Perhaps you’ve been wondering, or maybe one of your students has asked the question, “Why do we study the arts anyway? What good is it going to do for us?” It’s a fair question, especially from someone who hasn’t been schooled with that themselves. So let’s discuss it. Why do we study the arts? Joining me today is my friend and coworker, Richele Baburina.

Sonya: Richele, glad to have you back.

Richele: Thank you. 

Sonya: We want to talk about, “Why do we study art, anyway?” It was a big thing with Charlotte Mason, but it’s kind of hard, practically, to explain it sometimes to people, all the benefits that come from it. Let’s back up, take one step back first. When we talk about why we are studying art, are we talking only about pictures? 

Richele: I think we can probably broaden it in the Charlotte Mason homeschool to include poetry, plays, even maybe handcrafts

Sonya: Music, would that be included? 

Richele: Yes.

Sonya: Alright, so the “art forms,” if you will. So there’s the question: why did she include all of those art forms in the schedule? What good does it do the child and the parent? 

Richele: It is a good question, and there are so many answers to this. So, I think first and foremost, though, we study art for the same reason why we study literature. It’s because the authors, the playwrights, the artists, the painters, the sculptors have something to tell us; they have a message to share, and it’s often about life.

The authors, the playwrights, the artists, the painters, the sculptors have something to tell us; they have a message to share, and it’s often about life.

Sonya: That’s a good point. So often when we think of Charlotte Mason, we think, as you said, literature and living books and the written word, but what I love about art, in all of its forms, is that it can express ideas without words.

Richele: Yes, it’s so great, especially because our children are whole people. They’re not just mind, but they’re body, heart, emotion, will. So we need a more expansive, robust feast to lay before them, and that includes the arts, those ideas that are told without words.

Sonya: Yeah, that’s a good point. Alright, so it gives ideas that these creators, if you will, have to share, not just through the written word, but through their other art forms. What’s another reason?

Richele: Okay, well, Charlotte Mason didn’t want our children to just learn about art so that they could show off or become a connoisseur or go to a museum and name every artist that they know. She wanted the children to appreciate art, and she said that was because art is a great and lasting joy. So really, this is something that will impact a child for life. So remember, she said that in correlation to picture study,we cannot even imagine what one great work of picture’s impact on the child for life.

Sonya: Yes, how even just looking at one picture or two pictures can really impact that child. And it’s true, the joy of it. Some people might not believe us when we say there’s joy in it because they either were not exposed to that art form as they were schooled, or they were exposed in a way that was not a joy.

Richele: Right, that was definitely part of my schooling in college, looking at a piece critically. Now, we should be able to discern between good art, or the different treatments that various artists give to a subject, whether it’s music or painting or sculpture, things like that. But that’s only looking at it with an eye to point out what you don’t like, rather than kind of seeing what you do like. It also cultivates our sense of beauty, which is important in a world where not everything is beautiful.

Sonya: Yes, and that’s why it’s so important that, when we choose works of art to share with our children, we are looking closely at what ideas are being communicated in it. And, as you said, it’s giving them beauty. And in a sense, to me, it’s almost giving them hope. In a hopeless world for many people, as you look around, it can be very depressing. But this joy and this beauty can be represented. And as you said, we’re cultivating their taste for what is beautiful and good, just as we cultivate their tastes for healthful foods. We need to cultivate their tastes for what is good and beautiful and noble in the art forms. 

Richele: Yes, and when we do that, we give them a distaste for things that aren’t beautiful. Especially now that we carry computers in our pockets, we can look at things that are not beautiful at any time. So, we want our children to have a distaste for things that are not beautiful. 

Charlotte Mason didn’t want children to learn about art so that they could show off. She wanted them to appreciate art, and she said that was because art is a great and lasting joy.

Sonya: But we do that, as you said, not by stealing the joy out of it and criticizing everything, but rather by giving them what is beautiful and good and noble. 

Richele: So even if we take, for example, picture study and the methods used, we’re cultivating a lot of very good habits in that. We have the habit of observation and then the ability to tell back what we see, really expanding our power of expression.

