Art History/Appreciation

By Gina Reich Guzman. Reprinted with permission.

Picture Study (also known as Picture Talk)

What is Picture Study? 

Picture study is a method for teaching your child art appreciation.

According to Ms. Mason, “…every child should leave school with at least a couple hundred pictures by great masters hanging permanently in the halls of his imagination, to say nothing of great buildings, sculpture, beauty of form and colour in things he sees.” (p. 43 A Philosophy of Education) It is not meant to turn your child into an art expert, nor is it meant to teach your child art history. It is meant to give your child a life-long appreciation of the arts as well as encourage art museum attendance.  Charlotte Mason initially meant the Book of the Centuries to be a journal for art museum field trips. 

The materials needed to do picture study are minimal.  All you need are large prints of an artist’s artwork.  You don’t even really need a biography of the artist, just examples of his/her work. Ms. Mason advocated using full page or large-sized prints, not the little notecards so that learners could get the full impact of the art.  I have to admit that over the years I have added those little notecards, in addition to the larger prints, mostly because my kids like to have their own little copies to look at after the initial picture study.  They also come in handy for differently abled learners who absolutely must have something tangible to touch during the lesson but take care that they do not distract from the picture study itself. The larger print should always be the focus of the picture study lesson. My family also enjoys reading a short biography of each artist although this is not actually a part of picture study but a holdover from our art history studies and our own emphasis on biographies for all subjects.

How Do You Do Picture Study?  (paraphrased from Home Education pp. 310-311)

  1. Relate this lesson to the previous lesson is appropriate.
  2. Give the picture/reprint to the children to look at for 3-5 minutes.  The goals here are three-fold:
    1. to learn as much about the picture as they can
    2. what do they think the artist had in mind
    3. what ideals is the artist trying to convey to us the viewer. 
  3. Now the children give an oral narration of what they saw.  At the end of the oral narration, you may ask questions to focus their attention on certain aspects of the work.
  4. Students read the title and tell you what they think it means or comes from based on their own background knowledge. Be sure to answer any question the children have before asking them to do this as well as telling them about any pertinent events or people that may have influenced the title.
  5. Finally, in 5 minutes or less, students draw the chief lines in the picture using pencil and paper.

Note that in her other books Ms. Mason mentions other ways of narrating picture study other than just verbal narrations. Feel free to mix it up a bit if your children get tired of verbal narrations. Sometimes it’s nice to have children do a visual narration where they try to recreate the mood of the picture, etc. In one of their art history classes, my girls would recreate one of the works that they had studied.  Some children would find this frustrating but my youngest loved the challenge and excitement of “being” that artist for an hour.  Some children might enjoy doing a written narrative for a change of pace.

Why Picture Study?

I believe these two quotes from p. 214 in A Philosophy of Education sums up why we should do Picture Study without young children as well as children of all ages. 

“…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.”

“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 treading, not books but pictures themselves.” 

Resources for Picture Study

Keep an eye out on the bargain racks of your local bookstores, garage sales, thrift stores, etc. for art books under $10 with plenty of large good quality pictures. Do not waste your money on art books that do not have good quality reproduction art reprints!!!  This is one subject that old books are not good options for! New printing techniques do result in better quality illustrations. Over the past 3 years, I have collected a very nice set of oversized art books from Barnes & Noble for less than $50 total (12 books) by buying them whenever they were on clearance for $5 per hardcover. *The first books on the resource list are examples of these.  I have also had some success in finding books with good quality prints at garage sales.  Once I get the books home I dissect the books cutting out the prints since the books are often in bad shape and I bought them for the pictures anyway. In our family, we often give calendars as gifts.  I ask that the ones given to me be of the masters or some of my favorite modern artists and then I save them to use in our art studies–free art prints. 

A note about using art resources: Please be sure to look through all art books, particularly those geared toward adults or coffee table books, before using them with your children to be sure that they are age appropriate.  While I am fairly generous in how I censor what art my children are exposed to it is also important to hold off on artists,  or particular artworks,  that may not be suitable for younger children.  As an example, I keep our Frida Kahlo and Alex Grey art books in my bedroom rather than in our art book collection since some of their art would be disturbing to younger children although I would let my teen study these artists.  Here is a sampling of the books I use. 

