Archive for the ‘Appreciating Art’ Category

Visiting the Art Museum

Visiting the Art Museum

When we recommend going to art museums, sometimes moms wonder what it’s got to do with writing. Isn’t art its own course of study? Why would Brave Writer specifically promote it?

I promote the enjoyment and study of art because a visual vocabulary is critical to a verbal one. We’re primarily stimulated every day through sight. As we observe the world around us, we form impressions that inform our attitudes, beliefs, preferences and habits. Art uses a visual vocabulary to communicate. We’re awed by the precision of strokes (to an almost photographic accuracy) in some paintings and then moved by the blurry soft edges of impressionism that tend to evoke a mood more than provoke a compliment. We see color manipulated to create atmosphere, we observe other times and eras (habits of dress, style of architecture, expanse of nature). We get to see style (we can compare and contrast artists within one era, and we can compare and contrast artists of different eras).

These encounters are different than nature or TV or flipping through a photo album. Artists are deliberate in ways similar to authors. They select the point of view, they edit the scene in front of them choosing what to paint and what to exclude, they pull from a palette of colors like authors draw from a lexicon of language. They tell a story through images. They create pathos or joy, indignation or peace. And all we have to do is stand and look carefully, allow the painting to speak through its images.

For writing, having a rich visual vocabulary is just as important as having a big word-filled one. Words help to express images and images give rise to words. They partner together to create meaning. A trip to an art museum also offers visuals to go with some of the legendary stories of our collective western history (the Greek and Roman myths, Christian imagery, specific historic events and figures, legends, Shakespearean tales, and the daily lives of people who really did live before our time). Together, paintings partner with language to create new levels of appreciation.

What follows, then, is a window into how frequent trips to the local Cincinnati Art Museum have enhanced our home education. Be not intimidated! Get the stroller and go. You’ll be glad you did.


One thing I love about Cincinnati is that the art museum isn’t that far away. We went to it yesterday for the afternoon. We’ve been many, many times. I noticed that especially yesterday. As we walked in the door, Liam exclaimed, “I love that Chihuly chandelier.” Jacob added, “I could look at it every day.”

We made our way into the Greek and Egyptian displays and Caitrin noticed that they had rearranged them. She went on to point out which of the vases she liked best compared to last time. Liam wanted to stop and look at each of the hieroglyphs again.

We moved on and went into an exhibit that was put up by Proctor and Gamble – all Cincinnati art. I honestly didn’t recognize the exhibit but the kids did. They started reminiscing about the pieces they had loved the last time we’d been there. We marveled at the quality of the artwork. Later we found an entire exhibit devoted to Frank Duveneck (Cincinnati native) and were thrilled to see all his paintings together. That was new.

We made our way upstairs to see the Monets that are on loan from Paris and were blown away by the size and colors. Caitrin immediately told me the story of why this particular “Bridge at Giverny” was so hard to see close-up – “because Monet lost his eyesight as he got older and he would make paintings that were less and less realistic as a result.” She pointed out how much the bridge showed up if we were at the back of the room compared to up close when we could see each swirl of the brush up close.

Liam reminded me of the “Linnea in Monet’s Garden” book we had read and Jacob remembered the movie we had checked out from the library. We were amazed that the Cathedral at Rouen was so dull close up and so vibrant at a distance. You could see the source of light behind it and it glowed from across the room.

We walked into the modern art exhibit and all agreed again that we don’t like modern art, except that I really like Mark Rothko. Rothko asserts that he isn’t interested in form, line or color but in creating emotions. He says that he knows he communicates because when people look at his work, many report that they cry. Jacob, who couldn’t remember who Rothko was when I spoke of him last week, was eager to see our Cincinnati Rothko. He didn’t cry. He didn’t understand why anyone would. I didn’t cry either, but I did feel this weird surge in my chest.

Liam wanted to see a real Van Gogh so I took him to the only one in the museum. He remembered it then and commented that, “That guy must really have liked paint. I like his blue.” Caitrin added, “He uses globs of it. It’s nice to see the real painting so we can see the globs up close.” We wished for a Van Gogh exhibit to come to Cincinnati.

Our favorite rooms were closed for renovation. We were sad. So we went to other rooms we frequent less and noticed all the Italians. Jacob asked, “Will some of these painters be in Italy when we go next summer?” We discussed the benefits of great art being dispersed throughout the world rather than collected all in one town. We talked about why the Italians artwork was so much more dramatic than the British in the room next door. We shuddered in front of a boyish, rosy-cheeked David holding the recently severed head of a bloody Goliath.

