December 17, 2013

Art Education in Different Teaching Methods

You know that we like to blend and hop from method to method in our homeschooling adventures.  I've decided that it's not a failure to commit.  It's a love of all the different ways we can learn and an acceptance of the only real truth about education, in my mind, which is that there is no single right way to teach or learn.  Therefore, we hop around.  

Why, just today the kids have studied math and music from a very trivium, classical approach, we've worked on our Charlotte Mason inspired study of DaVinci, and Hannah Jane's geometry studies today were directly from a Waldorf handbook.  Our copy work was labeled with an adapted version of the Montessori grammar techniques.  

But here I would like for us to look at art education in each of these methods.  While we've pretty much committed to Montessori for grammar, and to Waldorf for geometry, I'm refusing to commit to a method when it comes to art education because they all bring something absolutely unique to the table, and I think that together, they can offer a really well rounded art education.  That's not to say that you have to use them all too, but it's nice to stop and think about the differences between them and consider what appeals to your individual set of goals in the arts rather than just going with the flow of whatever curriculum you may be operating from .  

The arts are unique in that they aren't at all about memorizing facts or analyzing data.  It's about emotion merged with application.  You want to convey a feeling, and to do so you will need to be able to apply the techniques you've been taught rather than simply regurgitate correct answers about how to draw or paint.  So just because you really appreciate a certain method's way of structuring information in math does not mean that it necessarily inspires you in the art department.  What say we have a look?  If you just want the pictures and not the explanations for how each method approaches art, scroll about half way down. 


We've been on a big Waldorf push since the fall and I have loved parts of it.  I would say that when it comes to art, Waldorf has some major advantages in that it assumes you only just realized that you have a hand that can grasp a pencil yesterday.  By that, I mean that it starts at the very beginning like Mari VonTrapp.  This appealed to my boys for a split second before they were bored, but we did come to Waldorf late in the game, so it's simply not what they were used to.  Anyway, I am confident that if you stuck to the step by step, very basic instruction from the beginning, you would end up with a very pleasant set of skills that allow you to create beauty on every page you ever touch.  It assumes nothing other than that you can hold a crayon.  That's it.  Everything else, from what is beautiful to how to draw a line are taught.  

Also, Waldorf engages kids at a very young age in a more abstract variety of art that is both beautiful and hard to mess up.  By keeping it simple and focusing more on color and form than detail, everyone ends up happy with their outcome.  Soon you are taking those abstract coloring skills and layering small details to create rich scenes.

Waldorf art is primarily concerned, in the beginning, with depicting story events from magical readings.  This engages the kids quite effortlessly.  And every single subject in Waldorf involves making whatever the heck it is that you are doing absolutely beautiful.  Hannah Jane's geometry book it about the most gogrous thing I've ever set eyes on in the context of mathematics.  So it encourages the student to see art in everything.


Maria Montessori, as with all other things, felt like art should be what the child does when the child feels personally inspired to investigate art.  She also believed firmly that good art must be inspired by nature.  Montessori has little love for fantasy, and as such, art is a bit more analytical and based in reality than it is used for illustrating whimsical ideas intended to make fundamental truths more accessible to the creative crowd.  

In the standard Montessori classroom, art materials are available at all times, and can be used in whatever way the child feels compelled to use them.  Montessori was concerned more with process than product in art as much as any other subject.  This leaves much of the "art" we see in the Montessori environment feeling more like summer camp craft than fine art.  

Older Montessori students will also frequently approach art from an art history perspective over that of learning artistic techniques.  

Charlotte Mason

Charlotte Mason had great appreciation for art, and while she believed that the schools of her time did too, she also felt strongly that they were failing crank out artistically confident students.  Her approach, in a nutshell, was to focus on one artist at a time.  To examine their lives, their inspiration, and their great works, and then finally to make some attempt to reproduce their work in one's own way.

In addition to artist study, students were instructed in basic techniques in a variety of basic mediums. Students would learn to shade with charcoal, sketch with basic pencils, and blend and apply paints.  They were given regular time to work on art projects slowly and carefully, giving great eye to detail, and each project must be challenging without being frustrating.  

