Classical Christian Homeschooling

Art in the Grammar Stage

Christine Miller

Art History

Classical Drawing

Is it Live, or Memorex?

Color Theory

The two aspects of art in a classical grammar stage education are first, the knowledge of the art and artists of Western Civilization (Art History), and second, classical drawing and color.

Art History

You do not have to be an art teacher or an artist to teach Art History. If you have an appreciation for beauty, form, and color, then you are qualified, if you are willing to spend a little time on the subject yourself. There are several approaches that work well with teaching Art History:

• Art History can be integrated with the study of History. Veritas Press History cards are especially geared for this approach. In this approach, paintings that depict events from history are learned while studying that particular historical era in History class. Art History will not be studied chronologically in this case, but it has the advantage of building on the framework that another subject (History) has already laid.

• The great artists of Western Civilization can be divided among all the months of the all the school years in the grammar stage. In this approach a single artist and his paintings are studied one at a time. Art History is not integrated with another subject in this case, but this method does have the advantage of 1)the flow of art history being studied chronologically, and 2)easy integration of biographical information on the artists, along with the study of their paintings.

• Art historians have divided the art of Western civilization into schools of style. We are all familiar with some of them, such as Impressionism, for example. The great artists and paintings of Western Civilization can be divided into their schools of style, taking one school of style at a time. A representative painting or two from each great artist in that school could then be learned. This approach has an almost automatic advantage of comparison and contrast: children can observe how different artists from the same school influenced each other, and become familiar with the elements of style common to each school, regardless of the artist or painting under study at the time.

The method of teaching Art History is not critical. The important thing is that by the time your children leave the grammar stage, they will be familiar with the great artists and paintings of Western Civilization. They will have developed a love of beautiful art. No matter which approach you choose, one of the common ones listed above or one of your own, the actual facts associated with learning about a piece of artwork are similar.

Introduce a new painting or sculpture every week or so. Copies of paintings can be obtained from many places: some homeschool suppliers offer postcard size reproduction prints; large coffee table size books have many beautiful reproductions in them; calendars are an inexpensive source of larger prints that can be laminated; many libraries have full size copies of paintings that can be checked out like books. Another new source for those with access to a good color printer is art museum sites on the internet. Most have full-screen paintings to view that can also be printed from your computer. We save our favorite masterpieces from these sites as computer desktop “wallpaper.” Everytime one of us does work on the computer, a Van Gogh or Vermeer or Raphael is there to greet us. (Art History and Reproductions in the CCH Online Catalog lists more resources for paintings.) Some time can be spent every day in reviewing the masterpiece. Children should be familiar with the name of the painting, the artist, the style, and the era and country where the artist lived and worked.

Classical Drawing

Drawing is to visual communication what writing is to verbal communication, a form of expression. If it is possible to teach a child the grammar, dialectic and rhetoric of writing, and so help him become proficient and eloquent in his verbal expression, is it possible to teach a child the grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric of drawing and so help him become proficient and eloquent in his visual expression? I believe it is. Just as our brains are able to process and then communicate verbally and in writing, I believe our brains are also able to process and then communicate visually by drawing. While it may be true that the truly great writers and artists have been gifted with talent, all of us can be trained to write well and to draw well. And learning to draw well can be a matter of training as well as a matter of talent.

Classical drawing was a very important part of the curriculum in ages past. We can see that there were a set of basics, of rules, of mechanics underlying drawing just as there are underlying writing. Reading the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci gives one a glimpse of them. Drawing is scientific and mathematical, as well as creative and beautiful. And just as creative and beautiful literature is built on a solid foundation of the rules of grammar and the mechanics of writing, creative and beautiful artwork is built on a solid foundation of the rules of drawing and the mechanics of perception.

What are the rules and mechanics of drawing? Every visual representation contains elements which together form the basic structure of the work. These elements are seven in number, and include line, form, shape, space, value, color, and texture. Line is the most basic element of a design, and by its inclusion or absence, indicates the form the main design elements take. Line and form are used to indicate shape, and shape and space (absence of shape) comprise the composition of the design. Value deals with the lightness or darkness of the shapes and spaces of the design elements and their relationships, and color deals with, well, the colors of shapes and spaces of the design elements and their relationships. Texture is the utilizing of design elements and combinations of design elements to communicate surface.

The elements of design are then combined together to make an aestethic whole. The principles which govern this combination are likewise seven: contrast, emphasis, balance, unity, proportion, movement, and rhythm. Contrast deals with the differences, or lack thereof, the design elements show toward each other. Contrast is often used to lend emphasis to the subject of the composition. Balance refers to the overall impression of symmetry or assymmetry of the composition and design elements of the whole, and unity refers to the harmonious use of all the design elements to create a pleasing whole. The relation of the size of the design elements to each other is the study of proportion. Movement deals with the way that static images can create the impression of motion or rest, and rhythm helps the eye move across and process the elements of the composition to perceive the whole. For parents interested in a more detailed treatment of the elements and principles of design, please visit Art, Design, and Visual Thinking, an e-textbook for beginning art and design students, illustrated with many examples from art masterworks and graphic designs.

