XXI. Pictorial Art

Philosophy on Picture Study PDF


XXI. Pictorial Art

Study of Pictures.––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. Therefore it is a lamentable thing when the appreciation of children is exercised only upon the coloured lithographs of their picture-books or of the 'Christmas number.' But the reader will say, 'A young child cannot appreciate art; it is only the colour and sentiment of a picture that reach him. A vividly coloured presentation of Bobbie's Birthday, or of Barbara's Broken Doll, will find its way straight to his "business and bosom."' 'Therefore,' says the reader, 'Nature indicates the sort of art proper for the children!' But, as a matter of fact, the minds of children and of their elders alike accommodate themselves to what is put in their way; and if children appreciate the vulgar and sentimental in art, it is because that is the manner of art to which they become habituated. A little boy of about nine was (with many others) given reproductions of some half dozen of the pictures of Jean Francois Millet to study during a school term. At the end, the children were asked to describe the one of these pictures which they liked best. Of course they did it, and did it well. This is what a little boy I mentioned makes of it:––"I liked the Sower best. The sower is sowing seeds; the picture is all dark except high up on the right-hand side where there is a man ploughing the field. While he is ploughing the field the sower sows. The sower has got a bag in his left hand and is sowing with this right hand. He has wooden clogs on. He is sowing at about six o'clock in the morning. You can see his head better than his legs and body, because it is against the light."

A little girl of seven prefers the 'Angelus', and says:––"The picture is about people in the fields, man and a woman. By the woman is a basket with something in it; behind her is a wheelbarrow. They are praying; the man has his hat off in his hand. You can tell that it is evening, because the wheelbarrow and the basket are loaded."

Should be Regular.––When children have begun regular lessons (that is, as soon as they are six), this 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.

The little memory outlines I have quoted show his studies; but this is the least of the gains. We cannot measure the influence that one or another artist has upon the child's sense of beauty, upon his power of seeing, as in a picture, the common sights of life; he is enriched more than we know in having really looked at even a single picture. It is a mistake to think that colour is quite necessary to children in their art studies. They find colour in many places, and are content, for the time, with form and feeling in their pictures. By the way, for schoolroom decorations, I know of nothing better than the Fitzroy Pictures1, especially those of the Four Seasons, where you get beauty, both of line and colour, and poetic feeling. I should like, too, to quote Ruskin's counsel that English children should be brought up on Jean Richter's picture-books for children, the Unser Vater, Sontag1, and the rest.

I subjoin notes of a lesson on a Picture-talk2 given to children of eight and nine, to show how this sort of lesson may be given.

PICTURE-TALK

"Objects

"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 the 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."

Original Illustrations.––I have spoken, from time to time, of original illustrations drawn by the children. It may be of use to subjoin notes of a lesson2 showing the sort of occasional help a teacher may give in this kind of work; but in a general way it is best to leave children to themselves.

"Objects

"1. To help the children to make clear mental pictures from description, and to reproduce the same in painting.
"2. To increase their power of imagination.
"3. To help them in their ideas of form and colour.
"4. To increase their interest in the story of Beowulf by letting them illustrate a scene from the book they are reading.
"5. To bring out their idea of an unknown creature (Grendel).

Steps

"Step I.––To draw from the children what they know of the poem 'Beowulf', and of the hero himself.
"Step II.––To tell them any points they may miss in the story, as far as they have read (i.e. to the death of Grendel).

"Step III.––To read the description of the dress at that time, and the account of Grendel's death (including three possible pictures).

"Step IV.––To draw from the children what mental pictures they have made--and to re-read the passage.

"Step V.––To let them produce their mental picture with brush and paint.

"Step VI.––To show them George Harrow's 'original illustration' of Beowulf in "Heroes of Chivalry and Romance."

Drawing Lessons.––But 'for their actual drawing lessons,' says the reader, 'I suppose you use "blobs"?'––'i.e. splashes of paint made with the flat of the brush, which take an oval form. I think blobs have one use––they give certain freedom in using colour. Otherwise 'blobs' seem to me a sort of apparatus of art which a child acquires with a good deal of labour, and which, by proper combinations into flowers, and so on he can produce effects beyond his legitimate power as an artist, while all the time he can do this without a particle of the feeling for the natural object which is the very soul of the art. The power of effective creation by a sort of clever trick maims those delicate feelers of a child's nature by which he apprehends art.