Sonya: Yes, and especially Charlotte’s method of oral narration was just so brilliant in all the different school subjects. I remember she talked about that in science and nature study, that if the children are having trouble expressing what they’re seeing, it’s not because they don’t understand, it’s because they’re groping for the vocabulary, “What’s the word I need?” And the same can be applied with the art forms, I would think.

Richele: Yes, and Charlotte had the children work on little copies, little compositions themselves, in just one tone of color. So, maybe it was that burnt sienna color. And it wasn’t to make the child become an artist, but it was to help the child see just what an artist does and how difficult it is.

Sonya: That’s a great point, have them build that empathy, if you will, because it’s easy to look at something and go, “Well, I don’t really like that very much.” But then say, “Okay, here you go, try making it for yourself.” 

Richele: Or it’s how you and I found out with paper sloyd that it is not as easy as it looks or seems. When you’re studying handicrafts with your child, they are learning an appreciation for makers and builders and people who are professionals at doing these things. Because it also brings in integrity and how good of a job you’ve done. 

Sonya: The habit of integrity, and as Charlotte said, perfect execution, our best effort, putting forth our best work. So many habits are involved; the habit of attention, of course, is also involved, as it is in so many things. And that brings to mind the habit of imagination; a lot of people don’t know what she means about the habit of imagination. Because we think about imagination as just running wild, whatever you can dream up. But with Charlotte Mason, I believe the habit of imagination was more about being able to picture in your mind something you previously saw or something that has been described to you. And those skills are involved in the arts, right? 

Richele: It’s amazing just how involved the habit of imagination is nurtured in these arts. So, it could be something like Henry Ossawa Tanner, one of his pictures, and it throws that window open onto a world you’ve never been to. What was it like growing up in the southern Appalachians in the beginning of the 1900s? 

Sonya: Like The Banjo Lesson picture, or The Thankful Poor picture.

Richele: Or it could be music study. I remember once when we were listening to a composer’s piece, suddenly my youngest popped up and he went and grabbed the markers and some paper and just started drawing, and then my other child did as well. That music was causing them to imagine scenes in their minds. Or with paper sloyd or paper folding, I remember once, they had made a model according to direction, but then one wanted to make one small, like teeny tiny dollhouse size, and the other one wanted to enlarge it. So, they were using their imagination in this. And certainly with poetry, we get a poem inside of us, and it might not be one that we even learn to recite, but something stays within us. And then, we catch a scent of something or a view of something, and suddenly that poem rises up within us, and we’re able to imagine this whole world.

Sonya: I love that. Yes. What are some other benefits of studying art? You’re right, there are a lot of them. Do you have more?

Richele: Well, it does add interest to our lives, especially what I just mentioned when you have a window open wide enough that you are able to look into another world that you’ve never experienced. Or perhaps that wonder and beauty of the everyday can really help us, even as mothers, when we look. Because before Instagram, there was Berthe Morisot or Mary Cassatt, and they were painting these pictures of maternal moments and childhood moments. And for a child, or for the mother, it helps us to kind of appreciate just the beauty of our everyday, daily lives. 

Sonya: It also adds interest to our daily school schedules because by putting them in as changes of pace—yes, you’ve got your usual subjects, but then let’s throw in a picture study and use a completely different part of our brain and just add some interest to each day—because you do a little different thing. You might do a picture study on Monday, a music study on Tuesday. It adds a little interest to each of those days as well. Lots of ways it adds interest. 

Richele: Yes, definitely. As Charlotte said, “a change is as good as a rest,” so we have a fresh start. We have a new chance to attend to something. 

Sonya: I love that. As you’re talking about the windows, I often think of windows into other worlds through books. That’s just where my brain automatically goes. But as you said too, our children are whole persons, and not all of them are word-oriented. Some of them are very much mental-picture-oriented. So the arts, giving these windows into other worlds, are going to reach them. Charlotte had such a balanced feast to reach all the different types of people: students and parents. Some of our homeschool teachers, some of our parents, are more visual-oriented than word-oriented, and Charlotte’s got you covered there too. 

