I am always excited about the chance to talk about one of my favorite courses in the feast: Picture Study. Picture Study could also be called Art Appreciation, and that is exactly what it's purpose and benefits could be summarized as. Few things in a Charlotte Mason education are as effortless and "foolproof" as Picture Study. Picture Study is a true delight in our home, and I think you'll find that it will be in yours too.
Things to Know:
Charlotte Mason gave her students formal lessons on Art Appreciation, using pictures for them to study and to narrate the details of, considering it (along with Composer Study, which we will look at in a couple of days) to be small, but integral parts of the educational feast she was providing. She thought it so important that she overcame obstacles to obtain and provide the art for her students, which wasn't readily available in that time, as it is today. The great news for homeschooling mothers today, is that you do not need to know a thing about art in order to provide, and thoroughly enjoy, picture study. Picture Study, at its essence, is a deep appreciation for art and a capturing of the details of it. Anyone can, and should, do picture study. As with everything Charlotte did, Picture Study wasn't a futile exercise, but an essential, beneficial one. Practically, Picture Study will hone your children's attention to detail, either building it up or improving it if it is currently a struggle. It will also teach them to form mental images, helping them in purely practical and academic ways. But, of course, it's so much more wonderful than that.
Picture Study adds beauty into a child's education, and we must understand that beauty is as essential as information. We are whole beings, and our intellect is not separate from our soul and spirit. God designed us to crave beautiful things, and to feed off of them. We tend to compartmentalize academics and "beautiful extras", resulting in a consideration of the "extras" as non essential. However, quite the opposite is true. Our intellectual life exists within our spiritual life, and our souls and minds were created and designed by the same God. Although taken in smaller qualities, beautiful things are not actually "extra" at all. The whole of us is in need of beauty, and feeding the soul is just as much a part of academia as feeding the mind.
Furthermore, if we embrace the idea that good ideas are what we aim to provide our child with, rather than a litany of factual information, then we must realize that ideas are contained in many mediums. There are some ideas in the world that are only in math, and some that are only in science, no doubt. There are some ideas that are in history and some that are in poetry. There are also some ideas in this world that are only contained within paintings and arts. These ideas flowed from the mind and hearts of artists, and onto their canvas. If we don't have a taste for and of a wide feast of things, then we are missing out on a certain set of ideas.
If convinced of that truth, but wondering how you can possibly study pictures in the same limited hours that you study math, science, and language, take a deep breath. Relax, my friend, because picture study takes 15 minutes once a week. It will take intention to schedule it in and to do it, but it is as close to effortless as any wonderful thing can be. In just 15 minutes a week, your children (and you!!) will gain so much. Charlotte Mason selected one artist per term of school (so about 3 per school year) and her students studied 6 or so of his works during that term. We use this format for picture study, and it breaks down into simple action steps:
1. Select an Artist.
You don't need to go in any order, and no artist is more worthy than others to study. You can choose artists that lived in or painted the historical time period you're studying, but you certainly don't have to. This link will provide you with a list of some artists by art time periods, to give you some ideas.
2. Select Works by Artist
This link will give you a list of artists and 6 of their best works, but you don't need to go in any particular order, and you can choose whatever works by an artist suit you.
3. Read a short biography or some brief information to your children about the artist. The idea here isn't to remember facts or deeply study the artist as a historical subject, but rather to gain some familiarity with him as a person.
4. Do a Picture Study
You place a work of art in front of your child and ask them to look at it. You will want them to look at it for 3-5 minutes, longer for older or eager children. Tell your child to look at the picture until he can close his eyes and see every detail in his mind. If he can't see it all, then ask him to look at it some more. When he can see it all, turn it over and ask him to tell you about the picture. Encourage him to tell you as much about the painting as possible. Remember not to quiz, correct, or influence this narration, other than encouragement to tell what he has seen. As with everything else, we don't want to tell our children what to think, but rather encourage them to find, see, appreciate, and have ideas.
This video demonstrates some of the types of things noticed and narrated in picture study.
(My only caution here is that this teacher gives the name of the painting before having the student look at it. I recommend not doing that, because it will be leading their ideas about what the picture contains and may influence their perception of the painting)
4. Have a Picture Talk
At this point, after your child has narrated, you can tell him the title of the painting and ask him what he thinks the artist was trying to say or was thinking when he painted this piece. You should also ask here what the child thinks of the painting and how it makes them feel.
