Friday, February 22, 2013

What do You See? - Picture Study with the Gentle Art of Learning

What do You See?
Picture Study with the Gentle Art of Learning

     Outdoors, I took a peaceful early morning trudge to the mailbox in Pennsylvania snow. The snow, that fell silently in the night, looked magical. “Pennsylvania snow” is often the kind that melts in three days. Then another snowfall takes its place and dresses our house in white again. Indoors, I started sorting through books and sifting through old files. I found some things that might interest you for today’s topic.  

Art in Reach of Children
     If we want children to learn “art” the simplest and most natural way is to place some of the best art the world has to offer into the reach of children. Art is part of life – a life of ideas. Many of us were brought up to think of art as “art class” – another one of those classroom subjects that is over and done-with upon graduation. But the world of art is something marvelous that exists outside the classroom and is not confined to it. It is this world that we introduce to children – with a healthy dose of discretion - in hopes that they will form a relation.

A Main Resource
     Picture Study is one of the simplest of all subjects. An advantageous way to become familiar with some of the world’s greatest works of art is to open the pages of an art print book.  If you live in a major city and can hop on a bus to an art museum - that would be wonderful. But such an excursion is not something most of us can do regularly. Art print books are handy. They have beautiful reproductions. With the decline of bookshops and when public libraries are unsupplied, this resource could be less available than it once was. I’ve seen art print books abandoned in used bookshops and this, perhaps, may be the best place to find them. You’ll be surprised at how inexpensive they are compared to their original price upon publication.

     The Picture Study chapter in A Charlotte Mason Companion is a sort of teacher’s guide to get you started or to renew your interest. In it I quote from Miss Charlotte Mason.

“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.” *1

     Prop up a book on a sideboard. Open to a work of art. (Conceal the opposite page if it also has a picture). Display the picture for a week or more. Let the children look and look. After a few days ask a child to describe what he sees. It’s this simple. 

A Fond Remembrance
     In the early 1990s I had the pleasure of written correspondence with Miss Eve Anderson, retired headmistress of the Eton End PNEU School in Oxford, England. With her fountain pen she was kind to answer my questions. I couldn’t travel when I was first invited to meet her but enjoyed our telephone conversation. Then, a few years later, I was blessed to spend a weekend with Eve Anderson. I treasure my remembrance of her. She has since gone to be with the Lord.


     When I learned that she attended a PNEU school as a young girl before WWII, I asked her what stood out in her memory. She wrote:

     From age 5-8 years I attended a PNEU school of probably about 30 children. It was a very happy time of learning, no stress, no pressure. I obviously learnt to read and write but what I most remember is the joy of the nature walks and coming back and painting in our nature note books. Also I remember vividly the picture study lessons, looking carefully at one picture and learning about the different artists each term. Parental support and interest is so vital. My mother used to take me to the National Gallery so that we could look at the original pictures that we had studied. She [built] in me a careful observation of nature at weekends and [encouraged me] to take interesting [nature specimens] to school. These two subjects have been lifelong interests.

One Artist After Another
     I found Charlotte Mason’s approach to art to be appealing when my children were still young. Yet, in the midst of our many household moves Picture Study would slip out of the schedule. I did learn that once you set your mind to do it (at lunchtime for example- with all the children together) it could be restarted without much ado. It requires foresight but very little time and effort to perform. 

    Although no fancy curriculum is needed, Picture Study is something Miss Mason recommends we do not leave to chance. Her plan is to “take one artist after another, term by term, and study quietly some half dozen reproductions of his work in the course of a term.” *2 This helps us become familiar with the style and characteristics of one artist’s works.

     “Oh look Mommy, it’s a Renoir,” a child may speak out when you enter the dentist’s waiting room and a reproduction of  “Girl with a Watering Can” is in plain view. My son and I got to see Renoir’s “Girl with a Watering Can” in person when we visited Washington D.C.’s National Gallery of Art in 2007 (his graduating year.) It was one he decided to photograph probably because of his familiarity with it during in our early years of appreciation. He also photographed the one painting by Leonardo Da Vinci there at the time. I liked the room of Dutch painters. That day was icing on our cake.  

