Friday, March 28, 2014

Introducing Picture Talk

One of the subjects children in Charlotte Mason schools studied was art appreciation.  In Home Education (Volume 1) on pages 307-312, Mason writes about the study of pictures.  Her words are in bold.

The art training of children should proceed on two lines. 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.

[I]f children appreciate the vulgar and sentimental in art, it is because that is the manner of art to which they become habituated. 

[T]his sort of study of pictures should not be left to chance, but they should take one artist after another, term by term, and study quietly some half-dozen reproductions of his work in the course of the term.

Children would study one artist per trimester (three artists per year), focusing on one picture every two weeks.

Mason gave examples of objectives for picture talk, as well as a how-to.  Below, I've adapted her objectives and how-to so they can apply to any artist or picture you choose to study.


1. To continue the series of the artist's pictures the child is studying.
2. To increase their interest in the artist's works.

3. To show the importance of one specific element of the artist's work. (For example, when studying Monet, it's important to highlight the way he created a sense of movement in his paintings.)
4. To help children to read a picture truly.
5. To increase their powers of attention and observation.

How to do a picture talk:

Step I.––Ask the children if they remember what their last picture-talk was about, and what they remember about the artist. Give them a little background on the artist, but focus on the specific element to which you want them to pay attention.

Step II.––Give them the picture to look at, and ask them to find out all they can about it themselves, and to think what idea the artist had in his mind, and what idea or ideas he meant his picture to convey to us.

Step III.––After three or four minutes, take the picture away and see what the children have noticed.  Ask them questions to help them go deeper.  Ask about what they think certain colors mean, or certain symbols.  Ask them to use certain clues to make larger inferences.  (What do you think was the reason for _____?  Did you notice anything in the picture that gives us clues about _____?)

Step IV.––Let them read the title, and tell any facts they know about the subject; then tell them the story behind the subject.  (For example, when looking at Leonardo da Vinci's The Annunciation, tell the story of the angel Gabriel coming to Mary.)

Step V.––Let the children draw the chief lines of the picture, in five minutes, with a pencil and paper.*

*In my fourth grade classroom, I give my students much longer than 5 minutes to do this, and I also allow them to look at the picture while they draw or paint.  I don't let them trace the picture because I want them to practice observation.

For my almost three-year-old, I've introduced picture talk with a page-a-day calendar from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  The length of our picture talk varies day to day.  Here is how it went yesterday.

Mommy: What do you see?
Toddler: I don't know.
Mommy: Is it something we could find in a kitchen?
Toddler: Yes, for pouring.
Mommy: What could we pour?
Toddler: Milk.  Or water.
Mommy: (pointing) And what's this?
Toddler: A lid.
Mommy: (pointing) And this?
Toddler: A handle.
Mommy: (pointing) And it also has a spout. 
Toddler: And a pattern.  Black, white, black, white.
Mommy: Are the lines straight or curvy?
Toddler: Straight!
Mommy: What letter do those lines make?
Toddler: W.
Mommy: And look, some of the lines are thick, and some of the lines are thin.                                                    

One day, the picture was Pierre-Auguste Cot's The Storm.                                                                 

 When I asked her if the couple was inside or outside, she said, "Outside.  They need to put on shoes, and that boy needs a shirt."                   

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