Sunday, June 7, 2009

Art Appreciation - Picture Talks

The Scout: Friends or Foes, Frederic Remington, 3rd Term
"...there is enough for half an hours 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." vol. 6, p. 214

I did not enter my first art museum until I was twenty years old. Actually, my sister and I entered it three times as we were so intimidated by the Royal Academy of Arts in London that it took a few attempts before we gained the courage to cross the threshold into a place we felt we had no right to be. Once inside, the art itself captivated me and I spent the next years of my life going to every art museum I could. I took all the art history and museum studies courses my schedule allowed, studied the various schools, critiqued the critics and became a docent at the Faulconer Gallery. After all this, I still was not able to express what my intellect saw and my heart felt until the day when the gallery's forward-thinking Curator of Education introduced me to what Charlotte Mason calls picture talks.

Picture talks, also called reading pictures by Charlotte Mason, is key in a Charlotte Mason education and to discovering the wonder worlds art makes available to us all. It is also deceptively simple. Miss Mason explains,
"We attach a good deal of value to what we call picture talks, that is: -a reproduction of a suitable put into the children's hands, and they study it by themselves. Then, children...describe the picture, giving all the details and showing by a few lines where is such a tree or such a house; judging if they can the time of day; discovering the story if there be one....The object of these lessons is that the pupils should learn how to appreciate rather than how to produce." vol. 3, p. 239

Picture talks are quite similar to the oral narration that your children may already do, with the difference that they are reading a picture rather than a book. Some questions that may be helpful in engaging your child:
1)What's going on in this picture?
2)What do you see that makes you say that?
3)What more can you find?

The underlying science of how picture talks help children think, observe and communicate has been researched extensively by the founders of the art education program, Visual Thinking Strategies. Though VTS is not CM-affiliated, you will find contemporary research that supports Charlotte Mason's timeless methods, video of children engaged in picture reading, and other valuable resources.

In her Parents' Review Article entitled Picture Talks, Miss K.R. Hammond gives us two detailed and delightful accounts of "Picture Talk Lessons" given for both younger and older children. She then questions us, Shall we not hasten to share this joy with the children entrusted to us? And does not our knowledge of the life and potency of ideas teach us how to impart the secret spell, the "Open Sesame" which each individual soul must pronounce before it is permitted to taste this joy?

As we finished up our school year with a trip to the Clark Art Institute and a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the originals of our 2nd and 3rd term picture studies, I marveled at the very different experience my children were having in contrast to my own twenty years prior.

Cypresses, Vincent Van Gogh, Term 2


Jeanne said...

I wonder what our kids are missing out on. I can think of so many things that Jemimah has experienced already that I was only introduced to in adulthood...I wonder what we're missing, what she'll say she learned late, as an adult!

You have such a talent with words, Richele.

Pauline said...

I got a lot out of your post on picture talks. It is my first year doing AO and whilst I really enjoy the ar works that are suggested... I am at a bit of a loss as to how to "do" anything.... your information and links have really helped point me in the right direction. Thank you!

Richele said...

When I was a child we were able to play outside and explore the woods for hours on our own (as long as we weren't too far away to hear our mother call us around dinnertime).

I think that kind of freedom is what my children are missing out on, Jeanne.

Pauline, I've also used this method with one or two pages of illustration in a book -- as the Parents' Review article suggests -- and am usually quite staggered with the "picture talks." You can imagine the animated talks when you have a group of children!

Jimmie said...

The Visual Thinking Strategies is right up my alley! When I was a PS teacher, we did daily proofreading exercises. This was a way to not only teach grammar/mechanics but also to get the kids settled as soon as they entered the room. But on Fridays, i put up a transparency of art. They had to answer some questions about it. At that time I didn't really understand narrating a painting. Instead we used the guided questions. But I loved using the art for thinking, observing, and writing.

Amy in Peru said...

It took me awhile to get over here, but I'm so glad I came! I'm excited about having YOU as a resource for artist study! ;)
wesome experience you've had even if you couldn't put it into words earlier on!

amy in peru