We ended up in front of a painting that showed a woman deranged with a pale face, flowers dripping down her white gown, restrained by a man in a renaissance costume. They stood before a queen in anguish and a king with his face in his hands. Jacob called out, “Mom, this is from Hamlet! That’s Ophelia.” And it was. The man was Laertes, her brother. Apparently this artist had wanted to make a series of Shakespeare paintings to display together in England, but the project failed and the pieces he painted have been bought up by a variety of art connoisseurs. This painting is the first to have been purchased for the Cincinnati Art Museum and its purchase preceded the museum’s construction by about five years.

It was a great afternoon. And it was fun to see that repeated visits yielded so much in my kids.

FREE Online Art Appreciation Workshop

7 Art Study Tips

7 art study tips

Thought you all might like a little help in encouraging art study in your homes.

1. You don’t have to be an art student.

I am not an art student. I never was. I didn’t “get it” when I studied it in college. As a result, all I have to go on are my immediate impressions of art. So do you…and you can love art with no teaching at all.

2. The place to begin is in an art museum.

Books are fine, but there is NOTHING like seeing a painting up close. The textures are totally lost in books. And to realize that Ruebens or Matisse stood where I am standing at some point in history takes my breath away every time. So go to a musuem–any one will do because there is always at least one painting worth seeing.

3. Before you enter the museum proper,
buy the picture postcard pack of that museum.

This is esp. helpful with kids. Flip through it. Note the paintings that you want to see and then go straight to them. Don’t stop and meander. Start with the good stuff. It is the weirdest thing–just seeing it in a picture first will make the experience of seeing that painting in person even more powerful.

The point is to make the museum your goal and to not be satisfied with mere imitations in prints.

4. Beg, borrow (we did both) or steal
Sister Wendy’s video series, the Story of Painting.

It is so enjoyable and she has such passion for art that you can’t help falling in love with her and the paintings. Gotta love her habit!

5. Put up prints in your house.

I have the four “heads” print of Van Gogh hanging in my office.  Every day I see Van Gogh and remember how great he was and is. We have Picasso prints, Alexei Jawelensky and Monet hanging out with us too.

6. When you find a painting you like,
sit in front of it for a length of time.

Really look. Look at the colors. Look at the corners. What’s in them? Focus on the activities and the direction of the faces and who’s looking at whom and what they are possibly saying. Look at the position of the sky and how much canvas it takes up. Look at the interaction of light and shadow. Notice the style and size of brush strokes. These things were all deliberately done for effect. That’s why it’s worth stopping to notice. Talk about them with your kids.

7. When you like a painting, write about it.

I have so enjoyed Charlote Mason’s approach to art appreciation. I keep my comments about paintings on scraps of paper, in notebooks and on the backs of programs. When I write/narrate I find that I “see” more than I knew was there. And then I can recall the painting in my memory from re-reading my writing.

Art Appreciation Free Online Workshop for the Whole Family

Art Appreciation: Enhance your awareness of beauty

this July.

Good friend and art aficionado, Beth Burgess, is again teaching her well-received “Art Appreciation” course from last summer. So many of us want to give our children a rich education in the arts, but feel we lack the skills to equip us. Beth’s years as a painter, photographer and art history student (combined with her years of home educating her own four children) give you the chance to unlock some of art’s mysteries. Charlotte Mason has long venerated the idea of a solid art education. She talks about “furnishing the halls of our minds with great works of art.” She suggests picture study as a way to expand a child’s attention to detail and appreciation for beauty.

Brave Writer has long suggested devoting time to art appreciation as visual stimulation has a way of revving the writing impulse. Encounters with visual images crafted for specific impact stir our imaginations and vocabularies. Art appreciation is also a lens through which your kids may enjoy viewing history.

Read the class description here and give yourself a treat this summer. Immerse yourself in a course that will both prepare you to teach art to your kids, but will also offer you a respite from the daily cares of life at home. Escape into the visual world of paintings and photography. You deserve a chance to grow, expand and be nurtured, too, you know.

Course Description

Summer Class Schedule and Registration

We’ve got our Summer Class Schedule all set to go with immediate registration already open.

We’re offering three classes and one “One Thing Workshop” (all listed on the same page).

