A Philosophy of Education Volume 6 Book 1 Chapter 10 Section 2f



f) ART

THERE are few subjects regarded with more respect and less confidence in our schools than this of ‘Art.’ Of course, we say, children should have their artistic powers cultivated, especially those who have such powers, but how is the question. The neat solution offered by South
Kensington in the sixties,—freehand drawing, perspective, drawing from the round, has long been rejected; but nothing definite has taken its place and we still see models of cones, cubes and so on, disposed so that the eye may take them in freely and that the hand may perhaps produce what the eye has seen. But we begin now to understand that art is not to be approached by such a macadamised road. It is of the spirit, and in ways of the spirit must we make our attempt. We recognise that the power of appreciating art and of producing to some extent an interpretation of what one sees is as universal as intelligence, imagination, nay, speech, the power of producing words. But there must be knowledge and, in the first place, not the technical knowledge of how to produce, but some reverent knowledge of what has been produced; that is, children should learn pictures, line by line, group by group, by reading, not books, but pictures themselves. 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. We
hear of a small boy with his parents in the National Gallery; the boy, who had wandered off on his own account, came running back with the news,—“Oh, Mummy, there’s one of our Constables on that wall.” In this way children become acquainted with a hundred, or hundreds, of great artists during their school-life and it is an intimacy which never forsakes them. A group of children are going up to London for a treat. “Where would you like to go?” “Oh, Mummy, to the National Gallery to see the Rembrandts.” Young people go to tea in a room strange to them and are delighted to recognise two or three reproductions of De Hooch’s pictures. In the course of school-life children get an Open Sesame to many art galleries, and to many a cultivated home; and life itself is illustrated for them at many points. For it is true as Browning told us,—
          “For, don’t you mark, we’re made so that we love
          First when we see them painted, things we have passed
          Perhaps a hundred times nor cared to see.”

Here is an example of how beautiful and familiar things give quite new delight when they are pictured. A lady writes,—
“I was invited to a small village to talk about the P.U. School. Twelve really interested women came in spite of heavy rain. … I suggested introducing them to some of the friends their children had made and we had a delightful picture talk with Jean B. Corot, delightful to me because of the way one woman especially narrated. She did it as if she had been set free for the first time for months. It was the ‘Evening’ picture with a canal on the right and that splendid mass of quiet trees in the centre. The others gave bits of the picture but she gave the whole thing. It was a green pasture to her.”

The noteworthy thing is that these women were familiar with all such details as Corot offers in their own beautiful neighbourhood, but Browning is right; we learn to see things when we see them painted.
          It will be noticed that the work[1] 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 elsewhere we shut out the middleman.
          Forms V and VI are asked to,—“Describe, with study in sepia, Corot’s ‘Evening.’” Beyond this of a rough study from memory of a given picture or of any section of it, these picture studies do not afford much material for actual drawing; they are never copied lest an attempt to copy should lessen a child’s reverence for great work. We are shy in speaking of what we do in actual drawing since Herr Cizek came among us and shewed what great things children could do with scarcely any obvious teaching and but little suggestion. But probably such work is only to be done under the inspiration of an artist of unusual powers and I am writing for teachers who depend upon their children rather than upon themselves. They illustrate favourite scenes and passages in the books read during the term and the spirit with which the illustrations are drawn and the fitting details introduced make the teacher aware of how much more the children have seen in the passage than he has himself. Their courage in grappling with points of technique is very instructive. They tackle a crowd with wonderful ingenuity, a crowd listening to Mark Antony’s oration, cheering the Prince of Wales in India, in fact wherever a crowd is wanted it is suggested pretty much as an artist would give it by a show of heads. Like those Viennese children they use all their paper, whether for a landscape or the details in a room. They give you horses leaping brooks, dogs running after cats, sheep on the road, always with a sense of motion. It is evident that children study the figures
they see with due attention and will give you a gardener sharpening his scythe, their mother sewing, a man rowing, or driving, or mowing. Their chairs stand on four legs and their figures on two feet in a surprising way, and they are always on the watch to correct their errors by what they see. They have a delightful and courageous sense of colour, and any child will convince you that he has it in him to be an artist. Their field studies give them great scope. The first buttercup in a child’s nature note book is shockingly crude, the sort of thing to scandalise a teacher of brush-drawing, but by and by another buttercup will appear with the delicate poise, uplift and radiance of the growing flower.
          Drawing is generally so well taught now that we need do no more than emphasize one or two special points in our work, such as the definite study of pictures and the illustrations of Nature Note Books.        
          We do what is possible to introduce children to Architecture; and we practise clay-modelling and the various artistic handicrafts, but there is nothing unusual in our work in these directions.[2]
          With Musical Appreciation the case is different; and we cannot do better than quote from an address made by Mrs. Howard Glover at the Ambleside Conference of the Parents’ Union, 1922:—
          Musical Appreciation—which is so much before the eye at the present moment–originated in the P.N.E.U. about twenty-five years ago. At that time I was playing to my little child much of the best music in which I was interested, and Miss Mason happened to hear of what I was doing. She realised that music might give great joy and interest to the life of all, and she felt that just as children in the P.U.S. were given the greatest literature and art, so they should have the greatest music as well. She asked me to write an article in the Review on the result of my observations, and to make a programme of music each term which might be played to the children. From that day to this,
at the beginning of every term a programme has appeared; thus began a movement which was to spread far and wide.
          “Musical Appreciation, of course, has nothing to do with playing the piano. It used to be thought that ‘learning music’ must mean this, and it was supposed that children who had no talent for playing were unmusical and would not like concerts. But Musical Appreciation had no more to do with playing an instrument than acting had to do with an appreciation of Shakespeare, or painting with enjoyment of pictures. I think that all children should take Musical Appreciation and not only the musical ones, for it has been proved that only three per cent. of children are what is called ‘tone-deaf’; and if they are taken at an early age it is astonishing how children who appear to be without ear, develop it and are able to enjoy listening to music with understanding.”

[1] Examination answers can be seen at the P.N.E.U. Office.

[2] For details see the Parents’ Union School programmes.

Leave a Reply