When you assign a post to be written by two book lovers, you invariably end up with a longer post than usual! Thank you for indulging our inability to edit words that mean so much to us.
Beauty can be found in the feast spread before the student in many lessons.
Poetry, great literature, nature study, picture study, handicrafts, composer study — all contribute to feed the soul of a child in a Charlotte Mason education. Our God filled the world with beauty and gave us a natural appreciation for it. When we recognize it, we recognize the Creator and His goodness.
My daughter Abigail, nearly 21, was educated based on Charlotte’s Mason’s ideas from her first years onward. She graduated from high school, during which time she was apprenticed to a local sculptor. After graduation she moved to New York to study classical figure sculpting at an atelier in Manhattan. It gives me great delight to watch her grow as an artist and as a person in a very competitive environment. I know so many of Charlotte’s ideas have been validated as I see my daughter integrating truth, goodness and beauty into all aspects of art and life. Her art blog can be found at http://tulis.tumblr.com/tagged/works.
Here are Abigail’s reflections on her education.
The figure and classical art have held my interest from early youth. In elementary school I pored over art history and how-to-draw-people books. My homeschool lessons included weekly studies of the inspiring masterpieces of Western art as well as painting and drawing.
The idea of beauty in literature and art is something to pursue in work and study as well as in one’s leisure hours. This yearning as a child shaped my life. Recognizing beauty leads to truth, to right forms and to the desire for more understanding.
The environment provided by home education allows a child’s creativity to grow unhindered. For an impressionable child, this advantage has profound implications. I am ahead of many of my peers in that I was nurtured on the classics and fine arts.
Thankfully the school I attend is a small one filled with like-minded people who value the pursuit of beauty and truth. Yet my friends who did not have the benefit of this type of education had to fight the system most of their lives and are still suffering repercussions of that battle, whereas I had fertile soil in which to grow.
To know and savor beauty in one’s youth ensures that as the artist matures and begins to learn the principles of design, color and form, he or she will have a deeper capacity for understanding and a clear goal towards which to direct those principles. The classical artist is able to soar to heights almost out of view of the shortsighted modern artist who stands alone and apart from the classical tradition.
Picture study is the enjoyment of looking at pictures, leading to an appreciation of the best. True connoisseurship has been the guiding beacon of every great artist. Michelangelo was copying and admiring Masaccio, while Raphael and Rodin (and most every great artist) were looking towards Michelangelo. Rubens copied Titians and many other master paintings his whole life, even after he was established. Ingres studied Holbein and Picasso, while Degas learned from Rembrandt. This connoisseurship or learning how to balance on the shoulders of our predecessors is the most fundamental thing for any artist, whether in painting, music, architecture or writing.
Enjoying the gestural lines and the dappling of light in a painting is the first step, the most necessary step, and a process that, for a creative soul, only becomes more vital as one goes along.
Charlotte Mason lived in a time when the tradition of drawing and understanding the language of classical architecture had not been abandoned by both artists and laymen. Today we live in a wasteland where, even among artists and teachers of art, shockingly few can draw. Even though I have gone to an elite academic figurative art school in NY, the teachers who have taught me most and will stay with me my whole life are the old masters. Many people do not know how to learn from the works of the dead, but must have someone constantly over their shoulder telling them what to do, and will, upon leaving school, stop learning.
Having books available — printed image above overwhelming online content — is also essential. It is a good idea to limit yourself to a few top images, a few top artists and architects. Edith Wharton’s book, The Decoration of Houses, includes an excellent chapter on the schoolroom.
“The habit of regarding ‘art’ as a thing apart from life is fatal to the development of taste. Parents may conscientiously send their children to galleries and museums, but unless the child can find some point of contact between its own surroundings and the contents of the galleries, the interest excited by the pictures and statues will be short-lived and ineffectual.”
The answer to this problem, she says, is to have a few well-chosen high quality prints, such as a Holbein good photograph of a Palladian Villa, as the decoration of the schoolroom. To complement this, a clutter of artistic influences should be avoided. One would encourage a child to enrich himself with Ivanhoe over the clutter of pulp fiction. When speaking of merely visual surrounds, especially architecture, we must rescue developing and impressionable minds from the visual clutter and irrational mazes of public school buildings, with their architectural success at creating a demoralizing environment.
“The child’s visible surroundings form the basis of the best, because of the most unconscious, cultivation: and not of æsthetic cultivation only, since, as has been pointed out, the development of any artistic taste, if the child’s general training is of the right sort, indirectly broadens the whole view of life.”
