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Monday, January 28, 2019

Affinities and Picture Study

In Childhood, the Prelude, William Wordsworth refers
“To those first-born affinities that fit
Our new existence to existing things,
And, in our dawn of being, constitute
The bond of union betwixt life and joy.”
Webster’s 1828 Dictionary gives several meanings for ‘affinity:’
1. The relation contracted by marriage, between a husband and his wife’s kindred, and between a wife and her husband’s kindred; in contradistinction from consanguinity or relation by blood…
2. Agreement; relation; conformity; resemblance; connection; as, the affinity of sounds, of colors, or of languages….
According to, it is more than merely a synonym for liking. It involves bonding, forming a connection, a relationship:
…3: kinship by marriage or adoption; not a blood relationship…
5: a close connection marked by community of interests or similarity in nature or character; “found a natural affinity with the immigrants”; “felt a deep kinship with the other students”; “anthropology’s kinship with the humanities” [syn: kinship] 6: inherent resemblance between persons or things 7: a natural attraction or feeling of kinship; “an affinity for politics”; “the mysterious affinity between them”; “James’s affinity with Sam”
Source: WordNet ® 2.0, © 2003 Princeton University (see for more, much more)
Charlotte Mason referred to Wordsworth’s poem when she said that one of the chief duties of parents is to help our children
“make valid as many as may be of – –
‘Those first-born affinities
That fit our new existence to existing things.”
She says that
Education is the Science of Relations;’ by which phrase we mean that children come in to the world with a natural ‘appetancy,’ to use Coleridge’s word, for, and affinity with, all the material of knowledge; for interest in the heroic past and in the age of myths; for a desire to know about everything that moves and lives, about strange places and strange peoples; for a wish to handle material and to make; a desire to run and ride and row and do whatever the law of gravitation permits.” (Charlotte Mason, Volume 2, pp. 222-3)
Elsewhere in her six volume series she explains that that part of the idea that education is a science of relations entails an understanding that
“fulness of living, expansion, expression, and serviceableness, for each of us, depend upon how far we apprehend these relationships and how many of them we lay hold of…
Every child is heir to an enormous patrimony, heir to all the ages, inheritor of all the present.”
(Volume 3. pp.185-6)”
Towards that end, she says that
“[Every] child should leave school with at least a couple of hundred pictures by great masters hanging permanently in the halls of his imagination, to say nothing of great buildings, sculpture, beauty of form and colour in things he sees.”
School didn’t do that for me. My parents did a wonderful job of introducing us to poetry, literature, classical music, nature, history, and song, but we didn’t ever visit an art museum or discuss art that I remember. We had, however, one picture hanging on our walls that was not department store home decor. It was a print of a young girl in profile. She is reading a book. We did not know the name of the picture or the artist, and we never really talked about it, but I looked at it often while I curled up on the couch reading my own books.
A few years ago I was working on an art project for our homeschool, and I discovered my picture. It is ‘A Young Girl Reading’ by Fragonard. I was thrilled. I emailed my mother to tell her about it. I printed out a copy from the computer to look at. I excitedly told my children and husband that I had ‘known’ that painting from a child. Simply by seeing a copy of it on the wall of my childhood home, I had developed an affinity for it, and I believe that painting acted as a door to the world of the visual arts when I grew to woman’s estate. That print became a connection to a whole new world. How thrilling.
Even more thrilling was standing before the original in Washington, D.C. a few years ago at the National Gallery of Art. I was unprepared for the emotional response. Two of my daughters went ahead of us through the museum and discovered the painting first. They came back for me- “Mother, mother, we’ve found your painting.”
We rushed to the gallery where ‘my’ painting resides. I stood in front of it in wonder and profound happiness. I choked back tears. I tried to explain to my husband how much it meant to me, that this was the first, the very first painting I had loved, and how long I had loved it and now I was seeing the original. I was incoherent.
We saw many wonderful things at the NGA, most of them far superior in quality and subject matter than my girl reading. As it turns out, Fragonard could produce paintings like this in about an hour, using broad, sweeping brush strokes. I later read that he painted the girl’s collar  by first globbing on a thick mass of white paint, and then using the pointed end of the brush to quickly scratch the lines of the ruff through the wet paint, producing that lovely ruffle in a few seconds. I don’t care. I love it. I love it because of the connections I made with it as a child and the connections it made for me as an adult.
It keeps on making connections for me. Later I read this post on Rembrandt over at a blog called Suitable for Mixed Company. She says,
“Many years ago, I was broke and bored, and wandering around Vancouver, British Columbia. The Vancouver Art Gallery had a free day (or cut-rate day, I forget which) and was advertising The Dutch world of painting and it was handy. Expecting nothing more than a half hour or so’s diversion, I went in. And changed my life. Honestly, I was floored by what I saw. I was astonished to find that some of the Dutch Masters were drop-dead funny in their art. I wandered into another room and found myself in another exhibit, where I lingered over a case with da Vinci drawings, grasping for the first time the difference between good drawings and great ones. But Rembrandt. My gosh. I lost myself in Rembrandt and the other Dutch Masters.”
I got all choked up all over again just reading about somebody else getting choked up at an art exhibit.  I knew that feeling!  Here is a kindred spirit.  You will meet many others in your CM journey.  They won't all be using AmblesideOnline or even Charlotte Mason's ideas.  That's okay. 
There are several ways into the world of art appreciation- by which I mean the world where a piece of art has the ability to move you, touch your life, hold your attention, to matter to you, which is the only kind of art appreciation I really care about. It probably doesn’t matter so much how you get there. But do go, and take the kids with you.
For Further reading on CM and the science of relations, see here and here.

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