It was hard to choose where to start this series but this is so simple I couldn't pass it up. Picture study!
Charlotte Mason encourages us to help children develop a "gallery of paintings" in their minds. Isn't that a wonderful image? That's what I want.
How to "study" art?
Enjoy looking at paintings and other works of art with your children or students. You can add details about the artist's life, the history, etc. but really the value is in just OBSERVING and DISCUSSING the painting (this is not art history, criticism or technique class). Often it is recommended that they look at it for a few minutes and then you take it away and ask them to tell you what they remember from the painting (or artwork). When they are done have them look at it again and see how it matches with their description. If you want a full description of the process you can read more here (here or listen here). Of course, you can enjoy art however you would like. This is a process that can take less than 15 minutes and add beauty to your life.
What to study?
She recommends picking 6 items that represent an artists' work and spreading them out over 12 weeks (so 1 picture every 2 weeks). The pace may seem slow but that is intentional. You want children to have time to really look and spend time with the work - not just race through them. Looking at one artist for a few weeks helps your child (and you) to get a sense of the subject matter and style of that artist. It may not seem like an "intense" schedule - but that's the point. After a school year students could know 18 paintings (possibly more at home). If you multiply that by a few years - imagine what a "gallery" your child will have. You of course can adapt this to your needs and situation as you see fit.
I encourage you to hang what you have up - use clipboards, put them on your fridge, display them in frames from the dollar store, etc. I actually got a cheapo stand and put the picture we are looking at on top of the piano.
Where to get art?
Most of these paintings and works are in the public domain - so you can just go out there and look on the Internet. You can also get art print calendars (cheap in January) or visit Half Price Books and Library sales. The resources below lean towards 'greats of Western culture' but all of art and architecture is out there for you. These are some packets that come ready made - some free and some not too expensive:
Barefoot Ragamuffin- through Lulu - free but you have to print your own (or look at them on a screen). Level 1 and 2, Level 3, Level 4 and 5 - so that's 5 years for free. (You do have to register for free with Lulu to check out). She also includes versions that you can color - if you and your kids enjoy that.
Ambleside Online - This is another option for free prints. They have chosen 6 prints per artist and have links to them on the Internet. You can of course can find them elsewhere as well. They have over 40 artists divided over 12 week terms - you of course just choose what you like and use it.
Simply Charlotte Mason - Picture Study Portfolios - There are two types choices at this site. The first "extra" set is just the prints (and unfortunately I don't think they have the name of the work and artist on the back). The full set includes a short biography of the artist and questions to go with each picture. There are 18 artists (so far). These range in price from $8 to $16 and are printed on high quality, glossy paper in full color.
Memoria Press - Art Cards and Posters - Although they say K -2nd grade - is Cassat really meant just for that age group? I haven't seen these in person but they look wonderful.
Enrichment Studies also has art collections available. Some collections cover an artistic period and others particular artists (you can get Peter Paul Rubens and Women of the Renaissance for free right now). If you sign up she has a a freebie available each month (she does artists, scientists, poets, musicians). Well, there you have it covered! You print these on your own.
I am sure that there are other options out there (here are a few more suggestions) and if you have thoughts please leave them in the comments.
How to fit it in?
- Planning: I recommend taking one evening or chunk of time and picking out artists for at least 6 months. Then order or print everything and put it somewhere accessible. If you try to do it week by week it will not be done (at least not at my house). So, just plan it once and then work the plan.
- If your child has down time at school send them to school with a set of prints to observe. They don't necessarily have to report back to you - but you can try to make it happen. You might include some questions to get them thinking.
- Include a picture every two weeks at dinner time, bed time or breakfast.
- Create portfolios for students in your classroom to peruse. It might be easier to do 4 pictures - just attach them to a manila folder (if you are printing them out). Hand them out with a few questions for the kids to ponder as they look.
- Teachers and afterschool programs can use them during circle/ gathering times as well. Again, just once every two weeks - show the painting, allow students to react and maybe ask a few questions.
- In my Sunday School class, about once a semester, I try to do an "art" lesson. There are quite a few Biblical incidents that have been done by multiple artists (many artists love the "Walk to Emmaus" and yesterday we did "the Adoration of the Magi" - over 35 paintings to choose from). You can also choose one artist who has covered quite a few Bible stories (we did Giotto and the story of Jesus' birth through Madeliene L'Engle's book in December). Either way, look it up, print it out and just add it to the lesson. I ask the children open ended questions and often encourage them to draw their own picture of the scene. It also brings a mental image to the story that is not a stock Sunday School curriculum photo! You can also easily do this at home as you read the Bible or celebrate parts of the church calendar.
Questions to ask:
I try not to tell them the name of the piece first - many are depictions of stories that they might know. It is more fun if you give hints and then they have the "aha" moment for themselves. If you are truly concerned that children will stare blankly and be unable to respond to a piece of art - here are a few questions you can use to get the ball rolling:
- Who or what is in the picture?
- What colors do you see?
- What do you think is happening?
- What season do you think it is? What time of day do you think it is? (this is my son's favorite question)
- Is there anything that you don't recognize in the picture (many of them will be pastoral so they might not know what's in them)?
- How long ago do you think this happened? Where did it happen?
The point is to focus on what they see. You want kids to respond with answers and support, "It's winter because there is snow everywhere." Seems basic but this is a good observation. Eventually they will begin to see more - if given time to do it at their own pace. Picture study should be a fun part of the day.
Age Group: All ages. Family fun activity.