My liberal arts roots have been both a blessing and a curse ever since I began homeschooling in 2003: a blessing because I had an innate desire to shape my children’s education as broadly based as possible, yet a curse because I discovered quite early in my journey that it’s easier said than done, and art – the topic of this article – was probably the quintessential subject for pushing me to my limit while raising me to some of the highest heights.
Let’s start near the beginning. When my eldest was about 3 or 4, if there was an art class happening, a weekend workshop, a co-op opportunity, I was always one of the first to sign up, and the reason was partly because I believed art was an important element of a well-rounded education, but mainly, if truth be told, it was because I did not want that mess in my house!
However, intuitively, I knew that my children were creative and artistic, so if I wasn’t going to be making materials available at home, I’d have to travel to places that would. That was, until I had a revelation:
Art is not just about painting!
Maybe this is no surprise to you at all, but to me, it was a revolutionary. It all started with some pieces of printer paper which my eldest folded, shaped, and taped until she created the containers from a fast-food meal, that is, what looked like a drinks cup including straw, a box for holding paper fries, and a clam-shell container for a paper hamburger. Over the years, paper crafts were seen again and again in origami, lapbooking, and even a working orrery.
Another way we broadened our ideas of art would, in Charlotte Mason studies at least, be called Picture Study or perhaps Art Appreciation.
We start this exploration at a young age: have you ever read the Katie books where the little girl goes to a museum and climbs into famous paintings? I found that asking my children which painting they most wanted to climb into was a sure-fire way to elicit concentration and quiet in some of the more formal museums we used to visit.
Picture Study was with us a long time, being one of the weekly “tea-time” activities in the Charlotte Mason method, but eventually, we moved from appreciation and into more about Art History.
At first, we shared this love for art and its context in a family co-op with some friends of ours. Sister Wendy documentaries were our source of choice. These are still found on youtube, such as episodes from the Story of Painting like this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EZ8VMLmWde8
Finally, we outsourced to a more rigorous Art History course taught by a friend of ours who was originally in our home-based co-op, but who then went to train as a Art History education specialist in England.
We recently met up for coffee when I was visiting the area where I spent most of my adult life. She surprised me when she said that Art History wasn’t just an off-shoot of art, or even just a Fine Art credit on a transcript, but it’s part of a wider discipline called “Visual Education”.
See our List of Art Resources
In essence, Visual Education is concerned with the art of seeing: that is, taking in the scene in front of you in an objective way, trying to leave preconceived notions behind.
“More and more medical schools are adding visual education into their curriculum,” Jenny said. “The concern is that doctors are relying too much on technology, so they are being re-trained to see things in minute detail and without assumptions so that they can better diagnose the symptoms they’re seeing in a patient.”
This idea started me thinking: which careers really need observational skills and would benefit from Art History and its focus on visual education? If doctors benefit, then so probably should dentists, and almost certainly veterinarians. Scientists, too. And why not forensic detectives and investigators?
Obviously, budding painters, sculptors, architects, and all those going into the Fine Arts as a specialty would enjoy a good Art History course while in high school, so what sorts of options are out there?
Briefly, and by no means exhaustively, you can do-it-yourself just with Googling different eras, make use of the free online resource that’s Khan Academy or use something like Sister Wendy’s video series, buy an open-and-go type from somewhere like Rainbow Resources, see what dual enrollment options there are at your local community college, or opt for a course taught live and online, some of which are honors level and look impressive on a transcript (like the course Jenny’s teaching for Dreaming Spires!).
The last point I’ll make is this: though Art History has many practical applications for the homeschooled high schooler, the reason I have my children take a art history course in high school is because it gives them the tools to feel at home in any art gallery or museum they may visit. It seems to be a good way in to a big part of cultural awareness.
That, it seems to me, is “all blessing” with no curse, or put it another way, a “no brainer”.
Art History is for everyone!
Kat has degrees in English from both the US and the UK, and taught in UK secondary schools. Fun fact: secondary school teachers have to teach classes of ALL the grades each year, so instead of having 4 or 5 sets of 6th graders, they have one set in each of the 7 years. More evidence of British inefficiency!!! Kat now uses this vast experience and expertise to teach online courses in English for high school homeschoolers all over the world. You can read more of her work on her family blog at boyschooling.blogspot.com.