Richele: Right. In that way, our children can be really confident entering certain areas. And then in other areas, they can build their confidence where it might not be a natural thing for them.

Sonya: Yeah, we don’t say just, “Well, this is your strength, so this is all you’re going to do.” It’s as we said, balanced. Charlotte wanted all the children to get all of the good stuff. 

Richele: Yes, that reminded me of Shakespeare, because Shakespeare is called the great leveling field, because children are always learning new words. They’re used to running into words they don’t know, and as adults, we might not be. So, when we have Shakespeare, suddenly… 

Sonya: We’re running into words we don’t know.

Richele: The parent is learning along with the child. Many times, the children understand something that we might not understand. It’s really an amazing thing. Plus, there is the richness of the vocabulary. So for my dyslexic son, I would not have imagined that Shakespeare is where he really had a chance to shine, because the vocabulary, the words, the dialogue, painted so many pictures in his head.

Sonya: Wow, that’s so neat to see that connection, that meeting of the word with the mental image right there. Oh wow. 

Richele: I just remembered something. Leah Boden, Modern Miss Mason, she called studying the arts “an investment in our souls.” And I do really like that because this is an investment into our children and because it’s going to be with them for their whole lives. On the drive here, in Georgia, there are daffodils everywhere where we don’t have them yet in Tennessee. It just brought up Wordsworth’s poem to me. It’s exciting to know what we are giving our children, when we give them the arts, we are giving them something beautiful for life. 

Sonya: Yes, and enriching. I was visualizing; I was using my imagination as you talked about driving and seeing the daffodils. There’s a difference between looking out the car window and saying, “Oh yeah, there’s some daffodils,” versus looking out the car window, seeing the daffodils, saying, “Oh yeah, there’s some daffodils and that reminds me of this poem.” And now, suddenly, you have all these wonderful words and more mental images because in that poem, he talks about “So oft when on my couch I lie in vacant or in pensive…” I forget; I memorized it in junior high. I don’t have it all memorized yet, as you said, you might not have it all memorized, but the idea from it is there, then my mind goes back and revisits those daffodils. There are just all these ideas in that poem. If you can look at the daffodils, and the poem comes back, now you’ve got exponential joy and beauty and ideas that are arising in your heart.

Richele: Yes. And there are definitely times in our lives and in our children’s lives where things aren’t 100 percent okay. There are dark times in this life; there are low times in this life. And to be able to have the arts to draw from during those times can be a real help.

Sonya: Yeah, because we are careful in what we choose for art, but that doesn’t mean every subject and theme is going to be happy, happy, happy. Sometimes it’s hard to express the valley you’re walking through. But if you have seen a kindred spirit in an artwork or a piece of music, that helps you feel you’re not alone. 

Richele: It can help you feel you’re not alone or it can give you hope, as you said before. I mean, putting on “Ode to Joy” can really lift your spirits.

Sonya: Yes, that’s great. So many wonderful reasons to include art. Any more you want to throw in there?

Richele: We could do a recap, if we can even remember them all. First and foremost, we are giving our children a joy, a great or a simple joy that’s going to last a lifetime in many forms. We’re respecting the child as a person, as a whole person. We are offering them many things in this feast for their senses and not just literature.

Sonya: Yes, and the habits that are included in it. Those were important things we talked about: observation and attention and imagination. Those are all included. 

Richele: Expression, the power to say what we see.

Sonya: Yes. So many wonderful advantages to give our children, benefits that they will get. And it’s not that hard to include these arts. If any of our readers have never done this, they were not raised that way, and they feel intimidated, it’s so simple to get all these benefits for themselves and their kids. Thanks so much.

Lesson Plans for Including the Arts

Enrichment Studies Volume 1 2nd edition

Enrichment Studies lesson plans make it simple for you and your family to enjoy the wonderful gift of the arts in your home school. Detailed lesson plans guide you through a full school year of delightful, interesting exploration of the arts. And the doable schedule with Charlotte Mason methods only takes an hour per day.

Include the arts in your next school year plan and start giving your children (and yourself!) a joy that will last a lifetime.

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