I Love Art Essays

There has never been a time when art critics held more power than during the second half of the twentieth century. Following the Second World War, with the relocation of the world’s artistic epicenter from Paris to New York, a different kind of war was waged in the pages of magazines across the country. As part of the larger “culture wars” of the mid-century, art critics began to take on greater influence than they’d ever held before. For a time, two critics in particular—who began as friends, and remained in the same social circles for much of their lives—set the stakes of the debates surrounding the maturation of American art that would continue for decades. The ideas about art outlined by Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg are still debated today, and the extent to which they were debated in the past has shaped entire movements of the arts. Below are ten works of criticism through which one can trace the mainstreaming of Clement Greenberg’s formalist theory, and how its dismantling led us into institutional critique and conceptual art today.

 

 

The American Action Painters

Harold Rosenberg

 Jackson Pollock, One: Number 31, 1950

 

Harold Rosenberg, a poet who came to art through his involvement with the Artist’s Union and the WPA, was introduced to Jean-Paul Sartre as the “first American existentialist.” Soon, Rosenberg became a contributor to Sartre’s publication in France, for which he first drafted his influential essay. However, when Sartre supported Soviet aggression against Korea, Rosenberg brought his essay to Elaine de Kooning, then the editor of ARTnews, who ran “The American Action Painters” in December, 1952.

RELATED: What Did Harold Rosenberg Do? An Introduction to the Champion of “Action Painting”

Rosenberg’s essay on the emerging school of American Painters omitted particular names—because they’d have been unfamiliar to its original French audience—but it was nonetheless extraordinarily influential for the burgeoning scene of post-WWII American artists. Jackson Pollock claimed to be the influence of “action painting,” despite Rosenberg’s rumored lack of respect for the artist because Pollock wasn’t particularly well-read. Influenced by Marxist theory and French existentialism, Rosenberg conceives of a painting as an “arena,” in which the artist acts upon, wrestles, or otherwise engages with the canvas, in what ultimately amounts to an expressive record of a struggle. “What was to go on the canvas,” Rosenberg wrote, “was not a picture but an event.”

 

Notable Quote

Weak mysticism, the “Christian Science” side of the new movement, tends … toward easy painting—never so many unearned masterpieces! Works of this sort lack the dialectical tension of a genuine act, associated with risk and will. When a tube of paint is squeezed by the Absolute, the result can only be a Success. The painter need keep himself on hand solely to collect the benefits of an endless series of strokes of luck. His gesture completes itself without arousing either an opposing movement within itself nor the desire in the artist to make the act more fully his own. Satisfied with wonders that remain safely inside the canvas, the artist accepts the permanence of the commonplace and decorates it with his own daily annihilation. The result is an apocalyptic wallpaper.

 

 

‘American-Type’ Painting

Clement Greenberg

 

Frank Stella, Untitled, 1967

 

Throughout the preceding decade, Clement Greenberg, also a former poet, had established a reputation as a leftist critic through his writings with The Partisan Review—a publication run by the John Reed Club, a New York City-centered organization affiliated with the American Communist Party—and his time as an art critic with The Nation. In 1955, The Partisan Review published Greenberg’s “‘American-Type’ Painting,” in which the critic defined the now-ubiquitous term “abstract expressionism.”

RELATED: What Did Clement Greenberg Do? A Primer on the Powerful AbEx Theorist’s Key Ideas

In contrast to Rosenberg’s conception of painting as a performative act, Greenberg’s theory, influenced by Clive Bell and T. S. Eliot, was essentially a formal one—in fact, it eventually evolved into what would be called “formalism.” Greenberg argued that the evolution of painting was one of historical determinacy—that ever since the Renaissance, pictures moved toward flatness, and the painted line moved away from representation. Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso were two of the landmarks of this view. Pollock, who exhibited his drip paintings in 1951, freeing the line from figuration, was for Greenberg the pinnacle of American Modernism, the most important artist since Picasso. (Pollock’s paintings exhibited in 1954, with which he returned to semi-representational form, were regarded by Greenberg as a regression. This lead him to adopt Barnett Newman as his new poster-boy, despite the artist’s possessing vastly different ideas on the nature of painting. For one, Greenberg mostly ignored the Biblical titles of Newman’s paintings.)

