The six-year-old child should begin both to express himself and to appreciate, and his appreciation should be well in advance of his power to express what he sees or imagines. Therefore it is a lamentable thing when the appreciation of children is exercised only upon the coloured lithographs of their picture-books or of the ‘Christmas number.’

…the minds of children and of their elders alike accommodate themselves to what is put in their way; and if children appreciate the vulgar and sentimental in art, it is because that is the manner of art to which they become habituated.

…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.

Charlotte Mason, Home Education, pg.307-309

Charlotte Mason reminds us that we cannot measure how our children will be influenced when they spend time really looking at works of art. Therefore, it is my endeavor to “put in [my children’s] way” artists whose works instill a sense of beauty and capture moments in time—works that enrich us.

What Does Artist Study Look like in Our Family?

In our homeschool, we follow Ambleside Online’s Artist Schedule. Each term (12 weeks) we consider one artist and six or seven representations of their work. This usually means looking at one piece every two weeks. For example, this term we are studying the Impressionist Edgar Degas. So far we have looked at the following paintings:

The Belleli Family

The Belleli Family

The Cotton Exchange, New Orleans

The Cotton Exchange, New Orleans

The Dance Class

The Dance Class

Once or twice a week, often while the kids eat lunch or snacks, I pull up the schedule on my iPad and click the link to the painting for that week. Together, we spend five or so minutes looking at it. There might be a brief discussion, often led by the children, about who is portrayed in the painting, what they are doing, where they are, the style of painting, and any other details that stand out to us. I then take the painting away and ask one of the children to narrate it, that is, to tell me about the painting from memory. And that’s it.

It seems so simple (and it is!) but you will be surprised at how much impact spending the time really looking and appreciating an artist’s work actually has on a young heart. The learning isn’t always tangible, but I promise you it is happening.

From the Mouth of an 8-Year-Old

Here is what my 8-year-old said about ‘The Dance Class’ a few days after looking at it:

“The dance rehearsal, I really like it. One of the reasons is because its got the mirror and the stairway with the window and the people on the stairway. When I first saw it I thought it was an actual door but then we realized that it was actually a window and that it was people that we could see. I like how he’s got all the details and how you can actually see the man’s handkerchief in his pocket and how he actually did the detail of it just being stuffed in there, not it being completely hidden. I really like it. And I like when you zoom in you can actually see the detail of the dancers feet how they’re slim and dancy, and the way that he’s got the shoe, the one where the ending is flat so that they could stand on their toes. It’s really cool.”

There’s an App for That

Organized mums will have visited Staples, printed the term’s pictures in color, added information about each piece, and presented them in a folder before the term begins. But organization is not my strong suit, so this never happens for me. This term, I discovered the Art Authority app for my iPad. It has thousands of artists, a library of their works, and links to additional information about each. Everything I need is in one app. No more Googling for me! That makes it well worth the $10 in my opinion. The children also enjoy using it to scroll through other artists’ work’s that we have studied in previous years, reacquainting themselves with old friends.

In addition to looking at Degas’ works we have been reading Mike Venezia’s book Edgar Degas from his series “Getting To Know The World’s Greatest Artists.” I read a few pages from the book during our Artist Study time and ask one child to narrate what we have read. The children always look forward to his humorous comic strip pages.

More Than an Add-On

When I first introduced Artist Study in our homeschool, I viewed it as a nice little add-on that we would get to “if we had time,” but if not, “it didn’t really matter.” After three years, we have come to treasure it and I see how much it has enriched my children’s lives as they learn to express their appreciation for the beautiful.