Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Nativity Through Fine Art

I feel the need to express the utter joy I have felt over the last week.

First of all, a little history...

Right before Thanksgiving 2007, my husband experience some medical "episode". When he arrived to the hospital, he was diagnosed as having had a heart attack. (Note: He was 41 years old at the time.) The next several weeks into Christmas and beyond were difficult. Although he is a professional firefighter, he was not allowed to go back to work until he had the okay from the doctor. We did continue to get his base pay, but without overtime and mounting medical bills, things were extremely tight. God did take care of us through that uncertain time and all of our needs were provided for plus some.

Since money was tight and I felt helpless, God moved me to teach a class out of my home to homeschoolers during the last full week before Christmas. Even though I charged a fee for the class, it was full before I knew it. The class was based on Charles Dickens' Christmas Carol. It seemed to be a blessing in so many ways - I made a little money, my kids got to see their friends, we got "school" in even though it was not like "school" at all, moms could leave their kids with me while they went and finished up some holiday errands, etc., etc. I knew right away that I wanted to do this again a year later.

This year, the name of the class was "The Nativity Through Fine Art". I wrote the "curriculum" myself and as I began to write the plans for the week, I immediately felt such peace. I loved pouring over the pictures trying to decide which to use. There are so many good pieces from which to choose.

Back to my joy.

Even though the class was called "The Nativity Through Fine Art", the Bible was the base for the class. We would read from Luke, Matthew, Isaiah and Micah beginning from the Annunciation to Zechariah and we finished with the flight to Egypt.
Typically, we would read a Bible passage, look at a picture, discuss the picture, the students would then write their thoughts and observations. Sometimes, the Bible passage would be copywork and when appropriate, we watched excerpts from The Nativity Story.

As a former public school teacher, this class was a joy because the children were engaged in learning. When they showed up to my house, they would ask "How many pictures do we get to look at today?" I would also hear comments like, "I liked the last picture better than this one" which indicates to me that they are interested and thinking about what is being presented to them. They are forming opinions about the art. Through the discussions, the children would come up with ideas that I hadn't thought of and they all seemed eager to share what each picture was saying to them.

Although I didn't intend for it to happen, we studied quite a few paintings by Sandro Botticelli. We did not study all the Botticelli pictures at the same time. On the third Botticelli (The Mystic Nativity), one of the girls in the class piped up and said, "Hey, look at how Mary is dressed here. It's the same as The Annunciation and The Magnificat! Her sleeves look exactly the same!" That comment was exciting because it showed me that she is starting to recognize Botticelli's style.

Each day, as we met for the class, I felt an overwhelming joy and contentment with what God was doing. This class was a process for me and through this process, I felt God drawing me in. There really is no greater joy.

Here are the Botticelli pictures I mentioned. Do you see how the sleeves are the same?

The Annunciation

The Magnificat

Mystic Nativity (detail)

P.S. If you look at the Christmas cards you are getting in the mail this year, you may find a Botticelli on the postage stamp.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


What a wonderful time of year to talk about Art and Music Appreciation!
Last night we discussed Chapters 25 and 26 in Karen Andreola's book A Charlotte Mason Companion.

In Chapter 25 she talks about picture study. Picture study is a wonderful way to expose our children to great paintings and it really doesn't take too long. It can take as little as 10 minutes once a week or every other week.

Resources can be found on the internet (see the end of this post), at the library, in the bargain section of your local bookstore (big coffee-table books are wonderful) and at after-Christmas sales. You should be able to find calendars and Christmas cards on sale after the holidays are over. Also, be sure to check any Christmas cards you recieve. Even if the picture is not done by a famous artist, it could still be used for a picture study.

How to do it?

Give the child a picture face down. Then have him turn it over to look at it for 1 or 2 minutes. Don't talk to him during this time. Just let the artist speak to him. After the time is up, have him turn the picture back over and tell you what was in the picture. Can the child describe the picture? Was there anything that stood out to him? (This is a type of narration and will help the child to learn the habit of attention.)

At this point, you can do a couple of things.

1. You can discuss the picture. If you have done some research, you can tell the child about any symbolism that may be in the picture. Or you can briefly (and I emphasize "briefly" so you don't loose the child's attention) talk about the artist himself. You need not go into a lot of detail about the artist at the younger ages. As the child approaches the teen years, then he can learn about the lives of the artists.

2. Give the child a 4X6 copy of the picture and let him write about the picture on a notebooking page. He can write about a detail that stood out to him or the way the artist painted the picture - anything that helps the child to connect with the piece. Do not let the child just write, "this is an interesting picture" or "I like this picture very much." If they write that, ask them to answer the question "Why?" This notebooking page is perfect for your end of the year portfolio.

Once you have finished with this, be sure to display the picture somewhere in your house (We put ours on the refrigerator) so the child can see the picture again and again. Be sure it is at the child's eye level.

The site with the free notebooking pages can be found here: Notebookingpages. com
Just click on the link for Free Resources and you will find all sorts of pages for your porfolios.

Art websites that I recommend include (but are not limited to)
Web Gallery of Art
Biblical Art on the WWW
Art and the Bible
National Gallery of Art for Kids
National Galler of Art
National Gallery of Art Loan Program