Greenberg’s formalist theories were immensely influential over the subsequent decades. Artforum in particular grew into a locus for formalist discourse, which had the early effect of providing an aesthetic toolkit divorced from politic. Certain curators of the Museum of Modern Art, particularly William Rubin, Kirk Varnedoe, and to an extent Alfred Barr are credited for steering the museum in an essentially formalist direction. Some painters, such as Frank Stella, Helen Frankenthaler, and Kenneth Noland, had even been accused of illustrating Greenberg’s theories (and those of Michael Fried, a prominent Greenbergian disciple) in attempt to embody the theory, which was restrictive in its failure to account for narrative content, figuration, identity, politics, and more. In addition, Greenberg’s theories proved well-suited for a burgeoning art market, which found connoisseurship an easy sell. (As the writer Mary McCarthy said, “You can’t hang an event on your wall.”) In fact, the dominance of the term “abstract expressionism” over “action painting,” which seemed more applicable to Pollock and Willem de Kooning than any other members of the New York School, is emblematic of the influence of formalist discourse.

 

Notable Quote

The justification for the term, “abstract expressionist,” lies in the fact that most of the painters covered by it took their lead from German, Russian, or Jewish expressionism in breaking away from late Cubist abstract art. But they all started from French painting, for their fundamental sense of style from it, and still maintain some sort of continuity with it. Not least of all, they got from it their most vivid notion of an ambitious, major art, and of the general direction in which it had to go in their time.

 

 

ABC Art

Barbara Rose 

 Donald Judd, Galvanized Iron 17 January, 1973

 

Like many critics in the 1950s and 60s, Barbara Rose had clearly staked her allegiance to one camp or the other. She was, firmly, a formalist, and along with Fried and Rosalind Krauss is largely credited with expanding the theory beyond abstract expressionist painting. By 1965, however, Rose recognized a limitation of the theory as outlined by Greenberg—that it was reductionist and only capable of account for a certain style of painting, and not much at all in other mediums.

RELATED: The Intellectual Origins Of Minimalism

In “ABC Art,” published in Art in America where Rose was a contributing editor, Rose opens up formalism to encompass sculpture, which Greenberg was largely unable to account for. The simple idea that art moves toward flatness and abstraction leads, for Rose, into Minimalism, and “ABC Art” is often considered the first landmark essay on Minimalist art. By linking the Minimalist sculptures of artists like Donald Judd to the Russian supremacist paintings of Kasimir Malevich and readymades of Duchamp, she extends the determinist history that formalism relies on into sculpture and movements beyond abstract expressionism.

 

Notable Quote

I do not agree with critic Michael Fried’s view that Duchamp, at any rate, was a failed Cubist. Rather, the inevitability of a logical evolution toward a reductive art was obvious to them already. For Malevich, the poetic Slav, this realization forced a turning inward toward an inspirational mysticism, whereas for Duchamp, the rational Frenchman, it meant a fatigue so enervating that finally the wish to paint at all was killed. Both the yearnings of Malevich’s Slavic soul and the deductions of Duchamp’s rationalist mind led both men ultimately to reject and exclude from their work many of the most cherished premises of Western art in favor of an art stripped to its bare, irreducible minimum.

 

 

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Philip Leider

 

Michael Heizer, Double Negative, 1969 

 

Despite the rhetorical tendency to suggest the social upheaval of the '60s ended with the actual decade, 1970 remained a year of unrest. And Artforum was still the locus of formalist criticism, which was proving increasingly unable to account for art that contributed to larger cultural movements, like Civil Rights, women’s liberation, anti-war protests, and more. (Tellingly, The Partisan Review, which birthed formalism, had by then distanced itself from its communist associations and, as an editorial body, was supportive of American Interventionism in Vietnam. Greenberg was a vocal hawk.) Subtitled “Art and Politics in Nevada, Berkeley, San Francisco, and Utah,” the editor’s note to the September 1970 issue of Artforum, written by Philip Leider, ostensibly recounts a road trip undertaken with Richard Serra and Abbie Hoffman to see Michael Heizer’s Double Negative in the Nevada desert.

RELATED: A City of Art in the Desert: Behind Michael Heizer’s Monumental Visions for Nevada

However, the essay is also an account of an onsetting disillusion with formalism, which Leider found left him woefully unequipped to process the protests that had erupted surrounding an exhibition of prints by Paul Wunderlich at the Phoenix Gallery in Berkeley. Wunderlich’s depictions of nude women were shown concurrently to an exhibition of drawings sold to raise money for Vietnamese orphans. The juxtaposition of a canonical, patriarchal form of representation and liberal posturing, to which the protestors objected, showcased the limitations of a methodology that placed the aesthetic elements of a picture plane far above the actual world in which it existed. Less than a year later, Leider stepped down as editor-in-chief and Artforum began to lose its emphasis on late Modernism.

 

Notable Quote

I thought the women were probably with me—if they were, I was with them. I thought the women were picketing the show because it was reactionary art. To the women, [Piet] Mondrian must be a great revolutionary artist. Abstract art broke all of those chains thirty years ago! What is a Movement gallery showing dumb stuff like this for? But if it were just a matter of reactionary art, why would the women picket it? Why not? Women care as much about art as men do—maybe more. The question is, why weren’t the men right there with them?