Trivium/ Classical

Many people mistakenly believe that art has no place in the classical style of education at the trivium level.  However, modern home educators will acknowledge that we have merged the trivium and quadrivium in our typical K-12 education and the arts must be fully present in this framework.  In classical education, art can be broken into the visual, aural, kinetic, and written arts.  This post is primarily focused on the visual arts, and those are generally approached via history studies in Classical elementary education.  

As students study a culture or time period, they are encouraged to draw conclusions about the people from the art that remains in tact from the civilization.  Often students of classical education will make reproductions of these arts and artifacts.  In the lower grades, these are unskilled reproductions, as the student has yet to receive much instruction in art techniques.  In the upper grades, however, more emphasis is placed on the "high arts" and the study of both art history and artistic tchniques becomes almost indistinguishable from the Charlotte Mason art studies.  

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Here's a peek at the practical differences in the art that we've made while studying via different methods.  We have really not approached art from a Montessori specific angle, so you're out of luck there.  But there's plenty of Waldorf and Montessori, and you could look at the Montessori as an upper grades Trivium approach.

Charlotte Mason Famous Artist study
Hannah Jane layerd and blended, layered and blended, and layered some more for this pastel version of the Madona in Virgin of the Rocks.  We got the lesson from Practical Pages, which is an amazing resource for CM style art study.  To be completely honest, the boys tried theirs for about 15 minutes and then felt very frustrated by the process of layering and blending and threw them away, hence I only have Hannah Jane's to share.  She is 10 and she found it to be a very satisfying exercise.
This was inspired by a Practical Pages lesson, be we decided to take things a different direction and work on our transfer skills and shading.  The notes, rather than being fetus anatomy notes, are notes about Da Vinci's life.  Much more interesting than your typical pages of historical figure notes.  Right?  Hannah Jane's looked AMAZING!  Hunter decided to print our coloring sheets of fetuses, color them, and glue them to the page with notes around for his, and Haven did the transfer technique fine, but he's 6, ya know?  So his was a little more like an alien pod than a fertile womb.

My feelings about these CM/Classical art lessons is that even if the littler ones don't get the full product, they are engaged in a process (okay, maybe I'm sounding a little Montessori here) and they are at least seeing real art and striving for a quality outcome.  I much prefer this to the whole glue googly eyes and a coffee filter on to a popsicle stick and tell them what great artists they are sort of art.  

 Waldorf art and artistic math

This was a block crayon lesson from a book called Coloring with Block Crayons.  The figure was abstract, but joyful and bright.  I can't even tell which of these was mine because it was basic enough that everyone's work was pretty much the same caliber, which made for a satisfying exercise for all of us.

This was Hunter's guided art after reading a fairy tale called the Golden bird.  I worked beside him with the block crayons and he copied each stroke and it actually turned out about as lovely as anything he's ever made.  And he usually balks at following instructions during art, but this was simple enough for him to follow without any frustration.  Yay!
And this is Hannah Jane's geometry notebook.  As you can see, artistic flare is added to every subject.  I get that this is a post about art, and here I'm showing you a math notebook.  But shading and color are applied in such a way that gives practice for when the more traditional art rolls around and having even your math be this gorgeous (not just once in a while for a project, but every single lesson) means that HJ is more eagerly engaged with her geometry than she has ever been with math before.

Lower grades trivium art through history reproduction
These are impressions in clay from our Sumerian cylinder seals.  We examined old cylinder seals recovered from ruins, carved and baked our own, and then rolled them in clay as our signature

Here, the kids are working on their frescoes while we studied ancient Babylon.  These projects are usually fairly messy, so the littles engage without much prompting and don't care much about the outcome because they're just thrilled to be getting to make a mess without any trouble.

So there ya have it!  We really love to have art class through all different educational methods.  And aren't they all pretty pleasant?  I mean, there's great soul satisfaction in the Waldorf-inspired projects, there's high aim and technical training in the CM art, and then there's the fact that the kids will always remember that the Sumerians used cylinder seals and the vibrant blue Ishtar Gate and that most of what we know from history is from frescoes,  all because of the classical style's use of artifact reproduction.  Why not take advantage of all that the different educational methods have to offer?

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