Monday, March 25, 2013

Picture Study

A narrative remembrance after five years: Eve Anderson's class (and our evolution toward a CM methodology)

This past month we discussed "The Knowledge of Man; Art" from Miss Mason's Towards a Philosophy of Education (vol. 6) in our local CM study group.  As there were several who were new to CM or Picture Study, I gave an integrated narration of sorts - a bit from our own home school experience, a narration of Eve Anderson's class from the Perimeter School DVD, and a fusion of CM's writings and descriptions.  Overall, probably TMI for a brief explanation.  I will give you a more succinct version of "How-To" at the end.

When we began integrating Art Studies into our home education curriculum, I had not heard of Charlotte Mason methods.   We hung a large framed picture in our living room and sat for an hour reading a biography before trying to imitate the artist's technique or copy the picture.  We would then do a unit study around it all with the lessons all laid out with worksheets and projects.  Kinda fun for me as the teacher, but I am not sure the kids got much appreciation for the art or artist out of all the activity.  One good thing - they did view some great art works!

After we began a more CM education approach, I wanted to bring Picture Study into our lives with the thought of introducing us to beauty and an appreciation of art.  We began to follow the AmblesideOnline rotation.  I used our lunchtime lesson to fit it in (I still saw it as an extra at that point); a 15 minute time slot was a perfect fit.  I had already been adapting our methods in composer study and just alternated weeks between Picture Study and Composer Study.  As this began to be part of our routine, I wondered why I thought it would be such a big struggle to add Fine Art Appreciation to our days.  We followed the "How-To" mostly as described below; it took a little while to go from the "name a detail" game to thoughtful observation and narration.  For display, I draped a small cotton craft rope between two hooks and clothe-pinned each new picture in a row.  We have evolved to using picture matting for our current picture (shown above 3M'ed to the kitchen wall).  I move them to the great room where I now have a collage of six frames for our current term's artist; I insert the last print studied and continue until all are displayed.  (The photos are my daughters and are background until I replace them with our next print).
We just started Term 3 - Giotto
Funny story: While we lived abroad, I did tweak the rotation schedule to study artists that we had the opportunity to see the actual works in museums.  Though we have had a little bit of museum burnout whining ("Not the Louvre again!"- who says that?  We have already begun reminding them, and they are a bit shamefaced now), the opportunities to SEE the real thing make an impact they do appreciate. Although they do make fun of me when I refer to the paintings I recognize as 'friends'.  If you have been doing Picture Study for a while, I'm probably not the only quirky one out there!

“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.”

In this chapter, the steps of picture study are laid out for a lesson.  A single artist is studied over a term using around six pieces for study – a new one to be introduced every couple of weeks throughout the term. For the beginning lesson, a short biography may be offered as well a word or two about a technique that exemplifies the  artist’s work (i.e., his use of light, the brush strokes, his landscapes).  Each student has his own quality copy of the specified picture to study.  The picture is  placed faced down in front of the student during the introductory talk then turned over at the given time so everyone is quietly studying the picture at the same time.  For about 3-5 minutes the student looks at the work purposefully noticing details – of the overall picture, then in detail.  The child is asked to close his eyes and try to “see” the picture in his mind’s eye.  “Can you see it?”  Open your eyes and look again trying to capture the image.  This is developing the skill of visualization (btw, this same technique is used for spelling too).  It is a skill that requires practice!  At this point, everyone turns the picture face down and then a group narration begins.  Each student takes a turn telling about the picture, moving from the overall impression and idea to the detailed sections (the sky, the bottom right corner, describing the clothing or the items on the table, etc.). When the narration is exhausted, the picture is then turned back over and briefly reviewed for any additional thoughts or corrections.  The piece is displayed prominently somewhere that it can be viewed as often as it draws the child’s attention or even a quick appreciation in passing. As with literature, the artist and the art acts directly with the child without interference or lectures from a teacher.   

“The most important thing is to know the pictures themselves.”