THE KNOWLEDGE OF MAN
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,…
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 elsewhere we shut out the middleman.
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.
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.
With Musical Appreciation the case is different;
“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.” [-quote from Mrs. H. Glover]