Obviously, the study and relationships of the elements and principles of design in creating aestethicly pleasing art is the pervue of the dialectic and rhetoric stages. In the grammar stage, it is enough that children learn that elements and principles exist. Examples of them can be periodically pointed out as children learn about the masterworks in their art history study. So what actual artwork do grammar stage children do?

Is it Live, or Memorex?

Early in this essay, we compared learning the mechanics of grammar as a foundation for becoming proficient in written communication, regardless of true writing talent, to learning the mechanics of drawing, of design, as a foundation for becoming proficient in visual communication, regardless of true artistic talent. As the best way for grammar stage children to become familiar with the mechanics of grammar and relationships of language is by copying great literature, so the best way for grammar stage children to become familiar with the mechanics of drawing and relationships of design is by copying great masterworks of art. Children are amazingly adept at imitation at this time in their lives. The masterworks to be copied are those studied in art history.

In the early years of the grammar stage (roughly grades 1-3) just allow them to copy what it is they see, as simply as they desire. Do not expect perfection and do not make them redo. Just the practice of it, the doing of it regularly, is training their minds and their abilities. Then in the later years of the grammar stage begin to introduce concepts: line, form, shape: the oval of a face, the circle of a sun, the triangle of an evergreen tree, the square of a building; the proportion of negative space (background space) to positive space (the space the subject occupies); and so on. Let them use rulers and compasses, and let them take measurements, if they desire, to make more exact copies. Encourage them to do neat and careful work, just as you would in penmanship.

When beginning a new copy, children may follow these steps to make it more manageable: draw simple outlines first, then go back and rough in more details, then go back and polish carefully the final copy. This is the progression we use in writing, as well: outline - rough draft - final copy. Color in using paints, colored pencils, pastels, or crayons. Train their eyes for attention to detail and nuances of color, as they get older. Expect greater detail and realism from older students.

Another aspect of copying masterpieces is copying from nature. Bring in subjects to practice on, such as a flower, leaf, or other object. Have them bring a sketch pad along on outings or field trips. Look at the drawings of accomplished naturalists. These can even be subjects for copying in art class. When copying from nature, begin with simple objects and progress to more complex. Keep a nature journal corresponding to the natural history you are studying in science class. The article, Science in the Grammar Stage, contains more information about nature journals.

Color Theory

Regarding color, begin with teaching the basics of the color wheel. In art, the primary colors are red, blue, and yellow, and all other colors are made from these three (and white and black.) Even pure black can be made from an exactly equal amount of true red, true blue and true yellow. I believe teaching color mixing with paint to be a foundational skill for this age. Consult an art store for quality paint and purchase the truest blue, red and yellow as possible. Lessor quality paint tends to not have true colors that mix well to form other colors. Watercolor paint is good for this, as it is comparatively inexpensive, true colors can be obtained, and it is washable. Thousands of pure colors of varying hue can be produced by adjusting the amounts of red, blue, and yellow. Adding white to pure colors produces colors of a lighter tint, and adding gray and black to pure colors produces colors of a darker shade. Brown is formed by combining opposite colors: orange with blue, or red with green. Adding brown to pure colors also produces an interesting change. Children have a wonderful time with just guided experimentation: “What happens to all these colors when we add a bit of dark gray?” and so on - they can see patterns unfolding. They can make their own color wheels, endless varieties of them: this one with grays added, this one with white added, this one beginning with pure red and all of its changes in hue, tint, and shade; and on down the line.

After the concepts of color combining have been explored with paint, begin experimenting with colored pencils, pastels, and any other interesting medium that you discover. In the later grades of the grammar stage, colors are no longer mixed just to see the effect they produce, but rather they are intentionally mixed to match colors from a painting that they are copying. You will be surprised at how adept children can be at this when given regular opportunity to mix, experiment, and practice. Art approached this way produces excellent results and provides a solid foundation for more advanced studies in the dialectic and rhetoric stages. For parents interested in a more detailed treatment of color theory, please visit Introduction to Color Theory.

I do want to add that I have recently discovered an art curriculum that I believe does a good job of providing training in color and drawing principles. It is Barry Stebbing’s art curriculum: I Can Do All Things, Lamb’s Book of Art I and II, and Feed My Sheep. His curriculum, coupled with his new God and the History of Art, copying masterpieces and mixing with paint, will provide a most superior training in the grammar of art, outside of hiring a private instructor.

Important Links:

Art Curriculum for the Grammar Stage

CCH’s Art History Index

Art History Index of Artists

How to Draw - Tutorials and Tips

Art, Design, & Visual Thinking

Introduction to Color Theory

Fine Art Education

The Grammar Stage Subject Index

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WebMaster: Christine Miller / This page last revised: February 2003
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