Charlotte Mason · Homeschooling · Picture Study

Learning to Appreciate Art

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We cannot measure the influence that one or another artist has upon the child’s sense of beauty, upon his power of seeing, as in a picture, the common sights of life; he is enriched more than we know in having really looked at even a single picture.  –Charlotte Mason

As I noted in my post on why I want to give my children a Charlotte Mason education, it is our job as educators to spread before our students a delightful feast — a feast for their minds consisting of  a variety of topics and interests.  One ‘course’ in this feast is art appreciation.  Miss Mason believed that children learn to appreciate great art not so much by analyzing and dissecting a work of art, as by studying the work itself.  Just as writing begins with reading great books and narrating them, so art begins with studying the masterpieces.

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.

I copied this Charlotte Mason quote from the picture study handbook I use in our art appreciation study. Put out by Simply Charlotte Mason, this handbook, along with the rest of the picture study portfolio it comes with, is a fabulous resource for teaching art appreciation.

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Art Appreciation

Once a week, the kids and I have the privilege of sitting down to a visual feast, as we pull out a laminated, full color copy of one of the masterpieces of the master artists.  This ‘picture study’ takes just 15 minutes once a week, but it is one of our favorite subjects.  Here’s how we do it:

  • We begin by reading a brief biography from the handbook included in each picture portfolio.  This allows us to get to know the artist whose work we will be studying.  Sometimes this reading is spread out over two weeks, allowing the kids to absorb it better.
  • After we’ve learned a little about the artist, we study just one of his masterpieces a week.
  • I give the kids 3-4 minutes to look at the picture and to study every detail until they can see it in their mind’s eye.
  • Then I take the picture away and ask them one at time, starting with the youngest, to tell me what they remember.
  • After they’ve all said what they remember, I tell them the title of the piece and just a little background information (which is included with each piece right in the handbook).
  • We discuss what we liked about the picture, what we didn’t like, what we think it is about, etc.
  • Then we hang the picture on our refrigerator for the rest of the week until it’s time to study a new one.

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Just as is the case in narration, the kids amaze me with what they can remember.  And after we’ve studied six or so pictures from a single artist, they begin to get a feel for and recognize his style.

When we’re finished studying each artist, we compile miniature copies of each masterpiece in a photo book, listing details such as the title, the date, the medium, and the gallery where the original work of art is currently kept.

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The idea for compiling an ‘art album’ such as this came from the Charlotte Mason Help website.  You can learn more about it here.

Art Instruction

The homeschool co-op we are a part of provides art instruction for the kids once a week during the fall semester.  They receive instruction and get to try their hand at various art techniques, such as drawing, oil painting, watercolor, clay sculpture, etc.  They love art class at co-op, and of course I love seeing the ‘masterpieces’ they bring home!

As for art instruction here at home, I’ve used Mona Brooks’ book Drawing With Children as a summer ‘class’ on drawing.  We’ve done this two summers in a row now, and I’ll probably revisit this wonderful resource for a week or two this summer as well.

One of the informal ways the kids practice their drawing skills during the school year is by drawing in their nature journals.  The ability to observe a flower or insect or bird closely and then copy what is seen on to paper is a skill that develops quite naturally the more it is practiced.  I’ve been surprised by how my own ‘powers of observation’ have led to more recognizable drawings just through nature journaling. 🙂

Learning to appreciate great works of art as well as learning how to draw something by careful observation have been a delightful part of our homeschool journey for me.  I didn’t grow up being familiar with the works of the great artists, but as I study the pictures along with the kids during our picture studies, I’m learning to recognize some of the distinguishing characteristics of the famous artists, and that is exciting to me!

Related Posts:

Why I Want to Give My Children a Charlotte Mason Education

The Art of Narration

How and Why We Do Nature Study

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5 thoughts on “Learning to Appreciate Art

  1. Love this! What a great resource from SCM! I will check that out! It takes out a lot of the hunting! We have the Brooks book. I never got to it this year, so I’m hoping summer will be a good time for it! I just read through the first several chapters on our hour-long drive to church!

    1. I’m just thrilled with the picture study portfolios from SCM! We’ve just finished up our second year of using them — I get three portfolios per year. And I’m also getting excited about drawing with the kids again. My daughter asked me just the other day if we could have “drawing lessons” again this summer. I’ll bet your kids will love drawing from this book too!

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