Anyone entering our house usually notices the beautiful tabletop easel on the antique dresser in the entryway. This easel, which my father handcrafted for us, holds an oversized art book open to a beautiful art print. The picture is changed every week or so, and we all enjoy looking at it whenever we pass the easel. We usually display the pictures of one artist for several weeks, then switch to another artist after we get a feel for the first one’s style.
In this simple way our family has been introduced to several masters of art over the years. We’ve built up a collection of various art books, each featuring the work of just one artist. We often cycle through those twenty or so artists, then return to our favorites; it’s like revisiting old friends. But we always keep an eye open for new friends too. For example, some modern photographers can produce real art with their cameras.
This easy practice can be used with children (and adults) of any age. And as the children get older, you can take five or ten minutes a week to encourage closer looking. Just follow the simple steps below.
Step One: Open the book to a picture, show it to the children, and tell them who the artist is.
Step Two: Instruct the children to look silently at the picture until they can close their eyes and see it distinctly in their minds.
Step Three: Close the book and ask the children to describe the picture to you.
Step Four: Open the book and look again at the picture. Look for aspects that someone might have mentioned; confirm their descriptions.
Step Five: Put the picture on display in a prominent location of your house for the next week or so. Be sure it is at eye level for the children. After that week, look together at another picture by the same artist, following the same steps above. Continue with the same artist for at least six weeks, then move to another one.
During one of those weeks, you might also give a brief introduction to the artist’s life. You could even read aloud an interesting, living-book biography about the artist. If the biography is long, read it in sections over several days or weeks.
As you can see, enjoying the masters of art is quite different from critiquing and analyzing their techniques. With this simple, enjoyable method of art appreciation, advocated by Charlotte Mason, you are free to form your own relationships with the various artists and their works. You are not told what to think about certain artists or their works; you form your own opinions.
Enjoying beautiful and creative works can inspire within your children beautiful thoughts and creative aspirations. Think how wonderful it would be to go through life with a picture gallery in your mind, containing all your favorite masterpieces to enjoy any time you please! Enjoying the masters — another gift you can give your children.
Q & A
Q: What about “masterpieces” that feature nudity?
A: I’ve encountered basically two fields of thought in regard to nudity in art: either ignore it and treat it like any other body part, or avoid it whenever possible. I must admit that I started out in the first category, but over the years I’ve moved much closer to the second. Now I would recommend that you avoid works of art that show nudity. There are plenty of other great artists and works that don’t contain nudity; study those and protect your children’s hearts, especially your boys’.
If you own an art book that contains some works with nudity, staple the offending pages shut so you can continue to use the rest of the book without worrying about any accidental viewings or temptations. (By the way, this “staple it shut” technique also works well for stories or poems in books with collections of children’s literature. We often staple shut the pages of Halloween poems or ghost stories in such collections.)
Q: Large art books are expensive; where can I find less-expensive pictures that are still large enough for all of us to see the details?
A: While the large art books usually contain the best reproductions, you’re right, they can be expensive to collect. We’ve gathered our collection over the years by watching bargain tables at local bookstores and by putting specific books on our wish lists for gift ideas.
We also have a few large calendars in our collection. Calendar prints aren’t always the best quality, but they can be a great inexpensive source for trying new artists. We try to look through the calendars at local bookstores after the beginning of the year when they go on sale.
You can also check your local library for large art books. It’s nice to be able to keep the books on your shelf and look through them whenever the children want to, but borrowing the books from the library is another great option. And don’t overlook library sales. They just might sell you your favorite artist book one day!