Artist Study

Artist Study

“We cannot measure the influence that one or another artist has upon the child’s sense of beauty, upon his power of seeing, as in a picture, the common sights of life; he is enriched more than we know in having really looked at even a single picture.”

Charlotte Mason, Vol. 1, p. 309

Why is artist study important?

In one of my first Humanity classes in college, my teacher started off with a story of a boy who asked “why spend time learning and studying art that depicts pagan gods and worldly struggles?”  My teacher responded: Art is more than images depicting people, it provides perspective in understanding human nature. It can be a window to the past and present; it can give you an appreciation and awareness of other cultures and ways of life. It helps us see the world in a new way. If you examine the tales of the gods, you can always find the light of Christ weaved within the rich tapestry of art and story. 

As I studied art from other cultures from around the world, I started looking closely for that light of Christ. It didn’t take me long to find it intertwined within each culture. It taught me that everyone sought a higher being and art was an expression of that light within. 

Now of course, there will always be art that is distasteful and not to our liking. But we can seek the best and learn from it. 

Perhaps you’re thinking, why do we need to teach our children? Can’t they learn when they’re older? Yes! Of course, it’s never too late. But why not start now? There are so many ways to learn about the world around us, art is just one of those beautiful ways to help our children appreciate it and perhaps, gain a fresh perspective of the world outside of their own world.

What should we study?

There isn’t a best place to start – start anywhere! When you’re ready for more intentional learning, choose one artist and 5-6 of their paintings and study these works for 10-12 weeks.  There are so many wonderful artists to choose from and so many different ways to study art. For our family, we have selected 3 to study for the school year, studying 1 artist per term. For each artist, we will learn about six different works. Art study in our family occurs once a week for about 10 – 20 minutes. You’ll find 3 artists below that you can study this year, but you can find a 12-year list on Ambleside Online’s site as well as artist study packets at A Humble Place and Simply Charlotte Mason.

How do I teach it?

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes”

Marcel Proust

This is the fun part. There are so many ways to study art: it can be complex or as simple as you would like. The most important advice I can give is to not overdo it. Here are the most important things you can do to teach your kids about art. 

First, Examine the Painting

Let them examine the artwork for themselves. For elementary-age children don’t worry about memorizing details, such as the name of the painting. Right now, it is about helping them to see and notice. 

  • Let them examine the painting in silence for at least 1 minute. 
  • Challenge them to memorize the painting in their mind. When they close their eyes, do they see it?
  • Turn it over and ask them to describe it.

Second, Ask Questions

Ask your children open ended questions, or have them generate their own questions. Questions are so important to help get us thinking and noticing. This isn’t art history class though, so you do not need to be asking complex questions about artist techniques and styles. Here are some questions you can ask to get them seeing the painting and not just looking, you can also find more examples at the end of this document. 

  • What do you notice?
  • What do you think of when you see the painting?
  • What stands out to you?
  • What do you like about it?
  • What do you not like about it? 
  • What shapes do you notice?
  • What colors are used? Do you notice if there are dark or light colors next to each other? 
  • How do you think the people/children feel in the painting/sculpture?
  • What are they doing in the painting?
  • What do you feel when looking at it?

We usually focus on one painting for two weeks. Sometimes I will ask different questions  the second week, but often I ask the same questions again. I ask the same questions because they might notice something new and their answer might change. If their answers change, that is great; that means they are starting to think and see the painting for something more than just a scene taking place. Now you can just do those two things above and that will be enough to introduce and help your children appreciate art. But, here are a couple more things to enrich the learning process. 

Third, Sketch a Copy

Have your children sketch the painting. I first was introduced to this idea by the Delectable Education podcast. We have done this in the first and the second week of our study of a painting. I give them about a minute to look at all the details of the painting: shapes, people, objects, colors. Then I turn it face down and everyone does a quick sketch. I tell them to keep it simple and to not worry about details. I really enjoy seeing what they choose to depict from the painting. I have three kids of various skill levels and they all have their own artistic style that is brought out in these quick sketches. 

Fourth, Display in Home

Place art pieces throughout your house and leave out art books! In addition to displaying the artist of the term, I suggest also displaying other prominent art pieces that you appreciate. You can download for free and print works by many known artists from the National Gallery of Art. Used book sales are great places to look for art books; my children love looking at some of my old art books. You can also get wonderful art books from the library.

We have six paintings on our staircase wall. I have a ritual with my two-year-old son when we come down the stairs together. I ask him if he sees this or that in one of the pictures. Recently, I stopped doing this; but my son is now stopping me and telling me what he sees in each of the pictures. It amazes me every time. He has taught me that even a two-year-old can learn to see and notice the art around him. 


To help you get started studying artwork in your home, here are our favorite artist study resources:

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