Picture study is one of the easiest components of a Charlotte Mason education to incorporate into your homeschool curriculum. You do not need to know anything yourself about art, or art history. I repeat …You do NOT need to know ANYTHING about art or art history to begin. All you need is knowledge of the method and a few worthy resources.
Why is Picture Study important?
In today’s society, the importance of the arts has been superseded by STEM and the other sciences. We have lost touch with the great artistic masters of past. Now, the masses only see fragments, distorted reproductions of the original genius of these men and women. For most of us, the only exposure we get to great art might be a coffee shop using the Mona Lisa in it’s logo, or a travel advert for Japan using a work of art by Hokusai.
Many of us will have heard of Leonardo Da Vinci, or Claude Monet, and will have seen their art used in advertisements on billboards and the TV, but have little to draw upon from our own education.
Just as the great works of literature give us glimpses in the the mighty thoughts of the world’s great authors, so too picture study can give us insight into the ideas and minds of those artists. It puts children in touch with worthy ideas and inspires them with something more than modern life can offer.
” 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 a single picture.” – Charlotte Mason
Picture study offers our children a store of images in their mind, to balance out the media’s influence and attempt to monopolize their senses.
Picture study also:
- Improves a child’s power of observation
- Develop a sense of beauty
- Connects them with an artist of a piece of art
- Helps them to form opinion about art and their own taste in it
- Encourages them to draw and be creative themselves
How to do Picture Study
From the ages of 6 to 15 Charlotte Mason recommended that children become acquainted with at least thirty of the world’s most famous artists.
I have filmed a short video, showing glimpses into our own Picture study lesson, in the hope that it will make what is written here clearer.
WATCH THIS VIDEO!
First begin by choosing the artist you wish them to study. In our first year, we began with Leonardo Da Vinci as it was easy to find the resources we needed, and I was slightly familiar with his work.
However, please remember, you do not need to know ANYTHING about the artist before you begin. In fact, it will only add to your enjoyment of this subject, as you find yourself learning alongside the children.
Examples of artists to study include:
- Van Gogh
- Claude Monet
- Leonardo Da Vinci
- Georgia O’Keeffe
The next step is to find six works of art by that artist for that school term, and studying three different artists per year.
Display one of those pieces in front of your children, and ask them to look at it closely, in silence. Allow them plenty of time to, not only absorb it, but to think and ponder over it. Then, when they are finished, hide the art from them and ask them to describe it.
Try your best not to prompt them with leading questions, like “What colour was her dress?” or “What was the weather like?” Just simply say, ” Tell me about it.” They will almost certainly not remember everything, but they don’t need to. By narrating in this way, they are performing a much higher thought process; of observing, processing, recalling and articulating those thoughts in their own words.
If you prompt too much, you are in danger of having your children become dependent on your questions, like we often see in school comprehension worksheets and multiple choice questions. Allow your children to think for themselves.
If your child is not used to narration, and is struggling to recall it or articulate his thoughts, then let him see the painting as he narrates. It is difficult skill to develop, so take it slow and try to keep the atmosphere joyful.
For older children, you can allow them to sketch from memory what they saw if they would like to.
The next step is to display that piece of art somewhere in your home so that the children can see it frequently through out their day.
The following week, repeat the process with the SAME piece of art. You will hopefully find that your children have more to say!
It can be helpful to tell the children a little about the artist or the painting before you begin. If the painting is about a story, it can be helpful to tell your children this story before you begin the picture study. Likewise, knowing a little more about the artist they are studying, will help them to form connections with him/her. Knowing more about the mind behind the art will encourage your children to look more closely at the work itself.
After 2 weeks, switch to another piece art by that same artist. In so doing, your child will some to know at least 6 of the artist’s works each term. That’s an incredible achievement!
Picture Study Resources
For the art prints themselves, I would always recommend getting the largest prints you can find and display easily.
Postcards and images in art textbooks are often too small for multiple children to see at once, and inevitably loose the finer details.
We personally use wall calendars of a specific artist. These tend to be much cheaper than books, the prints are a good size, and they are easy to display on our kitchen wall. Here are a few examples of some we have used:
Another option, is to look for larger “coffee-table books” on a specific artist. You can usually find some in your local library or on Amazon.
We have also used “Print Packs” from the Great Artist Collection. These contain a selection of six beautiful colour prints along with extensive information about the artist and his/her work:
Paul Cezanne UK USA
Vincent Van Gogh UK USA
Renoir UK USA
Claude Monet UK USA
The organsiation Simply Charlotte Mason also produces lovely Picture Study Portfolios that contains eight prints and a handbook.We have not tried these ourselves, but I have heard they are a excellent.
Children’s artist biographies can also be found at the library, but I would strongly recommend pre-reading these so you can omit the less-wholesome parts of the artist’s lives that young children do not need to know about. However, it may be worthwhile older children knowing the full picture, as these parts of their lives will have inevitably influenced their art, and will make for meaningful discussions with you.
Here are a few artist biographies, in the form of living books, that we have enjoyed with our young children:
- Linnea in Monet’s Garden UK USA
- My name is is Georgia (O’Keeffe) UK USA
- Camille and the Sunflowers (Van Gough) UK USA
- Cezanne and the Apple Boy UK USA
- Leonardo and the Flying Boy UK USA
During their lesson, we use a wooden cookbook stand to hold the calendar or book.
From the age of fourteen, art history is incorporated into the Charlotte Mason curriculum, where children learn how the artist worldview would have influenced their art.
The picture study lessons will take no more that 10-15 minutes a week, but the influence that they have will be lifelong. To be able to store “a couple of hundred pictures by great masters hanging permanently in the halls of [their] imagination” is a worthy endeavor.
Other useful Picture Study links
- Picture Study Lesson demonstation
- Example artist rotation schedule
- Charlotte Mason Picture Study aids
It you have any questions about picture study please leave them for me in the comments below.
Thank you for taking the time to visit our blog and read my thoughts on this topic.
Peace and Love,