Art Study

From my archives- I wrote this over 15 years ago. Closer to 20 years ago, in fact.

We approach art from two different paths, art history and art appreciation.

When we do art history (something I did with older students, not grade schoolers), we look for artists representative of that time in history (as well as poets, writers, and composers). We familiarize ourselves with a few representative, and sometimes not so representative, works of those artists.

I base my goals for our art study largely on Charlotte Mason’s writing:
Our Beauty Sense. — There is another region open to Intellect, of very great beauty and delight. He must needs have Imagination with him to travel there, but still more must he have that companion of the nice ear and eye, who enabled him to recognise music and beauty in words and their arrangement. The Æsthetic Sense, in truth, holds the key of this palace of delights. There are few joys in life greater and more constant than our joy in Beauty, though it is almost impossible to put into words what Beauty consists in; colour, form, proportion, harmony — these are some of its elements.Volume 4, page 41

The Palace of Art. — We take pleasure, too, in the arrangement and colouring of a nice room, of a nice dress, in the cover of a book, in the iron fittings of a door, when these are what is called artistic. This brings us to another 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 — in picture, statue, glorious cathedral, in delicate ornament, in fugue, sonata, simple melody. When we think for a moment, how we must admire the goodness of God in placing us in a world so exceedingly full of Beauty — whether it be of what we call Nature or of what we call Art — and in giving us that sense of Beauty which enables us to see and hear, and to be as it were suffused with pleasure at a single beautiful effect brought to our ear or our eye.

The Hall of Simulation. — But, like all the good gifts we have received, this too is capable of neglect and misuse. It is not enough that there should be a Beauty World always within reach; we must see to it that our Beauty Sense is on the alert and kept quick to discern. We may easily be all our lives like that man of whom the poet says: “A primrose by the river’s brim A yellow primrose was to him, ‘ was that, and nothing more ” — that is, he missed the subtle sense of Beauty which lay, not so much in the primrose nor in the river, but, rather, in the fact of the primrose growing just there. Our great danger is that, as there is a barren country reaching up to the very borders of the Kingdom of Literature, so too is there a dull and dreary Hall of Simulation which we may enter and believe it to be the Palace of Art. Here people are busy painting, carving, modelling, and what not; the very sun labours here with his photographs, and he is as good an artist as the rest, and better, for the notion in this Hall is that the object of Art is to make things exactly like life. So the so-called artists labour away to get the colour and form of the things they see, and to paint these on canvas or shape them in marble or model them in wax (flowers), and all the time they miss, because they do not see, that subtle presence which we call Beauty in the objects they paint and mould. Many persons allow themselves to be deceived in this matter and go through life without ever entering the Palace of Art, and perceiving but little of the Beauty of Nature. We all have need to be trained to see, and to have our eyes opened before we can take in the joy that is meant for us in this beautiful life.

Art.[This section is a sub-topic under the heading `instructors of conscience’) — A great promise has been given to the world — that its teachers shall not any more be removed. There are always those present with us whom God whispers in the ear, through whom He sends a direct message to the rest. Among these messengers are the great painters who interpret to us some of the meanings of life. To read their messages aright is a thing due from us. ‘But this, like other good gifts, does not come by nature. It is the reward of humble, patient study. It is not in a day or a year that Fra Angelico 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, whether he convey them through the brush of the painter, the vast parables of the architect, or through such another cathedral built of sound as ‘Abt Vogler’ produced: the outward and visible sign is of less moment than the inward and spiritual grace. Vol 4 pg 103

We must learn to Appreciate and Discriminate. — That we may be in a condition to receive this grace of teaching from all great Art, we must learn to appreciate and to discriminate, to separate between the meretricious and the essential, between technique (the mere power of expression) and the thing to be expressed — though the thing be no more than the grace and majesty of a tree. Here, again, I would urge that appreciation is not a voluntary offering, but a debt we owe, and a debt we must acquire the means to pay by patient and humble study. In this, as in all the labours of the conscience seeking for instruction, we are enriched by our efforts; but self-culture should not be our object. Let us approach Art with the modest intention to pay a debt that we owe in learning to appreciate. So shall we escape the irritating ways of the connoisseur!

Volume 5: a child has natural relations with a vast number of things and thoughts: so we must train him upon physical exercises, nature, handicrafts, science and art, and upon many living books; for we know that our business is, not to teach him all about anything, but to help him to make valid as many as may be of — ‘Those first-born affinities That fit our new existence to existing things.’

