Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Chapter 4: Picture Study

I found this chapter by Bobby Scott on picture study to be a straightforward, helpful explanation of what a "picture study lesson" might look like in the home or classroom.  He gives a step-by-step description of the method, from placing the artist in time and space through a short biographical sketch, to closely and quietly looking at the given work alone, to describing the details aloud together, to making a vivid mental picture of the work, to narrating without looking at the piece, and finally to revisiting the work again to cement in the mind any details that might have been missed.  He suggests 20-30 minutes for this lesson, though I think we can accomplish the same in less time in a home setting with fewer students (or at least we do--I think it only takes us about ten minutes).  His schools study three artists a year, four or so pieces per artist, which means a lesson once every other week--very similar to other schedules I have seen.  I found his outline helpful to check against what we are doing at home, and I think it pairs nicely with this article at Higher Up Further In, which inspired me to start a "Book of Masterpieces" for each child this year.  Printing a large copy for each student, such as Bobby Scott describes, would be wonderful too, and we may do that when I have more "students" and not everyone can easily view the work at once.

The narration of images, which sums up Charlotte Mason's approach to art appreciation, may seem overly simple, but I find it matches quite well the exercises we were taught to do in my art history classes in college.  As each new painting was pulled up onto the projector screen, we would be asked to simply describe it--no matter what class I was in or what professor was teaching it.  It seemed silly at first, just listing out what all my fellow students could see as clearly as I could, but I quickly found that it was not silly at all.  We all "see" in different ways, and it so easy to miss certain details, moods, structures, color choices, shadings, textures, and more if we do not force ourselves to go through this very straightforward, surface-level description of the piece.  As a student observer, you begin to realize that each detail was a choice, each stroke active.  This is even more striking in a group setting (home or classroom), where, as Scott says, students and teacher are "learning from one another how to see the artist's work" (176).  And yes, this paves the way toward further analysis later on: Why did the artist make this stylistic choice? Use that color?  Choose that scene?  How does it compare to this other work, or this other artist?  But much more importantly, it also just helps one enjoy the piece more, which is the true goal of picture study in a Charlotte Mason education.


  1. I really liked this section as well. I found it very helpful to see some "guidelines" for what to think about and what to ask. We just began some art study, but since we're doing K and not "officially" doing a full CM schedule, it's very informal. I took Mary Cassatt as our artist for the term, and each week on art day, I print out on photo paper a new piece for us to look at. We spend maybe 8-10 minutes on that, then I pin it on our white board, write its name, and there it hangs for the week. Last week, the kids really enjoyed pointing out to Daddy all the things they liked and noticed:) I love the idea that they have these little treasure troves of art in their minds, and I know that if we happened to see "The Child's Bath" hanging somewhere, Cate would recognize it and be excited to be a part of the world of art. Lovely.

  2. I like how you described it, being part of the world of art. It is powerful knowledge for the child to enter into that beauty--I know it is certainly inspiring to me. I read somewhere (I wish I could remember where!) about a mother who sat her children down before the beginning of the term and described the joy she got in being able to close her eyes and view the little museum in her mind of all the artwork she had studied over the years. I did the same with Gianna and Vincent earlier this term and they were fascinated and eager to create their own little mind-museums. :)

    And this is one place that I break from the AO schedule--I choose my own artists each term, depending on what I think will particularly appeal to the children at this age, in this stage. That was recommended in this article: I'm glad I followed the advice because, like you have probably seen with Cate and Mary Cassatt, you can just tell when an artist is really going to speak to a particular child. That's how my two were with Cassatt last year, and we're loving El Greco right now--they're developing that personal connection to his work, which is wonderful to see.