Chapter XXI


 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 Bonnie’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 the 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 his 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, a 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.”


          I. 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 he was able to paint them.
          “Step II.—Give them the picture ‘Alexander and 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 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 counsellor 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 pencil and paper.”


          I. 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).


          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”?’—‘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 a 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 with 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 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 a rough piece of branch of 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 thenceforward of our constitution.”
          This is what we wish to do for the 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 it 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.

          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 within the Drill, and a few of the early exercises are within 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 be allowed; (d) and that, therefore, the children’s work should be kept well within their compass.
          May I hope, in concluding this sort 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 trusts ill-qualified persons to strike out methods of teaching for themselves?

[1] See Appendix A.

[2] See Appendix A.

[3] By a student of the House of Education.

[4] By a student of the House of Education.

[5] See Appendix A.

[6] See Appendix A.

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