AESTHETIC CULTURE In venturing to discuss the means of aesthetic culture, I feel that to formulate canons of taste is the same sort of thing as to draw up rules of conscience; that is, to attempt to do for other people what every one must do for himself. It may be vicious to have a flower pattern on our carpet, and correct to have such a pattern on our curtains; but if so, the perception of the fact must be the result of growth under culture. If it come to us as an edict of fashion that we adorn our rooms with bulrushes and peacocks’ feathers; that we use geometrical forms in decorative art, rather than natural forms conventionally treated; that we affect sage- green and terra-cotta, — however good may be the effect of room or person, there is little taste displayed in either. For taste is the very flower, the most delicate expression of individuality, in a person who has grown up amidst objects lovely and befitting, and has been exercised in the habit of discrimination. Here we get a hint as to what may and what may not be done by way of cultivating the aesthetic sense in young people. So far as possible, let their surroundings be brought together on a principle of natural selection, not at haphazard, and not in obedience to fashion. Bear in mind, and let them often hear discussed and see applied, the three or four general principles which fit all occasions of building, decorating, furnishing, dressing: the thing must be fit for its purpose, must harmonise with both the persons and the things about it; and, these points considered, must be as lovely as may be in form, texture, and colour; one point more — it is better to have too little than too much. The child who is accustomed to see a vase banished, a chintz chosen, on some such principles as these, involuntarily exercises discriminating power; feels the jar of inharmonious colouring, rejects a bedroom water-jug all anoles for one with flowing curves, and knows what he is about. It may not be possible to surround him with objects of art, nor is it necessary; but, certainly, he need not live amongst ugly and discordant objects; for a blank is always better than the wrong thing. Vol 5 pg 232

“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. What tons upon tons of unutterable rubbish, pretending to be works of art in some degree, would this maxim clear out of our London houses.” — WILLIAM MORRIS. Vol 5 pg 233

It is a pity that, in pictures and music, we are inclined to form “collections,” just as in poetry. Let us eschew collections. 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. If we accept the work of the artist as a mere external decoration, why, a little of one and a little of another does very well; but if we accept the man as a teacher, who is to have a refining, elevating effect upon our coarser nature, we must study his lessons in sequence, so far as we have opportunity. A house with one or two engravings from Turner in one room, from Millet in another, from Corot’s pictures in a third, would be a real school of art for the child; he would have some little opportunity of studying, line by line, three masters at least, of comparing their styles, getting their characteristics by heart, perceiving what they mean to say by their pictures, and how they express their meaning. 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. At the same time, give the young people one or two good water-colour sketches to grow upon, to show them what to see in landscape. It is not, however, always possible to choose pictures according to any such plan; but in default of more, it is something to get so thoroughly acquainted with even a good engraving of any one picture, that the image of it retained by the brain is almost as distinct as the  picture itself. All that the parents can do is to secure that the picture be looked at; the refining influence, the art- culture, goes on independently of effort from without. The important thing is, not to vitiate the boy’s taste; better to have a single work of art in the house upon which his ideas form themselves, than to have every wall covered with daubs.

That the young people must commonly wait for opportunities afforded by picture-galleries to learn how the brush can catch the very spirit and meaning of nature, is not so great a loss as it would seem at first sight. The study of landscape should, perhaps, prepare them for that of pictures: no one can appreciate the moist solid freshness of the newly ploughed earth in Rosa Bonheur’s pictures who has not himself been struck by the look of the clods just turned up by the plough.

But, on the other hand, what is to be said to this, from Fra Lippo Lippi? —
“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:
And so they are better painted — better to us,
Which is the same thing.

Art was given for that — God uses us to help each other so,
Lending our minds out. Have you noticed now
Your cullion’s hanging face? A bit of chalk,
And, trust me, but you should though. How much more
If I drew higher things with the same truth! That were to take the prior’s pulpit-place —
Interpret God to all of you!”

Pictures or landscape, all the parents can do is to put their children in the way of seeing, and, by a suggestive word, get them to look. The eye is trained by seeing, but also by instruction; and I need hardly call attention to Mr. Ruskin’s Modern Painters, as  the book which makes art-education possible to outsiders. ….It is a pity we like our music, as our pictures and our poetry, mixed, so that there are few opportunities of going through, as a listener, a course of the works of a single composer. But this is to be aimed at for the young people; let them study occasionally the works of a single great master until they have received some of his teaching, and know his style. Vol 5 pg 234,5

‘ Here we get a hint as to what may be done for a child by the pictures we surround him with. This row of engravings and his father’s talk about them gave Goethe practically a second fatherland. The  speech of Italy, the sun of Italy, the past of Italy, became a home for his thoughts; and we know how profoundly his late long sojourn in Italy affected his style as a poet — for good or ill. Our first idea is that all we can do for children is to give them a correct feeling for art; to surround them, for example, with the open spaces and simple, monumental figures we get in Millet’s pictures: we cannot do better, but we can do more. Some, at any rate, of our pictures should be like the little windows, showing a landscape beyond, which the Umbrian Masters loved to introduce. That is just what the children want, an outlook. Vol. 5 p 315

(included in a list of subjects proper to every child-) Art, for we all require beauty, and are eager to know how to discriminate; v 6. P. 14