Beyond the Pictures of His Storybooks
     What a sad state my copy of Famous Paintings is in. It is the book I used to help me write the art appreciation portions of Lessons of Blackberry Inn. Although the cover of Famous Paintings –Selected from the World’s Great Galleries and Reproduced in Colour – With an Introduction by G. K. Chesterton and Descriptive Notes - was irreparable, and did not survive a pipe leak in the basement, the body of the book, though dampened, is recovered. 


     Wishing to begin Picture Study with her children but finding herself without any sort of curriculum that includes six of an artist’s works, my character, Carol,  “makes do” – but quite happily so with FamousPaintings (which was in publication during the 1930s when the story takes place.) Although she doesn’t follow Miss Mason’s specific plan Carol follows the spirit of the law. 

A painting by Jean Francois Millet would be first to catch the eyes of the children.

     When her children are occupied in an adjoining room  – the little girls with a doll’s a tea party – Carol is in the sitting room among guests. She shares her opinion:

"My voice must have been laced with conviction because little by little everyone in the room became quiet and listened attentively . . . ‘Art training should proceed on two lines,’ I said. ‘The child should learn both to express himself and to appreciate, and his appreciation should be well in advance of his powers to express what he sees or imagines. His appreciation should go beyond the pictures of his storybooks.’ ”*3

My thoughts precisely. Imagine that.

Karen Andreola

End Notes
*1 & *2  Charlotte Mason, Home Education, page 309
*3 Karen Andreola, Lessons at Blackberry Inn, page 124

"A Fisherman," by the Swedish-born artist Anders Zorn was our next picture. Blackberry Inn

Pay Pal is now engaged as a means of purchasing the Mother Culture CD. I can’t imagine I will ever keep pace with the modern world. But I do take steps – however small. Thank you for your patronage and patience – to some I can say - “for all these years.”  


  1. It is a joy when you see that recognition in their eyes. My sons have enjoyed books from the library that show all the beauty of the great artists. There is no other way to teach our children :)

    And Pennsylvania snow...I live in this beautiful state, and snow falls continue to be my favorite part of winters here :)

    Thank you so much Karen for sharing your lovely words with me today...

  2. We do love our picture study here. I fondly remember you sharing about it when you spoke to our homeschool group in MA years ago:-) Glad to see you still see the book I gifted you, The Essential Pre-Raphaelites. Miss Anderson certainly had fond childhood memories from her PNEU days, and a mother who nurtured the work started there. Thank you for sharing!

  3. February Greetings!

    My husband and I were at the Biltmore recently. We thoroughly enjoyed the art. A lovely painting titled The Waltz by Anders Zorn adorns one of the rooms. We found prints in the gift shop, but they are not nearly as lovely as the original oil. Ah well...the memory will suffice.

    Enjoy the snow!


  4. Sharing this article with my readers. My children recognize many paintings due to Artist Study, and to our delight many of the originals were in the Museum of Fine Art in Boston when we visited last year. What a treat!

  5. I am so happy that I've found your blog! My son is now only 2 years old but I feel God calling me to be a house wife and maybe even homeschool him and our future children - and to bring "mother culture" to my country, meaning that I want the value of stay at home mothers to be acknowledged again in here. I live in Finland where homeschooling or being a house wife is very rare and I haven't ever met anyone here who would have home schooled their kids. Thus I've been searching through American home schooling blogs.

    Charlotte Masons ideas that you have expressed here are very interesting to me. I hated school myself - both the quality of teaching and the fact that I was bullied all through school years - so I self educated myself by reading all kinds of novels, writing short stories and poetry, listening to all kinds of music, wandering outdoors, learning to draw and paint. I want to educate my children also in a way that nurtures their hearts, not just their minds.

    I would like to start doing picture study with my son as you described. What artists would you recommend to start with with a 2-year-old?

    -Meri from Finland

  6. Hi Ladies,
    I am always appreciative of what you share here. It is good to learn that you are forming a relation with beautiful art.

    How fun, Suzanne, that you spotted your gift of “Essential Pre-Raphealites” on the post. It is now in the hands of Yolanda who saw it on the chair when she was visiting. “It’s my style,” she said.

    Many thanks to those who tell their blog friends about the articles I prepare for you.