And for those whose students do not display an artistic bent, it is just as important if not more important to include the arts. According to Wharton,
“There are, of course, many children not naturally sensitive to artistic influences, and the parents of such children often think that no special care need be spent on their surroundings — a curious misconception of the purpose of all æsthetic training. To teach a child to appreciate any form of beauty is to develop his intelligence, and thereby to enlarge his capacity for wholesome enjoyment. It is, therefore, never idle to cultivate a child’s taste; and those who have no pronounced natural bent toward the beautiful in any form need more guidance and encouragement than the child born with a sense of beauty.”
Being taught how to look, see, and enjoy paintings was something I started learning though picture study. The Charlotte Mason curriculum with all its wealth of beauty has given me what I have come to realize is a great and rare gift.
(Jeannette again) Abigail shared some lovely quotes from Edith Wharton but I wish to leave you with some of my favorite quotes from Charlotte on art and beauty. She truly was a great appreciator of art in all its forms. By God’s grace, my daughter has drunk deeply from these wells and I see the truth of Charlotte’s words come to fruition in Abigail’s life.
“But we begin now to understand that art is not to be approached by such a macadamised* road. It is of the spirit, and in ways of the spirit must we make our attempt. We recognise that the power of appreciating art and of producing to some extent an interpretation of what one sees is as universal as intelligence, imagination, nay, speech, the power of producing words. 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.A friendly picture-dealer supplies us with half a dozen beautiful little reproductions of the work of some single artist, term by term. After a short story of the artist’s life and a few sympathetic words about his trees or his skies, his river-paths or his figures, the little pictures are studied one at a time; that is, children learn, not merely to see a picture but to look at it, taking in every detail. Then the picture is turned over and the children tell what they have seen, -a dog driving a flock of sheep along a road but nobody with the dog. Ah, there is a boy lying down by the stream drinking. It is morning as you can see by the light so the sheep are being driven to pasture, and so on; nothing is left out, the discarded plough, the crooked birch, the clouds beautiful in form and threatening rain, there is enough for half an hour’s talk and memory in this little reproduction of a great picture and the children will know it wherever they see it, whether a signed proof, a copy in oils, or the original itself in one of our galleries. “
*macadamised – conglomerate of road material
Toward a Philosophy of Education, p. 214
“They have a delightful and courageous sense of colour, and any child will convince you that he has it in him to be an artist. Their field studies give them great scope. The first buttercup in a child’s nature notebook is shockingly crude, the sort of thing to scandalise a teacher of brush-drawing, but by and by another buttercup will appear with the delicate poise, uplift and radiance of the growing flower.”
Toward a Philosophy of Education, p. 217
“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. “
Home Education, p. 309
“Narrating is an art, like poetry-making or painting, because it is there, in every child’s mind, waiting to be discovered, and is not the result of any process of disciplinary education.”
Home Education, p. 231
“Beauty in Nature. ––But Beauty is everywhere––in white clouds against the blue, in the gray bole of the beech, the play of a kitten, the lovely flight and beautiful colouring of birds, in the hills and the valleys and the streams, in the wind-flower and the blossom of the broom. What we call Nature is all Beauty and delight, and the person who watches Nature closely and knows her well, like the poet Wordsworth, for example, has his Beauty Sense always active, always bringing him joy.
This brings us to another world of beauty created for us by those whose Beauty Sense enables them not only to see and take joy in all the Beauty there is, but whose souls become so filled with the Beauty they gather through eye and ear that they produce for us new forms of Beauty––in picture, statue, glorious cathedral, in delicate ornament, in fugue, sonata, simple melody.When we think for a moment, how we must admire the goodness of God in placing us in a world so exceedingly full of Beauty––whether it be of what we call Nature or of what we call Art––and in giving us that sense of Beauty which enables us to see and hear, and to be as it were suffused with pleasure at a single beautiful effect brought to our ear or our eye.”
Ourselves, Book 1, p. 42
One of the best picture studies can be found in Ourselves, Book 1, p. 151 and 152. Charlotte uses a painting by Botticelli to illustrate character. She recognized that a picture is worth a thousand words and that it communicates from soul to soul.
May we all be inspired by the extravagance of beauty that fills the earth, placed there by a loving God to bless us in our lessons and in our lives.
© Jeannette and Abigail Tulis 2012