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One of the things that drew me most to the Charlotte Mason philosophy of education is her emphasis on exposing children to fine art. I loved the idea of simply showing them works of great art and allowing them to absorb them on their own. There were no explanations or in-depth analyses of the pieces to complicate them. The children were simply meant to enjoy and take in the art.
About this topic, Ms. Mason said:
His education should furnish him with whole galleries of mental pictures, pictures by great artists old and new;––…–– in fact, every child should leave school with at least a couple of hundred pictures by great masters hanging permanently in the halls of his imagination, to say nothing of great buildings, sculpture, beauty of form and colour in things he sees. Perhaps we might secure at least a hundred lovely landscapes too,––sunsets, cloudscapes, starlight nights. At any rate he should go forth well furnished because imagination has the property of magical expansion, the more it holds the more it will hold. (Vol 6 pg 43)
I especially liked the last part… “imagination has the property of magical expansion, the more it holds the more it will hold.”
As we’ve been going through the Ambleside Online picture study schedule the last year or two (you can see how we’ve been doing it here), there have been a few times that B has asked me something specific about a picture like, “what’s that thing?” or, “who is that?” In some cases, I’ve been able to come up with some random factoid that happened to wedge itself in my brain when I was in school, or I can pull one of my textbooks down from the shelf (I’ve kept about 90% of them because I have a hard time getting rid of books 😐 ) and look up the piece in question. In other cases, though, I haven’t had a ready answer.
Because of this, I decided to come up with something I could use in my own homeschool to help me with picture study. I’m sharing it here in case anyone else might find it useful!
James McNeill Whistler
One thing I love about doing these picture study aids is that I not only get a review from my college days, but I usually end up learning even more about the individual artists than I did in my general art history courses. Whistler was definitely not an exception to this pattern and I learned that he was an interesting character who was known as being flashy and contentious.
Of “Nocturne in Black and Gold,” the art critic John Ruskin said:
“For Mr. Whistler’s own sake, no less than for the protection of the purchaser, Sir Coutts Lindsay ought not to have admitted works into the gallery in which the ill-educated conceit of the artist so nearly approached the aspect of wilful imposture. I have seen, and heard, much of cockney impudence before now; but never expected to hear a coxcomb ask two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face.”
For this scathing remark, Whistler sued Ruskin for libel and was awarded £1000 in damages. If you’d like to read more about the court case as well as an (unauthorized) collection of (not-so-flattering) letters and writings by Whistler compiled in 1890, be sure to check out The Gentle Art of Making Enemies (free for Kindle but also available on Gutenberg).
If you’d like to read more about his life in general, Gutenberg also has The Life of James McNeill Whistler, written in 1909 by Elizabeth Robins Pennell and Joseph Pennell.
My favorite part of this particular picture study has to be the duck on page 10. 🙂
This is by no means an exhaustive analysis or study of each piece, and that is intentional. I tried to keep it all very simple in the spirit of there being, “no talk about schools of painting, little about style; consideration of these matters comes in later life, the first and most important thing is to know the pictures themselves. As in a worthy book we leave the author to tell his own tale, so do we trust a picture to tell its tale through the medium the artist gave it. In the region of art as else-where we shut out the middleman.” (vol 6 pg 216)
Also, please keep in mind that I’m not even close to being a Charlotte Mason expert! And though I do have a degree in art history, I’m definitely not an expert in that area either. 🙂
For enjoying art with children in general, I also included a page of art sources that I’ve found particularly good:
Online Art Collections
For younger children, I highly recommend the Mini-Master series by Julie Merberg and Suzanne Bober. Also, the Touch The Art series by Julie Appel and Amy Guglielmo.
You may download it for personal use in your own homeschool (Ambleside Online, another Charlotte Mason curriculum, or otherwise). If you have any feedback or suggestions, please feel free to leave a comment or contact me!