 

 

Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?

Linda Nochlin

 Linda Nochlin teaches an art history class at Vassar in 1965

 

While Artforum, in its early history, had established a reputation as a generator for formalist theory, ARTnews had followed a decidedly more Rosenberg-ian course, emphasizing art as a practice for investigating the world. The January 1971 issue of the magazine was dedicated to “Women’s Liberation, Woman Artists, and Art History” and included an iconoclastic essay by Linda Nochlin titled “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?”

RELATED: An Introduction to Feminist Art

Nochlin notes that it’s tempting to answer the question “why have there been no great women artists?” by listing examples of those overlooked by critical and institutional organizations (a labor that Nochlin admits has great merit). However, she notes, “by attempting to answer it, they tacitly reinforce its negative implications,” namely that women are intrinsically less capable of achieving artistic merit than men. Instead, Nochlin’s essay functions as a critique of art institutions, beginning with European salons, which were structured in such a way as to deter women from rising to the highest echelons. Nochlin’s essay is considered the beginning of modern feminist art history and a textbook example of institutional critique.

 

Notable Quote

There are no women equivalents for Michelangelo or Rembrandt, Delacroix or Cézanne, Picasso or Matisse, or even in very recent times, for de Kooning or Warhol, any more than there are black American equivalents for the same. If there actually were large numbers of “hidden” great women artists, or if there really should be different standards for women’s art as opposed to men’s—and one can’t have it both ways—then what are feminists fighting for? If women have in fact achieved the same status as men in the arts, then the status quo is fine as it is.
But in actuality, as we all know, things as they are and as they have been, in the arts as in a hundred other areas, are stultifying, oppressive, and discouraging to all those, women among them, who did not have the good fortune to be born white, preferably middle class and above all, male. The fault lies not in our stars, our hormones, our menstrual cycles, or our empty internal spaces, but in our institutions and our education.

 

 

Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief

Thomas McEvilley

 Exhibition view of “Primitivism” in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern

 

One of the many extrapolations of Nochlin’s essay is that contemporary museum institutions continue to reflect the gendered and racist biases of preceding centuries by reinforcing the supremacy of specific master artists. In a 1984 Artforum review, Thomas McEvilley, a classicist new to the world of contemporary art, made the case that the Museum of Modern Art in New York served as an exclusionary temple to certain high-minded Modernists—namely, Picasso, Matisse, and Pollock—who, in fact, took many of their innovations from native cultures.

RELATED: MoMA Curator Laura Hoptman on How to Tell a Good Painting From a “Bogus” Painting

In 1984, MoMA organized a blockbuster exhibition. Curated by William Rubin and Kirk Varnedoe, both of whom were avowed formalists, “‘Primitivism’ in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern” collected works by European painters like Paul Gaugin and Picasso with cultural artifacts from Zaire, arctic communities, and elsewhere. McEvilley takes aim at the “the absolutist view of formalist Modernism” in which MoMA is rooted. He argues that the removal tribal artifacts from their contexts (for example, many were ritual items intended for ceremonies, not display) and placement of them, unattributed, near works by European artists, censors the cultural contributions of non-Western civilizations in deference to an idealized European genius.

 

Notable Quote

The fact that the primitive “looks like” the Modern is interpreted as validating the Modern by showing that its values are universal, while at the same time projecting it—and with it MoMA—into the future as a permanent canon. A counter view is possible: that primitivism on the contrary invalidates Modernism by showing it to be derivative and subject to external causation. At one level this show undertakes precisely to coopt that question by answering it before it has really been asked, and by burying it under a mass of information.

 

 

Please Wait By the Coatroom

John Yau

 Wifredo Lam, The Jungle, 1943

 

Not content to let MoMA and the last vestiges of formalism off the hook yet, John Yau wrote in 1988 an essay on Wifredo Lam, a Cuban painter who lived and worked in Paris among Picasso, Matisse, Georges Braque, and others. Noting Lam’s many influences—his Afro-Cuban mother, Chinese father, and Yoruba godmother—Yau laments the placement of Lam’s The Jungle near the coatroom in the Museum of Modern Art, as opposed to within the Modernist galleries several floors above. The painting was accompanied by a brief entry written by former curator William Rubin, who, Yau argues, adopted Greenberg’s theories because they endowed him with “a connoisseur’s lens with which one can scan all art.”