There is a progression of narrating the pictures, starting with purely verbal narrating for younger students. These verbal narrations consist solely of telling you what was in the picture. Slightly older students (or if desired) can draw a few lines to demonstrate where items were in relation to each other. High school students can occasionally sketch their own perception of the piece, taking care not to try to copy it exactly, respecting it as the intellectual and artistic property of the artist himself. Middle school and high school students can start to add some notes about the composition of the art (foreground, background, depth, color, etc), which will naturally be gained throughout picture study and doesn't have to be "taught".
It is common and recommended to display the pictures of the artist that you're currently studying in your school area or home during the time that you're studying the particular artist. You can do that leaving out the latest picture on an easel, in a pocket chart or frame, or anywhere else where it can be seen easily. You can also hang a set of frames where you hang an artist's selected works before beginning his study and then replace them with the works of the next artist. I personally hung some yarn across the window of my school room and use clothespins to hang our current artist's pictures from. They can easily be removed to look at again, and replaced with the next works.
That's it! It takes 15 minutes or less, and within that your child will form a relation with the piece itself, and with the artist. Charlotte wisely observed that doing picture study forms a gallery of pictures in a person's mind that they will carry with them throughout their life. Your children will begin to recognize the style of particular artists, and will recognize art when they see it. They will also recognize things they've read about (much art contains historical figures and elements, mythology figures, elements from literature, people and places in the Bible, etc) in the art and will remember the art when they read about these things. The science of relations.... <3
Things to Ponder:
Charlotte Mason wisely said that it is our job as parents to do what we can to give to our children an aptitude for appreciating and enjoying what is "just, true, and lovely", and I agree with her with my whole heart. We all desire for our children to have a taste for what is good, but we often forfeit our duty and privilege to cultivate that taste. We cultivate that taste by providing and encouraging them to feast on beautiful things. Scripture is, of course, the ultimate source of truth and good. And, no doubt that many artists were flawed and broken human beings. We are not setting out to have our children worship art or flawed artists, or to believe that Scripture isn't sufficient for truth. But, all good and perfect gifts come from God, including the skill of an artist and his ability to express ideas into canvas. Beauty is created by, gifted by, and used by God to teach and feed both our hearts and our minds. The more beauty that we behold, the more we appreciate the hand of God in every beautiful thing. What a wonderful privilege we're given to be the primary source of cultivation of our child's taste and to encourage their love of beauty and of noble ideas!
Things to Do:
Bite Sized Challenge for Implementing-
1. Refer to the list of artists and their works above and choose one.
2. Commit to doing picture study 3 times, with 3 of the artist's works. (You can pull these up on a computer if you aren't yet committed to picture study and don't want to purchase anything.)
3. Evaluate the ease and benefit of picture study and whether you find it possible to and worthy of doing picture study once a week.
Digging Deeper Challenge for Implementing-
1. Refer to the above lists and choose an artist and works.
2. Watch the above video.
3. Choose your picture study scheduling option, based on the format of one artist per term.
A) 1 Picture each week for 6 weeks, then go back to first picture and study each again.
B)1 Picture each week for 6 weeks, then each week for 6 weeks allow your child to view the pictures of his choice expounding on picture talks and perhaps investigating the stories behind the paintings.
C) Alternate each week between small portions of the current artist's bio and a picture study, for 12 weeks. (Bio, Picture, Bio, Picture, Bio, Picture....)
D) Spend two lessons (two weeks) studying the artist's bio, then study a work each week, leaving wiggle room for missed weeks or repeating pieces that are favorites.
E) Use A or B, taking a break between artists for a week to read his story or biography. (This saving of the biography for the end is unconventional according to Charlotte's method, but it's what I personally do. I prefer to have my child know the artist as a person after he has known his works.)
4. Gather Works and Schedule Picture Study!
For Gathering Works-
These come with the works themselves, a living story of the artist, instructions for picture study, information about each picture, and a list of options for further reading. They are the cream of the crop in the picture studying world. You won't regret investing in these!
Affordable Sets of Prints
Free Picture Studies to Print
Super Affordable Art Postcards
Ernest Raboff Biographies
These are quality, living biographies.
Getting to Know the World's Greatest Artist Series
These are fun, brief, but quality stories, with cartoon illustrations included along with real portraits.
From Charlotte Herself:
"We cannot measure the influence that one or another artist has upon a child's sense of beauty, upon his power of seeing, as in a picture, the common sights of life; he is enriched more that we know in having really looked at even a single picture."
"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."
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