"Let the eye (says Ruskin) "but rest on rough piece of branch for curious form during a conversation with a friend, rest, however unconsciously, and though the conversation be forgotten, though every circumstance connected with it be as utterly lost to the memory as though it had not been, yet the eye will, through the whole life after, take a certain pleasure in such boughs which it had not before, a pleasure so slight, a trace of feeling so delicate, as to leave us utterly unconscious of its peculiar power, but undestroyable by any reasoning, a part thence-forward of our constitution."

This is what we wish to do for children in teaching them to draw––to cause the eye to rest, not unconsciously, but consciously, on some object of beauty which will leave in their minds an image of delight for all their lives to come. Children of six and seven draw budding twigs of oak and ash, beech and larch, with such tender fidelity to colour, tone, and gesture, that the crude little drawings are in themselves things of beauty.

Children have 'Art' in them.––With art, as with so many other things in a child, we must believe that it is there, or we shall never find it. Once again, here is a delicate Ariel whom it is our part to deliver from his bonds. Therefore we set twig or growing flower before a child and let him deal with it as he chooses. He will find his own way to form and colour, and our help may very well be limited at first to such technical matters as the mixing of colours and the like. In order that we may not impede the child's freedom or hinder the deliverance of the art that is in him, we must be careful not to offer any aids in the way of guiding lines, points, and such other crutches; and, also, he should work in the easiest medium, that is, with paint brush or with charcoal, and not with a black-lead pencil. Boxes of cheap colours are to be avoided. Children are worthy of the best, and some half-dozen tubes of really good colours will last a long time, and will satisfy the eye of the little artists.

Clay-modelling.––While speaking of the art training of children, it may be as well to give a word to clay-modelling. Neat little birds-nests, baskets of eggs, etc., are of no use in the way of art development, and soon cease to be amusing. The chief thing the teacher has to do is to show the child how to prepare his clay so as to expel air-bubbles, and to give him the idea of making a little platform for his work, so that it may from the first have an artistic effect. Then put before him an apple, a banana, a Brazil nut, or the like; let him, not take a lump of clay and squeeze it into shape, but build up the shape he desires morsel by morsel. His own artistic perception seizes on the dint in the apple, the crease in the child's shoe, the little notes of expression in the objects which break uniformity and make for art.

The Piano and Singing.––I must close, with the disappointing sense that subjects of importance in the child's education have been left out of count, and that no one matter has been adequately treated.

Certain subjects of peculiar educational value, music, for instance, I have said nothing about, partly for want of space, and partly because if the mother have not Sir Joshua Reynold's 'that!' in her, hints from an outsider will not produce the art-feeling which is the condition of success in this sort of teaching. If possible, let the children learn from the first under artists, lovers of their work: it is a serious mistake to let the child lay the foundation of whatever he may do in the future under ill-qualified mechanical teachers, who kindle in him none of the enthusiasm which is the life of art. I should like, in connection with singing, to mention the admirable educational effects of the Tonic Sol-fa method1. Children learn by it in a magical way to produce sign for sound and sound for sign, that is, they can not only read music, but can write the notes for, or make the proper hand signs for, the notes of a passage sung to them. Ear and Voice are simultaneously and equally cultivated.

Mrs. Curwen's Child Pianist1 method is worked out, with minute care, upon the same lines; that is, the child's knowledge of the theory of music and his ear training keep pace with his power of execution, and seem to do away with the deadlydreariness of 'practising.'

Handicrafts and Drills.––It is not possible to do more than mention two more important subjects––the Handicrafts and Drills––which should form a regular part of a child's daily life. For physical training nothing is so good as Ling's Swedish Drill, and a few of the early exercises are the reach of children under nine. Dancing, and the various musical drills, lend themselves to grace of movement, and give more pleasure, if less scientific training, to the little people.

The Handicrafts best fitted for children under nine seem to me to be chair-caning, carton-work, basket-work, Smyrna rugs, Japanese curtains, carving in cork, samplers on coarse canvas showing a variety of stitches, easy needlework, knitting (big needles and wool), etc. The points to be borne in mind in children's handicrafts are: (a) that they should not be employed in making futilities such as pea and stick work, paper mats, and the like; (b) that they should be taught slowly and carefully what they are to do; (c) that slipshod work should not allowed; (d) and that, therefore, the children's work should be kept well within their compass.

May I hope, in concluding this short review of the subjects proper for a child's intellectual education, that enough has been said to show the necessity of grave consideration on the mother's part before she allows promiscuous little lesson-books to be put into the hands of her children, or trust ill-qualified persons to strike out methods of teaching for themselves? 


1See Appendix A

2By a Student of the House of Education