How to Do Charlotte Mason Picture Study
Charlotte Mason picture study is both simple and brilliant. You need not be an expert to conduct a picture study with your children. In fact, you get to learn right alongside them!
Nor do you need textbooks or fancy equipment. In fact, thanks to the rekindled popularity of the Charlotte Mason method, you can now find many readily available resources to streamline your picture study prep.
We have absolutely loved our picture studies over the years! My boys do not feel intimidated or confused or bored by the amazing artists and works of art we’ve studied.
Instead, they feel curious and eager to learn. The masterpieces we study together really do begin to feel like old friends.
When lessons are in full swing for us, which is usually in the wintertime when the farm is resting, we aim for picture study about once a week. Every week we read a little more about our artist, and we focus on a new painting of his or hers.
I like to find a way to display some of our current paintings so that the boys can get used to seeing them. As we study the paintings and as they sit out on display every day, they start to feel like old friends.
I love that about the Charlotte Mason method, and specifically about picture study. I love how it demystifies potentially advanced subjects and makes them feel totally relatable, without dumbing down the original material.
What’s more, by practicing this method of picture study, our children grow in observation skills as well as in exposure to beautiful ideas.
How to do a Charlotte Mason picture study
This method of studying artists and their art involves the basic steps followed in much of Charlotte Mason’s approach to just about any subject. First the child reads about the artist, or you read to him, and then he tells back what he heard/learned/remembers.
As for studying a painting, the process is really very simple. If you’re new to the concept, here are the basic steps:
- Everyone studies the painting quietly for about 5 minutes. Yes, your kids really can sit still and quietly for that long. If it’s a stretch for them, work your way up to it.
- During those five minutes, instruct them to observe every detail they can find. Explain that “we are going to study this painting for a few minutes, until we can close our eyes and still see all the details”. Tell them that after they study the painting closely, you will turn it over (or close the book) and ask them to tell back every detail they can remember. It might help to imagine describing the painting to someone who has never seen it.
- As they study, gently prompt them with questions like these, reminding them not to answer out loud but to save up all their answers so they will have something to share after you take the painting away.
- Study the background of the painting. What do you notice there?
- Now study the foreground of the painting and take note of all the details.
- What colors do you notice in this painting? Think about why the artist might have chosen those colors.
- Where is the light in this painting? Artists often use light to help us focus on the main subject of the painting. Look at where the light is coming from and where it lands. What do you think the artist wanted us to notice?
- Who are the people in this painting, and what are they doing?
- How does this painting make you feel? What sort of feeling do you think the artist wanted to portray?
- After the allotted time, everyone hides their painting away and imagines it in their mind.
- One by one, each child shares details they noticed.
- As you study further works by the same artist, you can ask them to choose a favorite, or to compare and contrast the artist’s different works.
- As you study further works by other artists, you can do the same: compare and contrast the styles and subjects, etc.
And that’s it!
If you’ve never tried a Charlotte Mason style picture study, I hope you now feel ready to jump in.
How to choose an artist
After ten years of practicing the Charlotte Mason method with my three boys, I see three ways to choose an artist for your picture study.
- Study the artists you want to learn about.
- Study the artists for whom you have resources readily available.
- Follow the recommendations of a CM guide. See below.
I have done it all three ways. There really is no right or wrong way to choose an artist.
In general, you’ll want to study artists from different periods of time over the course of your child’s entire education. It would be kind of lopsided and boring only to ever study Impressionist painters, for example.
Sometimes you may come across a fantastic resource for a particular artist and choose to focus on him for a term. Or you might take inventory of the works of art hanging in your nearest gallery and decide to study the artists represented there.
Charlotte Mason guides
Now that so many of us have been Charlotte Mason-ing for so long, several smart homeschool moms have put together wonderful guides for the rest of us. They are not curriculums, per se, because curriculum is the exact opposite of a CM education.
Instead, they are more like a loose outline of which books to read, which artists to study, which musicians to focus on, and so on, and when.
Here are a few options that make it easy to know who to study, and when:
And a few more helpful resources:
Where to find paintings and biographical details:
Yes, you can look up paintings online and study them directly from your computer. However, I MUCH prefer to study actual prints or paintings in a book. There is nothing like holding the painting in your hands, as well as displaying it in your home.
The best CM picture study resources I’ve found are the picture portfolios from Simply Charlotte Mason. All the work is done for you! Each portfolio contains about 8 paintings, plus a short biographical account of the artist. I order one portfolio per artist, and add one additional set of prints per child so that each person has their own prints to observe.
However, the artist selection covered by the SCM picture portfolios is somewhat limited. For all other artists, you’ll get to track down your own resources. Personally, I’ve enjoyed building our home library of excellent art reference books. We’ve filled several shelves with big, hard backed art books and we use them often.
Where to look for art books:
- Library book sales – My favorite place to stock up on art books! I once bought two entire collections for the price of one or two new books.
- Museum gift shops – They have the best art books!
- Antique shops – I’ve found several wonderful art books during my antiquing quests.
- Abebooks.com – Look for used copies of art books that focus on your chosen artist.
- Local library – Don’t hesitate to supplement your own book collection with titles from the library.
More about homeschooling:
- A Gentle Approach to Homeschooling
- How to Choose A Homeschooling Method
- Thoroughly Equipped to Educate
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