Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Our Plan for the Year: Visual Art

I communicating with a niece on Facebook. She is enrolled in college and was blown away by some Georgia O'Keeffe flower paintings on display at her school. I told her how much we love art: I prefer Vermeer while Pamela likes Monet. We gladly carve time into our packed schedule to get to know da Vinci. My niece admitted she knew very little about art because it wasn't taught in school. How sad! I took an art class in high school and hated it because of the teacher's abrasive personality. But, Mr. P., the English and Humanities teacher, helped us to see the beauty of art. He had slides and slides of art and would spent part of class going through them and engaging us in conversation. His enthusiasm reversed my low opinion of art.

The beauty of Charlotte Mason's approach is that, like Mr. P., you do not have to be an artist to teach visual art. That's a good thing because, when I started homeschooling back in the Ice Age, I couldn't even draw what a caveman could draw. My mother, sister, brothers, and niece were all born knowing how to draw. I was not! A decade of homeschooling has improved my abilities (I dare not use the word skill) and people can actually tell what I am trying to draw. I paint with watercolors, too. No matter how old you are, you are never to old to improve your drawing and painting skills. This mathematician is living proof.

The point of teaching art is not to churn out artists, but to develop an eye for beauty: "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 even a single picture" (Page 309).

If you have a child gifted in art, that talent will emerge and most families have resources within reach. We live in a rural town, population 4,000, and yet fifteen minutes from our house is an art gallery with working artists who offer classes to the public. In fact, there's talk of expanding the concept to attract artisans to live and work here and share their gifts with the community.

Mason divided her visual art curriculum into two components: "The six-year-old child should begin both to express himself and to appreciate" (Page 308).

Artistic Expression
Illustrations - One thing I love about working on the curriculum project is deepening my understanding of Mason's approach. Unfortunately, I zoomed in on picture study and ignored other elements. My friends reminded me that Mason had "spoken, from time to time, of original illustrations drawn by the children" (Page 312). This year, Pamela is doing some of them. This picture depicts the day when young Francis Marion was learning the ways of the swamp from his servant Prince when he flung his hatchet and decapitated a rattler with thirteen rattles, threatening a gorgeous painted bunting. If you have ever seen this sweet bird, you would be hacked off too.

Nature Notebooks - We have dabbled with nature notebooks for years, and I wrote an entire post on the subject last month. Last week, Pamela drew this male mallard, who lacks his usual color because it is molting season. Mason summarized the benefit of nature notebooks for the visual arts,
This is what we wish to do for children in teaching them to draw––to cause the eye to rest, not unconsciously, but consciously, on some object of beauty which will leave in their minds an image of delight for all their lives to come. Children of six and seven draw budding twigs of oak and ash, beech and larch, with such tender fidelity to colour, tone, and gesture, that the crude little drawings are in themselves things of beauty (Page 313).

Drawing Lessons - I do not give Pamela many drawing lessons for it would be a case of the blind leading the sighted. Sometimes, I let her know if something is not quite right. But, some "errors" have become a trademark for her, such as an animal in profile with two eyes on one side of the head. If I forced her to do it the "right" way, it would not be Pamela! Mason reserved drawing lessons for older children and let younger ones learn by trial and error,
Therefore we set twig or growing flower before a child and let him deal with it as he chooses. He will find his own way to form and colour, and our help may very well be limited at first to such technical matters as the mixing of colours and the like. In order that we may not impede the child's freedom or hinder the deliverance of the art that is in him, we must be careful not to offer any aids in the way of guiding lines, points, and such other crutches; and, also, he should work in the easiest medium, that is, with paint brush or with charcoal, and not with a black-lead pencil. Boxes of cheap colours are to be avoided. Children are worthy of the best, and some half-dozen tubes of really good colours will last a long time, and will satisfy the eye of the little artists (Page 314).
Picture Study - I am not sure why, but, when we first started doing picture study, I thought the kids were supposed to make their own version of a masterpiece. The kids really didn't take to it and I put it away for a year and tried the next year. It never seemed to take with our kids. Charlotte Mason hinted at the reason when she said, "His appreciation should be well in advance of his power to express what he sees or imagines" (Page 308). I must not have been the only one to make that mistake for she wrote in her final book, "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 217).

What is picture study you ask? Last year, I blogged it pretty thoroughly in a post about modifying it for low-verbal autistic children, making connections, and working on theory of mind. We are continuing to play the game described in the third post. We are covering six paintings per artist, or eighteen paintings in a year. More is less because "the function of the sense of beauty is to open a paradise of pleasure for us; but what if we grow up admiring the wrong things, or, what is morally worse, arrogant in the belief that it is only we and our kind who are able to appreciate and distinguish beauty? It is no small part of education to have seen much beauty, to recognize it when we see it, and to keep ourselves humble in its presence" (Page 57).

Living Books - This year, we will be reading a book on da Vinci and another on van Gogh plus books on art history. Pamela drew some busts of people she is studying in ancient history.


Happy Elf Mom (Christine) said...

I love the surprise of the girl on the boat in the top picture!! :)

Phyllis said...

Wow! What can I say? You are incredible at both keeping Miss Mason's principals and modifying it to meet Pamela where she is. We are all blessed when we read how you do it.

poohder said...

Tammy, I'd love to get the Child's History of Art book, but it's so expensive. Were you able to get it less expensive? Rhonda

walking said...

I got all of mine used, but the painting one was the most expensive ($25). The others I got for $12. You have to haunt Amazon, set up a search on eBay, and check out http://www.bestwebbuys.com It was harder during the summer. You might be get a better deal with less demand.