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    Art Narration

    August 4, 2009 by Brandy Vencel

    I mentioned Art Narration in my previous post, and I just want to {briefly?} explain what I mean by this. In a sentence, Art Narration means that the child sits down with a quality work of art before him {Raphael is who we’ll be studying in Term One} and attempts to duplicate, to the best of his ability, all or part of the work.

    Now, go and do likewise. The End.

    Just kidding.

    The foundation for this is a key educational concept that I haven’t gotten around to fleshing out in a post, and that is the idea that education is imitation. Ancient learners believed that the mind participated in the object of study. So, for instance, as I concentrate on my coffee cup, my mind is actually located, in a sense, outside of my body. It is over by the cup, studying it. Perhaps it is easier to relate this to how, when we read a book which tells a story, we feel that we have lived it. Our mind participated.

    Children don’t just participate. They imitate. After reading The Swiss Family Robinson, for instance, they will go outside and attempt to build a tree house or pretend to float a dairy cow on a giant raft. Of course, we adults do this too, when we are learning a new skill. I might watch you cook a meal, and then I’ll imitate you, and at the end of that, I will have learned something.

    For centuries, great artists honed their skills by copying the work of their masters. When I was reading up on Raphael, for instance, I found that there are a number of works of his that are almost indistinguishable from his master’s because he had become so adept at imitating the man.

    The ancients knew something that we dispensed with and replaced with “art lessons,” which result in very few students actually becoming any sort of artists. This is because true artists need to be able to see {just as singing necessitates the skill of hearing}, and very few of us see naturally. Most of us need to be taught to see. Art narration, like nature journaling, will teach the child to see by requiring it of them in order to complete the assignment. Another side benefit is that, just like in nature journaling, the child will also be learning to spend a longer amount of time studying a work of art, which is a prerequisite for true art appreciation.

    Once a week, we pull out a famous work, usually “assigned” to us by Ambleside, and we study it. Sometimes I give a lesson, or we read a passage of a related text. Other times, we just discuss it: What do you see? What is your favorite thing about this picture? Who is this person here? All of this takes about ten minutes, including the time I take to remind them of the artist and the name of the work. After that, I hand the picture over to my Year Two student. {I do not plan to require narration of the others until Year One.} This student takes the picture to his room. Later in the day, during Quiet Time, he must pick part of the painting {or all of it, if he likes} and duplicate it as best he can. Because we study works for two weeks in a row, we do the same thing again the following week, and again he takes the work to his room. He can either try to duplicate the same thing all over again, or he can choose a different focus on the work, narrating a different part of the painting.

    At the end of the year, we will pick out his best work and place it on display at our Open House.

    As an aside, because I have decided not to be brief at all, it is important to note that our son used to be drawing-impaired. Of course, part of this was related to his neurological allergies, which are no longer a problem, but I must say that Art Narration has brought about a huge improvement in his abilities, and also in his confidence. To be honest, in his first efforts, no one but me knew what he had drawn, and that only because I knew what had been assigned. Now, some of his narrations are actually quite good.

    As we require narration throughout the many years, my hope is that our children will acquire an enjoyable skill, that their minds will develop in a way that they are attentive to art and able to discern which art is good and which is inferior or bad, and that they will, as Charlotte Mason once suggested, have a complete collection of beautiful pictures tucked safely away in their minds, a comfort to them in times of trouble.

    Art narration is by no means my idea. It is something I have observed in many, many families over the last few years. Implementing it in our home life has convinced me of its benefits and efficacy.

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  • Reply Hayley September 5, 2013 at 9:14 pm

    Brandy, this is a great description of art narration. I may even start it this year with L. It feels like something I could encourage and help with this year, so she can be more independent next year. I hadn’t read anything about art narration yet, so I’m grateful for knowing this.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel September 5, 2013 at 10:09 pm

      I must say I stopped having my oldest duplicate paintings after I read this:

      “”Describe, with study in sepia, Corot’s ‘Evening.'” Beyond this of a rough study from memory of a given picture or of any section of it, these picture studies do not afford much material for actual drawing; they are never copied lest an attempt to copy should lessen a child’s reverence for great work.” —CM in Vol. 6

      We still do what I call art narration, but it is oral. So the student looks at the picture for a few minutes, and then it faces Mom and he tries to tell all about it from memory.

      I’m not saying don’t do it because this worked really well when my student was younger, but as he got older I could see the truth in wanting to cultivate reverence first, as a priority, so I made the switch…

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