*Van Gogh by Frank Milner. PRC Publishing Limited. 2004

*Monet by Frank Milner. PRC Publishing Limited. 2002. 

*Picasso by Robin Langley Sommer. World Group Publications Group, Inc. 1994. 

*Leonardoby Maria Costantino. PRC Publishing Limited. 2004

*Rembrandt by Jessica Hodge. PRC Publishing Limited. 2002.

*Ansel Adams by Barry Pritzker. World Publications Group, Inc. 1991.

*Georgia O’Keefeby Nancy Frazier World Group, Inc. 2005.

*John James Audubon by Margot Keam Cleary. World Group Publications, Group. 2004.

*Michelangelo by Jesse McDonald. PRC Publishing Limited. 2004.  

Bev Doolittle: New Magic by Elise Maclay. Bantam Books. 1995 (the pictures in this book are not as large as I llike but it went well with my daughte’s study of horses in art)

*Frida Kahlo by Frank Milner PRC Publishing Limited. 2001.  

Degas: Impressions of a Great Master by Gerhard Gruitrooy.New Line Books. 2006.  

American Watercolors by Kate f. Jennings. World Publications Group, Inc. 2004. 

MC Escher by Sandra Forty. Taj Books. 2003.  

Castles by Alan Lee.  Written by David Day. McGraw Hill Paperbacks. 1984.  

Art History

What is Art History? 

Art history is the study of art through time and the artists that created the art. Some people are adamant about studying art history chronologically.  I use to be one of these people.  I say “use to” because I think Sonya Shafer, from Simply Charlotte Mason, has a good point when she states that studying art chronologically can become quite stale for the child since many artists of the same time period created artworks that closely resembled each other.  This is a sure turn off for the younger learners, although it may be valuable for rhetoric stage learners who are interested in learning how to analyze art. Simply because of the art opportunities in our area my children have ended up studying art out of chronological order, which use to worry me.  To help them see where in time each artist fits we place them on our family time-line along with all the other famous people and events of history. 

 Two Ways to Approach Art History:

  1. Teach it as a separate subject.  With this approach, art is given a time all its own, much like math would be. This approach is typically very dependent upon using a curriculum if you are not an art and/or art history expert to some extent. In the public schools this is typically taught during the middle school years but in a classical homeschool education would be taught throughout the homeschool experience.
  2. Teach it along with your history studies. With this approach, you begin art history with cave art when you begin studying prehistoric man and continue on through your history studies.   When we were doing art chronologically I combined it with our use of Story of the World for history.

Resources for Art History

 Same as for picture study plus these: 


Background and Artists:

Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists. Series by Mike Venezia.  Not great literature but great one-stop shopping if you are working with multiple ages.  Easy enough for the youngest to grasp but enough information to engage your older children as well. Most libraries and used book stores carry this series. We’ve used it extensively over the years. 

Smart About Art. Series by various authors.  My younger kids really enjoy the more humorous approach of this series. They consistently choose these books as their favorites when studying the modern masters.

Lives of the Artists: Masterpieces, Messes (and What the Neighbors Thought) by Kathleen Krull. Illustrated by Kathryn Hewitt.  Harcourth Brace & Co. 1994. My kids like to read this book in their free time. 

Myth and Mankind. A Time-Life Books series.   This is a mythology/religion series that I have found particularly helpful for using as a visual aid for art and literature history. You can often find it on the bargain shelves at Barnes and Noble.  Well worth the money even though it is not something typically recommended for CM. I have used mine extensively for years now. High school level learners interested in the humanities would probably enjoy the text as much as I do.


Artistic Pursuits, Inc.  I have looked and several art history curricula and programs and, truly, this is the only one that I would spend money on, although I do wish it cost considerably less. It is the most complete program that you will find and most of the projects are decent.  Now, I must confess that my children and I have an aversion to the typical paper and paint projects found in most art programs and this one does have some of those, but the ones in this program seem much easier to adapt using more authentic materials than in other programs I’ve looked at.  I do have a strong preference for the revised editions over the original editions as these include nice quality prints of the artworks being studied. This is also a nice program to do as a co-op. 

Harmony Art. I haven’t actually used this one myself but several of my friends have and they all gave it excellent reviews. It seems more CM than something like Artistic Pursuits.