Beautifying the Mind: Picture Studies Pure and Simple

The Purpose Behind Picture Studies

The appreciation of art has the potential to shape the very people we are or are to become morally, intellectually and spiritually.  Charlotte Mason said,

“But we begin to understand that art is… of the spirit, and in ways of the spirit must we make our attempt.”                                        Volume 6, A philosophy of Education, pg 213

Appreciation of art is a skill the self seeks to acquire very naturally as in intelligence, imagination or speech.  It does not require even elementary understanding of art appreciation skills to be able to look at a masterpiece and have it affect you on one or all of these levels.  The purpose behind applying ourselves to this exposure is foremost, character development and secondly, to develop a general interest.  Both are closely tied together to form the roots of aesthetic sense; having a sense of the beautiful or characterized by a love of beauty.

How does art develop character?

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”                                                       Philippians 4:8

When we put beautiful in, beautiful comes out, and that beauty which is stored inside in the form of memory, becomes treasures that cannot be stolen.  Furthermore, these practices help develop observation skills and offer reinforcement to the relationships developed in history, geography, literature and other cultures and socio-economic characteristics.

Practically Speaking

Charlotte Mason practiced picture studies regularly, looking at 6 pieces by one artist every term, and she had three terms a year.  A quick calculation brings us to an easy conclusion that if this is practiced throughout the child’s educational career, upon high school graduation they will have been exposed and considered 39 artists and 234 pieces of art!  Is that not a beautiful accomplishment for a practice that takes 10-30 minutes every two weeks?

When I do a Picture Study, I print out a color 8.5 x 11 reproduction of a single picture for each child.  I found Docucopies.com to be reasonably priced, particularly if I do the printing all at once for the year.  I also decided last year to give each student a binder for their pictures so that they have a sense of ownership of them and feel free to go back and revisit them as often as they like.  We combine this binder with their weekly recitation assignments and it is used regularly.

I will give each student their single picture for the session with the title and date on the back, and allow them to just look at it for 2-3 minutes.  They are encouraged to close their eyes for brief periods during this time and see if they can recreate the image in their mind.  If they can’t, they can open their eyes and continue absorbing the image’s details.

When the time is up, I will have the students flip their pictures over and have them “Tell Back” or narrate what they saw, giving them time and space to reimagine the picture in their mind and share what they recall.  When one student finishes, I will let another student fill in more details until everything has been shared.  Then, we flip the picture back over and review it again.  This time I will point out some details that may have been missed and offer some short biographical or historical information that is relevant to the appreciation of this piece.  This information I collected the night before on the internet.

I have three questions I picked up from John Muir Laws, a nature journalist, that I use to guide our investigations in every subject of study, including art.  I ask my students to consider these three thoughts:  I notice…, I wonder…, and It reminds me of….  These three questions stir just about every consideration the engaged mind might have and helps direct the processing of new ideas in a personal way, awakening curiosity and inquisitiveness.

Older students, maybe 3rd grade and older, might enjoy the reading of a biography of the artist.  It is imperative that this book not be “Twaddle”; just a dry compilation of facts about the artist and their work.  Instead, search for a piece of literature that will create a relationship with the artist.  To do this, we need to get to know them; their character, their thoughts, their challenges, the culture they lived in and how they responded to that culture.

You may ask, “What about form and composition?  When do we discuss color or movement?”  Yes, yes, yes.  These things come all in due time, but try to avoid clouding the study with analysis, sacrificing the relationship and personal joy your student is having.

For the older students, after the second viewing is complete, a great conversation is ready to take place.  Notice I did not say LECTURE.  A conversation requires input from more than one person and that is what you are looking for.  Within that conversation, you can bring up one or maybe two of these concepts as pertinent to the picture.  From a few articles I have a list of questions to choose from but again, I will use only one or two per study and they should be significant to understanding the piece.

  • Describe the use of space
  • What types of shapes do you see? Lines?  Colors?
  • What feelings or emotions do you feel when you look at this picture?
  • If you had done this painting, what would you have called it?
  • What do you think the artist is thinking or feeling while he created this piece? What are they trying to communicate?
  • What is the focal point and why does it stand out?
  • Look at the picture with your eyes half shut to see divisions and shapes of light and shade, balance and tone
  • What is in the foreground? In the background?

Last Minute Pointers

  • As tempting as it may be, be the guide but not the leader.
  • Refrain from sharing your observations and allow your students to find their own.
  • Lessons for younger student should not be longer than 10 minutes, older students can go as long as 30, but it is really nor necessary most of the time.
  • Don’t worry about teaching the different “schools” of artists.  After developing a relationship with 2 or 3 artists from the same school, your student will naturally notice similarities and identifying styles to their own joy and delight.
  • Art is a beautiful way to communicate a culture or time of history.  Try to pair your studies with where you are in your history timeline to offer another dimension to history and literature studies.
  • Lastly, don’t forget to incorporate three-dimensional art like sculptures, engravings, metal and ceramic creations.  An architectural study is fascinating when studying the middle ages.

References

Goegan, N. (2015, August 30). Corot Picture Study. Retrieved from Living Charlotte Mason in California: http://livingcminca.blogspot.com

Jimenez, G. (2007, June 18th). Looking at Art. Retrieved from Bright Kids: http://brightkids.wordpress.com/2007/06/18/looking-at-art/

Laws, J. M. (2016). The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling. Heyday.

S, J. (2015, June 10). Artist (Picture) Study Workshop. Retrieved from Charlotte Mason in the Bluegrass: http://www.cminthebluegrass.com/artist-study-workshop.html

Smith, C. (2013, May). Elenor M Frost and the Narration of a “Picture Talk” Part 1 & 2. Retrieved from Charlotte Mason Institute: http://www.charlottemasoninstitute.org

Vencel, B. (2015, September 1). A Beginner’s Look at Picture Study. Retrieved from Afterthoughts Blog: http://www.afterthoughts.net

 

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