once you have a list of artists to choose from, apply these principles to the artworks and narrow your selection to abut six works by a single artist.

You need six works by the same artist.  You don't have to be ridiculously rigid about that number. If you want to do 9 or can only find 4 or 5, that's also okay.  You don't the kids to get sick of that artist before you move on and you do need enough for them to get a sense of their style. 

In selecting our pictures, we should keep these things in mind (these are either quotes from or adapted from Charlotte Mason's works):

~The pictures should have a refining, elevating influence.

-They should express great ideas, and this is more important than the technique.

-The great ideas our art prints express might include:
"the great human relationships, relationships of love and service, of authority and obedience, of reverence and pity and neighbourly kindness; relationships to kin and friend and neighbour, to `cause' and country and kind, to the past and the present."

- Our art prints ought to put "our children in touch with the great thoughts by which the world has been educated in the past, and to keep... them in the right attitude towards the great ideas of the present "-And bring us into the "world of beauty created for us by those whose Beauty Sense enables them not only to see and take joy in all the Beauty there is, but whose souls become so filled with the Beauty they gather through eye and ear that they produce for us new forms of Beauty"

- Do our choices expose the children to those works of art which seek to "interpret to us some of the meanings of life?" "...FraAngelico will tell us of the beauty of holiness, that Giotto will confide his interpretation of the meaning of life, that Millet will tell us of the simplicity and dignity that belong to labour on the soil, that Rembrandt will show us the sweetness of humanity in many a commonplace countenance.

The artist -- "Reaching, that heaven might so replenish him, Above and through his art," -- has indispensable lessons to give us, ... the outward and visible sign is of less moment than the inward and spiritual grace."-Technique, no matter how brilliant, is not a substitute for expression of beauty, or one of those 'meanings of life' interpretations.

-Let us choose pictures using this as a guideline- "Nothing can be a work of art which is not useful, that is to say, which does not minister to the body when well under the command of the mind, or which does not amuse, soothe, or elevate the mind in a healthy state."- Cm quoting William Morris

-The works of art we choose should represent 'master ideas,' which the painter 'works out, not in a single piece, but here a little and there a little, in a series of studies.' The artist is "a teacher,who is to have a refining, elevating effect upon our coarser nature"

-Our prints can also be chosen to help the children develop a love for the commonplace beauty of every day things- " For it is true as Browning told us, -- For, don't you mark, we're made so that we love First when we see them painted, things we have passed Perhaps a hundred times nor cared to see." ...we learn to see things when we see them painted."

- Our art prints should help our children develop an affinity for, an attraction to, the beautiful, the lovely, the pure, the refining-because "education is concerned to teach him what pictures to delight in."

To go to the source, and you should go to the source, please see Charlotte Mason's own books, in particular:
Vol 1 pg 308-311
Vol 2, page 262
Vol 3 pg 77page 209, page 239,  page 353ff, 
Vol. 4, pages 2-3, page 42page 44, 48-49
Vol 5 pg 231 - 236
Vol. 5 p 312- 315
Vol. 6, pages 213-217
Vol. 6, page 275
Vol. 6 328-329
Picture Talk, Parents Review, Vol 17, 1906
Picture Talk, Parents Review, Vol. 12, 1901
Impressions of Conference Work with Class II (scroll down for two paragraphs about a specific picture talk given)  A similar explanation and example is offered here.
ARt and Literature in the Parents' Union School (the art/picture study section is midway down the page)

There are other pages in the volumes and other PR articles that touch on picture study and art in the curriculum.  These are a fair place to begin digging deeper.

Sources for art prints:
Art Museum websites will often allow you to search by country or by century.
Joining the AO forum will give you access to our picture study discussion area where resources for free prints are shared frequently. - once you have your artist, you can go here and plug in their name and find some links and information to any works they have which include people of colour.
Other families using AO have put together PDF files and people have various methods of printing them out-
~put them on a thumb drive or email them to your favourite print shop (Office Max or Office Depot in the US) for printing
~use Shutterfly coupons (affiliate link for a promo code for a free book)  to make books of that term's art prints. 
~You can join the AO FB group and read this post for some ideas.

Use what you have.  

What I have or have used:

What we have used we have picked up at thrift shops, yard sales, and the local library. There are a couple of resources I consider superior and well worth your time to find and use. In listing the resources we've used below, I have put those in bold type. Otherwise, use what is available to you and within your budget- this is what we had. You may have something just as good or better (these are affiliate links, but I strongly recommend searching your thrift shops for several of these).
We have used: A Child's Book of Art; Discover Great Paintings, by Lucy Micklethwait (picked up at the library.
Discover Great Paintings by the same author is also good). Cute introduction to just looking at pictures, suitable for younger children. An early innoculation against the cultural assumption that this is boring and inaccessible.

Mommy, It's a Renoir, by Wolf, Aline D. (I mostly just ended up using the 'childsized masterpieces' postcards rather than doing all the activities)

Janson's History of ARt Janson and Janson hb, dj Abrams c.1997, Fifth edition

Metropolitan Seminars in Art, Art portfolios, a series of about 11 books, edited by John Canaday These are readily found second hand, and I didn't use the books, just the art prints.

The World of Vermeer, and other Time, Life Libary of Art books in this series.  Readily found second hand.

Family pass to the nearest art museum, every visit followed by a trip to the gift shop for a post card of their favourite work.

_Stories from the Old Testament with Masterwork Paintings Inspired by the Stories_ and _Stories from the New Testament with Masterwork Paintings Inspired by the Stories_, both by Simon and Schuster.

How Should We Then Live, by Francis Schaeffer
Art calendars of various artists (pick these up late in the year when they are half price or better)

The list of artists and articles found at

For learning to draw, we have used: Mark Kistler's Draw Squad ,
Draw, Write, Now and something called Draw Today for the one child who actually demonstrated a real talent and affinity for drawing. I do not know if our failures in the drawing arena can be attributed to lack of innate ability as much as lack of self-discipline on my part. I think if I had been more consistent in this, those children without an obvious natural gift in this area might still have developed greater basic competency and confidence and comfort. 

(post contains affiliate links)
 $5.00- Education for All, a new CM journal, Buy Now!   Feed Your Mind!  This issue contains several articles on handicrafts, outdoor play, nature study and science. See sidebar for ordering options if you are in the Philippines.

 $3.00 Five Little Peppers and How They Grew Copywork (grades 2/3, carefully selected with an eye toward finely crafted sentences, lovely bits of writing pleasant to picture in the mind's eye, and practice in copying some of the mechanics of grammar and punctuation typically covered in these years.
  $3.00 Aesop's Fables Copywork for Year One!  Carefully selected with an eye toward well written sentences, memorable scenes, and some practice copying sentences that model the basics of capitalization and punctuation.   Suitable for use with children who have already mastered the strokes and letters for basic penmanship.

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