(in a discussion on the merits of a wide rather than a narrow education) In the great (and ungoverned) age of the Renaissance, the time when great things were done, great pictures painted, great buildings raised, great discoveries made, the same man was a painter, an architect, a goldsmith and a master of much knowledge besides; and all that he did he did well, all that he knew was part of his daily thought and enjoyment. Let us hear Vasari on Leonardo, — “Possessed of a divine and marvellous intellect and being an excellent geometrician, he not only worked at sculpture . . . .but also prepared many architectural plans and buildings . . . .he made designs for mills and other engines to go by water; and, as painting was to be his profession.. he studied drawing from life.” Leonardo knew nothing about Art for Art’s sake, that shibboleth of yesterday, nor did our own Christopher Wren, also a great mathematician and master of much and various knowledge, to whom architecture was rather a by-the-way interest, and yet he built St. Paul’s. v. 6 p. 54

we are aware of certain vulgar commonplace tendencies in ourselves which make us walk delicately and trust, not to our own teaching, but to the best that we have in art and literature and above all to that storehouse of example and precept, the Bible, to enable us to touch these delicate spirits to fine issues. V. 6 p. 59

Miss G. M. Bernau has added to the value of these studies by producing a Book of Centuries’ in which children draw such illustrations as they come across of objects of domestic use, of art, etc., connected with the century they are reading about. V. 6, p 175

ART There are few subjects regarded with more respect and less confidence in our schools than this of ‘Art.’ Of course, we say, children should have their artistic powers cultivated, especially those who have such powers, but how is the question. The neat solution offered by South Kensington in the sixties, — freehand drawing, perspective, drawing from the round, has long been rejected; but nothing definite has taken its place and we still see models of cones, cubes and so on, disposed so that the eye may take them in freely and that the hand may perhaps produce what the eye has seen.

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.

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.

We  hear of a small boy with his parents in the National Gallery; the boy, who had wandered off on his own account, came running back with the news, — “Oh, Mummy, there’s one of our Constables on that wall.” In this way children become acquainted with a hundred, or hundreds, of great artists during their school-life and it is an intimacy which never forsakes them. A group of children are going up to London for a treat “Where would you like to go?” “Oh, Mummy, to the National Gallery to see the Rembrandts.” Young people go to tea in a room strange to them and are delighted to recognise two or three reproductions of De Hooch’s pictures. In the course of school-life children get an Open Sesame to many art galleries, and to many a cultivated home; 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.

A lady writes, “I was invited to a small village to talk about the P.U. School. Twelve really interested women came in spite of heavy rain. I suggested introducing them to some of the friends their children had made and we had a delightful picture talk with Jean B. Corot, delightful to me because of the way one woman especially narrated. She did it as if she had been set free for the first time for months. It was the ‘Evening’ picture with a canal on the right and that splendid mass of quiet trees in the centre. The others gave bits of the picture but she gave the whole thing. It was a green pasture to her.” The noteworthy thing is that these women were familiar with all such details as Corot offers in their own beautiful neighbourhood, but Browning is right; we learn to see things when we see them painted.

It will be noticed that the work 1 done on these pictures  Examination answers can be seen at the P.N.E.U. Office.  is done by the children themselves. 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. Forms V and VI are asked to, — “Describe, with study in sepia, Corot’s ‘Evening.'” Beyond this of a rough study from memory of a given picture or of any section of it, these picture studies do not afford much material for actual drawing; they are never copied lest an attempt to copy should lessen a child’s reverence for great work. Vol 6 pg 215,6

…just as children in the P.U.S. were given the greatest literature and art, so they should have the greatest music as well. V. 6 p. 217

 I have already shown 1 what we do, for example, in the way of affording children familiar acquaintance with great music and great pictures. An eminent art-dealer in London paid us a pretty compliment when he said, — “Lord help the children!” were our work to come to an end; and he had reason for he had just sold to P.U.S. children thousands of little exquisite reproductions of certain pictures by Velasquez which were the study of the term; no wonder that a man who loves art and believes in it should feel that something worth while was being done.v. 6 p. 275

Mr. Masefield remarks, — “There can be no great art without great fable. Great art call only exist where great men brood intensely on something upon which all men brood a little. Without a popular body of fable there can be no unselfish art. in any country. Shakespeare’s art was selfish till he turned to the great tales in the four most popular books of his time, Holinshed, North’s Plutarch, Cinthio and De Belleforest. Since the newspaper became powerful, topic has supplanted fable and subject comes to the artist untrimmed and unlit by the vitality of many minds.” It is this vitality of many minds that we aim at securing and entreat educational workers and thinkers to join in forming a common body of thought which shall make England great in art no doubt, and also great in life. Vol 6 pg 278 This is the way to make great men and not by petty efforts to form character in this direction or in that. Let us take it to ourselves that great character comes out of great thoughts, and that great thought must be initiated by great thinkers; then we shall have a definite aim in education. Thinking and not doing is the source of character.v. 6 page 278

at last we understand that every one can draw, and that, because to draw is delightful, every one should be taught how; that every one delights in pictures, and that education is concerned to teach him what pictures to delight in.

We never really used a packaged curriculum, though I have seen David Quine’s Cornerstone project version, and I really liked that. I just didn’t have the money to spend on it. 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.

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 inaccessable.

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

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

Family pass to the nearest art museum

_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)


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 demonstrates any 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 a natural gift in this area might still have developed greater basic competency.


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