In past posts, I have blogged many aspects of picture study, Charlotte Mason style: focus on theory of mind for Monet and Vermeer, making connections, videos of Monet study and da Vinci study in action, and museum visits.
What is picture study, you ask?
Mason taught pictorial art along two lines: appreciation and expression. We study masterpieces to see what a truly gifted artist can do. We focus on one artist per term, a new artist every term, to heighten their sense of beauty and foster a relationship with the work of an artist.
Mason outlined how to do a picture talk and basically you ask the child to (1) recall the previous picture, (2) study a new one carefully, and, when ready, (3) narrate the picture after you put away the card. Afterwards, you might have a conversation about the picture (the backstory, for example) or have child sketch the chief lines in the composition. You really do form a relationship with the work of an artist. You cannot imagine the exhilaration of seeing an original painting in its proper size and space with the finest detail of brushwork, form, and feeling before your eyes in a museum. The joy feel comes from our deep appreciation of an artist's accomplishments.
Since my last update, we have studied Millet, van Gogh and modern artist Makoto Fujimura, and Pamela met the latter last June as narrated in the following clip.
This term, we will be getting to know Winslow Homer, who, like Pamela, fell in love with watercolors. The "wrinkle" I added to picture study emphasizes the importance of theory of mind—knowing that what is in your mind may not be in the mind of another person unless you communicate. Pamela selects one picture from the stack of cards (the ones by Dover are quite handy and, once an artist I have in mind is available in one of Emily Cottrill's portfolios, I will try that). After she finishes studying the card, she must narrate the painting so well that I can figure out the one she had in mind. The following paintings illustrate the importance of describing a scene fully: Girl with Laurel (the upper painting) and Peach Blossoms (the lower painting). The two paintings have much in common: one young woman wearing a long dress and hat standing near flowering trees and a green field. If Pamela leaves out the wrong details in an oral narration, I might pick the wrong painting!
Since this was the first picture study of the term, Pamela probably did not realize how similar the two paintings looked. She selected Girl with Laurel, studied it, put away the card, and narrated the full scene. She described the girl and the background. Based upon her narration, I boiled down my selection to the two paintings. To spotlight the importance of offering a detailed description, I pointed out the information she had given me that helped me choose the right one. I said, "You told me there was a blue sky, but this one [Peach Blossom] has a gray sky. You also told me the girl was wearing a blue dress, but this girl is wearing a yellow dress. And, you said she carried a basket, but this one has no basket. So, it can't be Peach Blossom, so I am going to say it was Girl with Laurel." Giving her feedback on my thinking is an important part of helping see the effectiveness of her communication.
This year, I am adding another level of elaboration to Pamela's picture study. Because she is still learning English as a first language due to her aphasia, I let go of written narration a few years back. Pamela simply was not developmentally ready. Every day, she still works on the foundation for writing: oral narration, recitation, reading living books, copywork, and studied dictation. Her ability to describe paintings has improved to the point of being able to try her hand at written narration.
Because I would like her to write one narration a week, I plan to have her do picture study once a week as well. After she finishes her oral narration and I give her feedback, she will write a narration. I limited the scope of what she had to describe for her first attempt: I asked her to write about the girl while she was looking at the painting. I left the room to avoid influencing her in any way, and I am pleased with her efforts. She had already erased and made her own corrections before I returned. You can see the grammar glitches that come with syntactic aphasia. You can also see that her use of irregular verbs and personal pronouns is spot on!
The paintings themselves with offer natural elaboration: some will have two or more human subjects, several will have a crowd. The dramatic scenes will offer her the chance to describe actions and emotions. The seascapes and landscapes will require her to focus on background. When she feels comfortable in all of the above, then I can ask her to describe the whole picture while viewing it. Once she can do that well, I will remove the final piece of scaffolding and she will have to write her narration based upon her memory of the picture.
It is quite natural to make elaborations from Mason's ideas. There is one I plan to avoid. Some families try to take picture study from the line of simple appreciation to expression by making their own copy of the painting. I did this in the late 1990s before I came across Mason's ideas. It backfired on us because we were terrible at drawing and were clueless about elements of artistic composition. It became a chore, and we were never satisfied with our work. Mason was concerned for a different reason, "Beyond this of a rough study from memory of a given picture or of any section of it, these picture studies do not afford much material for actual drawing; they are never copied lest an attempt to copy should lessen a child's reverence for great work" (Page 216).
There is a time and place for art expression. Mason encouraged children to illustrate their favorite scenes from a book. And, if an artist has truly inspired them, perhaps they can try in the spirit of said artist.