Monday, August 20, 2007

Picture Study

As promised, I'm going to share a bit about how and why we do Picture Study. I'll start with the why. Philippians 4:8 says, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." In our world today, so much of what is noble and excellent has been replaced by trashy, worthless images that flash by on the TV or movie screen or on a billboard as you fly down the highway. Did you realise that when you watch TV or a movie, the scene changes an average of every 3 seconds? Even if there was something lovely or praiseworthy on the screen, you would not have nearly enough time to appreciate it. Picture study puts us in touch with some of the world's most beautiful paintings ad gives us time to appreciate and notice all the wonderful details that the artist has included. It trains our powers of attention, observation and recollection. This is just a brief overview of why we do picture study. If you are interested in learning more, you can read Charlotte Mason's thoughts on Picture Study at the Ambleside Online website.

Now that I've briefly explained the "why", I'll tell you how we put it into practice using this year's studies as an example. We're covering the Middle Ages, Renaissance and Reformation in history this year, so I've chosen to study artists from this time period as well. I purchased a wonderful coffee table book called The Great Masters by Giorgio Vasari. It contains large color prints of the paintings and sculptures of Giotto, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Raphael and Titian. Beginning with Giotto, I've selected five paintings that will be our focus for the term. I made color photocopies of each and put them in some wood document frames that I bought at the dollar store. They hang behind the couch in our classroom so that we are constantly exposed to them. Once a week we choose one of the paintings for further study. We study it silently for a few minutes, flip the picture over and take turns narrating, usually with the youngest going first. Narration is simply telling in your own words what you saw. We will often discuss what each of us liked or disliked about the painting. If there is a bit of background information that may be helpful, I will mention it after the narration has been given. I give my narration last, pointing out anything that I noticed that they may have overlooked. However, my children have sharp eyes and they often point out things that I never noticed! This is not intended to be an art lecture; it is intended for the children to develop a relationship with the world's great works of art as they form their own ideas and examine their feelings about each painting.

We are rounding out our study with two wonderful resources. The first is Knights of the Art by Amy Steedman (see link to the left). It is a very well-written account of the lives of some of the great Gothic and Renaissance artists. We read from this once or twice a week to gain some insight into the lives of the artists we are studying. The second resource is Discovering Great Artists by Maryanne Kohl. It suggests hands-on activities to go along with the study of each artist. For instance, we will be making our own egg paints using ground up chalk and egg yolks, much like Giotto would have made his paints. Often we will copy a painting or paint one of our own "in the style of" the artist we are studying. As they study and practice the art of the great masters, their own artistic endeavors begin to grow and mature.

I hope you've enjoyed this glimpse into our adventures in art. If you think you'd like to try this in your home and would like additional information, resources and support, come join us at the Artist Study CM Yahoo group. Hope to see you there!


  1. This is awesome. This is exactly how I feel about Picture Study but
    I never could put it in words before. Of course I won't show my dc just any Art. I will be picky about it. I also plan on showing them photographs because I do believe they are also a form of Art. Thank You for sharing your thoughts on this. I plan on adding a link to this post on my attempt at a blog. Is that o.k. ?

  2. Thanks for this submission to the carnival! :-) And thanks for the plug to the group.

  3. What a great post about studying art the CM way. It sounds like you and your kids are doing a great job. I love how you're tying it in to what you're studying in history. So far, I've just been picking artists and haven't tied it to the history we're currently studying, but I'm going to try to start doing that!