How to Do a Picture Study
Begin a study of artist with a short biography of the artist. Miss Mason always focused on the art, not the artist, but a quick survey of the artist’s life assists us in discovering the art.
“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.
… It will be noticed that the work done on these pictures is done by the children themselves. There is no talk about schools of painting, little about style; consideration of these matters comes in later life, but 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.”(Towards A Philosophy of Education, Mason)
In Home Education, Miss Mason describes a picture study:
I subjoin notes of a lesson on a Picture-talk [by a student of the House of Education] given to children of eight and nine, to show how this sort of lesson may be given.
1. To continue the series of Landseer’s pictures the children are taking in school.
2. To increase their interest in Landseer’s works.
3. To show the importance of his acquaintance with animals.
4. To help them to read a picture truly.
5. To increase their powers of attention and observation.
Step I.––Ask the children if they remember what their last picture-talk was about, and what artist was famous for animal-painting. Tell them Landseer was acquainted with animals when he was quite young: he had dogs for pets, and because he loved them he studied them and their habits––so was able to paint them.
Step II.––Give them the picture ‘Alexander and Diogenes‘ 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. Then ask them what the different dogs suggest to them; the strength of the mastiff representing Alexander; the dignity and stateliness of the bloodhounds in his rear; the look of the wise counselor on the face of the setter; the rather contemptuous look of the rough-haired terrier in the tub. Ask the children if they have noticed anything in the picture which shows the time of day: for example, the tools thrown down by the side of the workman’s basket suggesting the mid-day meal; and the bright sunshine on the dogs who cast a shadow on the tub shows it must be somewhere about noon.
Step IV.––Let them read the title, and tell any facts they know about Alexander and Diogenes; then tell them Alexander was a great conqueror who lived B.C. 356-323, famous for the battles he won against Persia, India, and along the coast of the Mediterranean He was very proud, strong, and boastful. Diogenes was a cynic philosopher. Explain cynic, illustrating by the legend of Alexander and Diogenes; and from it find out which dog represents Alexander and which Diogenes.
Step V.––Let the children draw the chief lines of the picture, in five minutes, with a pencil and paper.
Remember that the focus of the lesson is on appreciating the art and letting your children discover their own “science of relations” within the piece and across pieces. Let your child form a relationship with the art piece!