    It seems that you are following a “calling” to provide a better education for your children than what you had to endure. It is interesting that you pursued and created an “educational life” for yourself. This is what many of us do while we walk on new ground and home educate our children. Because of this it seems that you will make an enthusiastic and determined teacher. You recognize the enormous value of home and being a nurturing mother, too, although, you report that so many around you in Finland do not to recognize the need. I admire your courage. Home life is rare here too. And in the letters I receive there are mothers across America, who wish to do things differently, follow their convictions, but are without like-minded persons nearby to share a cup of tea and sympathy. Perhaps this is why you find us blogging.

    How good to hear that you are being encouraged by Charlotte Mason’s guidance.

    For a two-year-old I recommend choosing any artist’s pictures that appeal to you with no concern for keeping to “six artists works.” Charlotte Mason started school age children with Jean Francois Millet. You might like Pierre-August Renoir and other French Impressionists or the Italian Renaissance painters (using discretion.)

    I am gazing at Renoir’s “The Swing” today. It looks like a spring day and speaks “joy” to me – and makes me agree with art commentator, Raffaele De Grada who said:

    “I love those paintings that make me want to wander around inside them.”

    Good Day,
    Karen A.

  7. Karen, I love this post!

    I feel indebted to you for our family's interest and love for fine art. Never having developed a relationship with fine art ("art" in school meant drawing and I wasn't good at that), I nevertheless found my interest piqued by what you shared about Picture Study in A Charlotte Mason Companion. We implemented many of your ideas in our own homeschool, and learned to appreciate the world of art and artists. I was surprised to find that it was easy to "study" art in a few minutes a day...and equally surprised that this non-art mom (and her children) could learn to recognize an artists works by his/her style. Your book opened up a new world to us!

    Now, art study is a regular part of our "Morning Time," along with poetry and composer study and...

    ~ Cheryl @ Thinking About Home

    P.S. I, too, have found that one can find lovely art books quite inexpensively at antique stores and used book stores. We have also bought outdated calendars for the art.

  8. I did a search on Amazon and found out Famous Paintings in paperback is still in print. It is now on my Wish List as a possible gift for my daughter and her family.

    I remember so many lovely times when I curled up with one of your books and a cup of tea (coffee, hot chocolate, hot cider, etc.) and was renergised with the "Gentle Arts". :)

    Can you believe that the complete Charlotte Mason is now available on Kindle for 99 cents?

  9. My thoughts precisely. Imagine that. This made me laugh! I'm getting ready to start this, with help from the Yahoo AO Art Prints group.

  10. Karen, will you ever continue Carol and her families story? Pocketfuls and blackberry are my absolute favorite books, and get totally lost I. Them each time I read them and I've read them MANY MANY MANY MANY times.

    Just wondering.


  11. I always loved how Carol went about sharing art with the children! Thanks for the reminder! I need to pull out those lovely stories again...a bit of inspiration in the cold, gray, February! :)

    PS- Your home is DELIGHTFUL. I often "ooh & ahh" over old stone beauties such as yours when we are out and about. And the red door...*swoon* ;)

  12. A neglected subject in my homeschool curriculum, sad to say, is picture study. I am going to have to keep my eyes open for a book or two while visiting our local thrift shop which just happens to yield a worthwhile read every now and again. As always, Karen, thanks for the encouragement you provide here in this space. ~Lisa

    PS: Your home is lovely! Wishing we had at least one more snow this winter...

    1. What we always did for our main Picture Study resource was to use fine art calendars. The calendars are often grouped by artist or by artistic style and the prints are usually larger than what we found in books. Plus calendars are relatively inexpensive (12 large full-color prints for $10 or less). As a family, we would choose each year's art calendar together around the holidays.

  13. A very interesting post today,as always :) Thanks so much for sharing friend...blessings

  14. Karen,

    This was a very encouraging post! You always make everything seem do=able! ;o)

    This is one area that I have always been intimidated and never really done anything with. I am hoping to change things!! ;o)

    When we were in IL this past autumn, we stayed with friends who are huge fans of Pre-Raphaelite art and especially Bouguereau. She gave us some lovely art lessons. They also had some lovely art in their home! ;o)

    Thank you for sharing and encouraging Karen!

    Love, Heather

  15. Just the motivation I needed! Love the way you are always encouraging your readers to freely make a CM approach work for their own unique family. I only hope I remember so many homeschooling moments as vividly as you do! Thanks again for much-needed refreshment!