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    Notes from Debbie Harris on Beauty

    November 13, 2009 by Brandy Vencel

    I just finished listening to one of my recent CiRCE downloads. And, by the way, let me remind you that CiRCE’s fundraiser, Further Up and Further In, is still going on. If you donate any amount, you will be able to download up to 7 wonderful lectures as well as a large excerpt from Vigen Guroian’s Rallying The Really Human Things. Now that I said “any” amount, might I also say that this is a cause worthy of generosity?


    As I was saying, I just finished listening to Debbie Harris’ lecture Understanding and Instilling a Love of Beauty. Here are a few choice quotes:

    What we want them to love are specimens of art that are so filled with the attributes of natural law and God that they can be endlessly examined.

    Might I suggest Raphael’s Sistine Madonna? We studied this for a few weeks recently. I was staring at it recently because it {well, a copy anyhow} is hanging by my dining table. I was thinking that the clouds looked funny, and then I realized there were faces sort of floating in them. A great cloud of witnesses, anyone?

    If we train the mind…to see…beauty, what’s going to happen is, the child is going to go about their everyday life overwhelmed by God’s revelation and Who God is.

    This reminds me of Charlotte Mason’s idea that we offer children a generous education.

    Self-expression through art should mostly be done in the rhetoric stage. That’s why artists studied under masters in the first place, didn’t they? They imitated them, for greater understanding of technique first. Just like Dorothy Sayers says with the tool, if you were to paint with a brush, you don’t paint your painting first, do you? No. You take the brush, you go to a scrap piece of paper, and you play with it a little bit. Well, that’s what you’re trying to do here.

    I remember last year that a teacher suggested to me that I have my son write poetry. Maybe a haiku or something, she said. He was six at the time. When I told her I didn’t think that was the best use of our time, she seemed baffled. All the first graders at her school had written a haiku. I don’t know if I ever got the idea across, but my point was that his job in his youth is not to create ex nihilo. Only God does this. His job is to study the Master, and all His submasters. I would rather spend an hour reading great poetry than an hour trying to help him write a poem.

    His time has not yet come.

    This is not to say that I would shut him down if, in his spare time, he tried to write a poem. On the contrary, I would offer whatever compliments and praise were appropriate. However, comma, I do not think that the bulk of his time should be spent in producing. He, as well as my other students, are in a stage of life where their job is to absorb good things. This will result in older students who can produce good things.

    There used to be a saying about this sort of thing: Don’t put the cart before the horse. This doesn’t mean that putting things in their proper order is anti-cart. It just means it is more appropriate and effective to let the horse go first.

    Expose them to the loveliness of a thing well said.

    Yes, yes, yes! This is why I absolutely adore Ambleside Online. Every single thing we read is beautiful. Everything is worthy of being read. Putting aside sanitized textbooks, where any and all beauty has been replaced with cold, dry, inhuman “facts,” has been an amazing experience so far.

    Teach them to delight even in the beauty of penmanship.

    Methinks my daughters will be more receptive than my sons. However, I think my sons can be like their father and appreciate a woman’s beautiful writing, even if not interested in producing beautiful writing themselves.

    What an amazing thing to be involved in training students up so that one day they couldn’t be able to go through their day without seeing God in a hundred ways.


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  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts November 17, 2009 at 11:53 pm

    Good thoughts on calligraphy! I could see that appealing to him…I’ll introduce it to him sometimes and see how it goes…

  • Reply Rahime November 14, 2009 at 11:07 am

    Methinks my daughters will be more receptive than my sons.

    Last summer we had dinner with a group of Torrey students who came to Berkeley. One of the boys who came had the MOST beautiful penmanship I have EVER seen. His writing was such that it made me happy just looking at it. Calligraphy. Creative/artistic “fonts.” Beautiful.

    Just saying, you never know. 😉

  • Reply Gretchen Joanna November 14, 2009 at 3:25 am

    (sigh) It’s encouraging to read about children growing up in an environment like yours. Thank you, Lord, for all the good teachers we have, helping us to be good teachers ourselves….

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