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Picture Study Revisited

If your Picture Study is beginning to feel a little bit too predictable with the usual "Look, Tell, Look Again" punctuated by an artist biography here and there; cheer up-- that is how it is supposed to be! It sounds simple- but it has been proven that the connections being made are huge, even when not immediately apparent. You may feel like you aren’t doing enough, but that is the point, you are allowing the student to do the work of making connections for themselves.

Picture study is not an art lesson and it is not even a lesson in art interpretation. It is time for your child to spend focused attention on a single piece, get to know it on their own terms and interpret it in their own way. The goal is for them to form a friendship with an artist and/or their work. Like human friendships, some will sparkle and some will be passing acquaintances.

While the teacher is not to get in the way of the relationship the student is forming- there are some CM approved things you can do to help make introductions. Here are 3 things that have been a success around here.

1.Use proper art terminology when referring to works of art.

This is not you getting in the way, this is you offering vocabulary to think with. Some words to become fluent with are:

Background & Foreground

(“Tell something you noticed in the foreground of this picture.”)


(“Did you notice any areas of contrast in this piece?”) (Light colors against dark or vice a versa.)


(Notice arrangements. ie: some artists love the triangle and group things in that pattern.)


(“From what direction do you suppose the light is coming judging by the highlights?”)


(The above remark works for shadows too! Also, “What is casting this/that shadow?)


(For a monochromatic piece: “What colors do you think this artist had on his palette as he was working on this piece?” This might lead to a discussion on the blending of colors.)

2. Do a light/dark study.

Usually when we are looking at a piece, we ask the kids to look closely and for details. While this is good, I have been struck with the fleeting impression some pieces give as they are hanging on the fridge and viewed from across the room. This perspective makes us view the painting on different terms. When viewing this way we are mostly aware of the overall effect. Lights and darks, shapes and symmetry. Details are good, but broad impressions should be considered too. Pictured with this post are some light/dark studies we did for the painting “Whistler’s Mother”. I hung the print across the room, told them to forget about details and focus on the patterns of light and dark.

3. Recreate the scene.

As a way of connecting the previous lesson with the current I always ask for a re-telling (narration) of the piece previously studied. A fun way to mix this up is to ask them to pose themselves recreating the picture! Obviously, for this one you need more kids if there are many people in the scene. We have done this at our Cottage School with “The Gleaners” and other similar group scenes but it could also be done with a single child for something like “The Sower”. Or ask for a specific figure from the group.. Once I even asked one kid to be the “director”, he got to pose his friends! After they strike the pose let them study the work to see how well they have done.

These are just some of the ways we have added variety to our Picture Study time. Although it is sometimes tempting-- I would encourage you to not to add to Charlotte Mason’s Philosophy- it is well thought out and enough.

There is more to "Look, Tell, Look Again" than meets the eye. While it seems repetitive to us- the new picture before the child makes every lesson a new experience. That being said- there are ways to freshen up the elements of the lesson while adhering to the Principles.

Charlotte Mason is enough- just don’t get in a rut!

Consistent Picture Study has been one of the freshest breaths that Charlotte Mason has breathed into our days.


S.Timothy 2020

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