For junior high and high school:

For the whole family:

I want to particularly draw your attention to our “Art Appreciation” workshop. It’s brand new!

What makes the art appreciation workshop so special is that it’s a one-of-a-kind online class! Our instructor, Beth Burgess, has led online art discussions for the last seven years with homeschooling mothers. Many of them have gone from a feeling of utter bewilderment when looking at a work of art to becoming passionate art history buffs themselves. Whether your kids are ready for art or you need a summer treat designed just for you, I highly recommend this One Thing Workshop to you. It will be a real treat! Beth Burgess is one of my dear friends, an artist in her own right, has home educated her children, is currently an art student, and a long-term passionate fan of art history.

The Brave Writer Lifestyle includes experiences like art appreciation, nature walks, freewriting, dictation and copywork, Shakespeare study, poetry enjoyment and writing, revision of one writing project per month, grammar study through games and interaction with real literature. Rather than sending you off to invent how to do these all on your own, the Brave Writer team offers short, intensive workshops to help you develop the skills and creative applications for each of these ideas, one thing at a time.

This particular workshop with give you both the experience of enjoying and examining art for yourself, as well as preparing you to create an art rich environment for your kids.

The tuition is $99.00 per family as you, the homeschooling parent, will do the activities with your children at home.

Write For Fun: I wanted to also point out that Write for Fun starts in just over two weeks. It’s one of the most popular classes with our teens. If you need a class that is utterly unlike any writing class your kids have ever taken, join this one. The first week’s assignments have your kids collecting words from magazines, billboards, the Internet, song lyrics and anywhere they can find them, then tagging them to objects and items all over the house. Trust me, they love it! Changes the way they see language and writing forever.

I hope you find a class that works for you!

If You are New to Nature Journaling

Nature Journaling

Sometimes our nature journaling happens indoors.
I have an African violet collection that has repeatedly inspired us to draw.
I hope you take time to draw on occasion as well.

Some of you may wonder: Why keep a visual record of the natural items you find near and around your home? Charlotte Mason points out that as we spend time in nature or with art, we are slowly developing our perceptual skills.

  • We learn to see and to notice nuances and differences between plants and flowers and times of day.
  • We learn to observe more closely when we draw than when we run by a tree in a game a of tag.
  • Drawing also helps with those fine motor skills where kids get a break from forming letters and instead learn to follow the contour lines of the item they wish to represent.

When I worked in a Charlotte Mason support group years ago, one of the leaders did a workshop for the moms that gave us some simple instructions for drawing natural items. We eagerly took these three steps home to try them with our kids. I want to pass these fail-safe steps to you for those who are new to nature journaling.

For our exercise, we began with an acorn.

First we looked intently at the acorn from all sides, slowly, taking our time, without any talking. Then we felt the acorn with our finger tips. We let it roll around in our hands and looked at it from all sides. Once we felt we had thoroughly examined the acorn, we put it down on a white piece of paper. Then we closed our eyes and attempted to draw the acorn without lifting the pencil.

The only goal at this point was to imagine the acorn in our mind’s eye and then to draw it as best we could from memory. We knew we wouldn’t be able to draw it correctly with eyes closed, but keeping them closed meant we were being forced to really see the acorn we had just explored without the benefit of its appearance right in front of us. This is a mind muscle exercise. We were forming the mental image as accurately as we could from memory.

When we finished, we could look at the drawing. It’s always fun to see how the lines veer off the page or overlap awkwardly. But it’s also nice to see that some of the contours are strong and have an “acorn-y” feel about them.

For the next drawing, we looked at the acorn on the white paper and drew it again, but this time, looking at the acorn the whole time. Somehow having drawn it blind the first time meant we saw the acorn more clearly this second time and we were much more able to draw “representationally,” as well as to focus quietly.

When we finished drawing, we had this satisfaction of really having explored the acorn! I haven’t looked at them the same since.

This process works really well for intimidated kids who don’t think they can draw. The original blind drawing is a bit like freewriting. The second drawing is a bit like revising. These artistic processes are wonderful supports to writing.

So the three steps are:

  1. Look intently
  2. Draw with eyes closed
  3. Draw with eyes open

If you all as a family draw together, it makes for a more satisfying experience.

Brave Writer offers an online class that is designed to make nature journaling a natural part of your life. Click on the image below to learn more.

Nature Journaling