Picture Study

The Angelus by Millet

How to Approach Picture Study

Picture study is art appreciation. Charlotte Mason taught that the training in styles and schools of painting and various techniques are important, but the first and most important thing is to know the pictures themselves. As in a worthy book we leave the author to tell his own tale, so do we trust a picture to tell its tale through the medium the artist gave it.

The poet Robert Browning said that we really learn to see things when we see them painted, things we have passed perhaps a hundred times nor cared to see.  The following procedure is not the only way to approach art appreciation, but practiced regularly, it can give children a lasting memory of pictures and reinforce their habit of observation.

  • This lesson should take 20 to 30 minutes.
  • Prior to studying a specific picture, the child should have read a story or information on the life of the artist, when he lived, where he should be placed on the timeline of history, and the general subject or type of his pictures.
  • Tell the child about the actual size of the original work, perhaps by demonstrating the dimensions on the wall. If ever you are able to see a work in person, by all means do!
  • If at all possible each child have his own print of the work to be studied.
  • Introduce the title of the picture.
  • Have the child look at the picture and study it silently for several minutes.
  • Ask for first impressions and major parts first. Direct the child to look closely at foreground, background, details, color; feeling of movement, and so on.
  • Have the child look silently at the picture again for one minute. Suggest that they shut their eyes. Ask if they can they see a complete colored picture in their mind. If not, they should have another look.
  • Turn the picture face down and have the child describe it in as much detail as possible. If the lesson is being done with multiple children, have them each listen carefully to one another and describe in turn but not repeat what has already been said. (Don’t worry if these descriptions [narrations] are vague and short at first, with practice they will become vivid, detailed descriptions).
  • Turn the picture back over and look again to see if any parts have been left out or if any details are not clear in the mind.
  • Finally, have a last silent look at the picture. There should now be a photograph of this picture in the mind that stays for life.

Charlotte Mason References:

Philosophy of Teaching:

pp. 213 -217 (Philosophy of Education)
pp. 102-103, Book II (Ourselves)

Example of Picture Study Lesson:

pp. 309-311 (Home Education)
pp. 353-355 (School Education)


National Gallery of Art (USA)
Timeline of Art History from Metropolitan Museum of Art

Local Galleries

Nothing beats seeing real paintings, so make sure you make the most of any opportunity to do so. Check out your local art gallery for both permanent collections and visiting exhibitions and adapt your picture study accordingly. Feel free to study different artists, to change the order of study, or just to add in extra pictures that you will have a chance to see.

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