RELATED: From Cuba With Love: Artist Bill Claps on the Island’s DIY Art Scene

Here, as with with McEvilley’s essay, Yau illustrates how formalism, as adapted by museum institutions, became a (perhaps unintentional) method for reinforcing the exclusionary framework that Nochlin argued excluded women and black artists for centuries.

 

Notable Quote

Rubin sees in Lam only what is in his own eyes: colorless or white artists. For Lam to have achieved the status of unique individual, he would have had to successfully adapt to the conditions of imprisonment (the aesthetic standards of a fixed tradition) Rubin and others both construct and watch over. To enter this prison, which takes the alluring form of museums, art history textbooks, galleries, and magazines, an individual must suppress his cultural differences and become a colorless ghost. The bind every hybrid American artist finds themselves in is this: should they try and deal with the constantly changing polymorphous conditions effecting identity, tradition, and reality? Or should they assimilate into the mainstream art world by focusing on approved-of aesthetic issues? Lam’s response to this bind sets an important precedent. Instead of assimilating, Lam infiltrates the syntactical rules of “the exploiters” with his own specific language. He becomes, as he says, “a Trojan horse.”

 

 

Black Culture and Postmodernism

Cornel West

 

Cornel West

 

The opening up of cultural discourse did not mean that it immediately made room for voices of all dimensions. Cornel West notes as much in his 1989 essay “Black Culture and Postmodernism,” in which he argues that postmodernism, much like Modernism before it, remains primarily ahistorical, which makes it difficult for “oppressed peoples to exercise their opposition to hierarchies of power.” West’s position is that the proliferation of theory and criticism that accompanied the rise of postmodernism provided mechanisms by which black culture could “be conversant with and, to a degree, participants in the debate.” Without their voices, postmodernism would remain yet another exclusionary movements.

RELATED: Kerry James Marshall on Painting Blackness as a Noun Vs. Verb

 

Notable Quote

As the consumption cycle of advanced multinational corporate capitalism was sped up in order to sustain the production of luxury goods, cultural production became more and more mass-commodity production. The stress here is not simply on the new and fashionable but also on the exotic and primitive. Black cultural products have historically served as a major source for European and Euro-American exotic interests—interests that issue from a healthy critique of the mechanistic, puritanical, utilitarian, and productivity aspects of modern life.

 

 

Minimalism and the Rhetoric of Power

Anna C. Chave

 Richard Serra, Tilted Arc, 1981

 

In recent years, formalist analysis has been deployed as a single tool within a more varied approach to art. Its methodology—that of analyzing a picture as an isolated phenomena—remains prevalent, and has its uses. Yet, many of the works and movements that rose to prominence under formalist critics and curators, in no small part because of their institutional acceptance, have since become part of the rearguard rather than the vanguard.

In a 1990 essay for Arts Magazine, Anna Chave analyzes how Minimalist sculpture possesses a “domineering, sometimes brutal rhetoric” that was aligned with “both the American military in Vietnam, and the police at home in the streets and on university campuses across the country.” In particular, Chave is concerned with the way Minimalist sculptures define themselves through a process of negation. Of particular relevance to Chave’s argument are the massive steel sculptures by Minimalist artist Richard Serra. 

Tilted Arc was installed in Federal Plaza in lower Manhattan in 1981. Chave describes the work as a “mammoth, perilously tilted steel arc [that] formed a divisive barrier too tall to see over, and a protracted trip to walk around.” She writes, “it is more often the case with Serra that his work doesn’t simply exemplify aggression or domination, but acts it out.” Tilted Arc was so controversial upon its erecting that the General Services Administration, which commissioned the work, held hearings in response to petitions demanding the work be removed. Worth quoting at length, Chave writes:

A predictable defense of Serra’s work was mounted by critics, curators, dealers, collectors, and some fellow artists…. The principle arguments mustered on Serra’s behalf were old ones concerning the nature and function of the avant-garde…. What Rubin and Serra’s other supporters declined to ask is whether the sculptor really is, in the most meaningful sense of the term, an avant-garde artist. Being avant-garde implies being ahead of, outside, or against the dominant culture; proffering a vision that implicitly stands (at least when it is conceived) as a critique of entrenched forms and structures…. But Serra’s work is securely embedded within the system: when the brouhaha over Arc was at its height, he was enjoying a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art…. [The defense’s] arguments locate Serra not with the vanguard but with the standing army or “status quo.” … More thoughtful, sensible, and eloquent testimony at the hearing came instead from some of the uncouth:

My name is Danny Katz and I work in this building as a clerk. My friend Vito told me this morning that I am a philistine. Despite that I am getting up to speak…. I don’t think this issue should be elevated into a dispute between the forces of ignorance and art, or art versus government. I really blame government less because it has long ago outgrown its human dimension. But from the artists I expected a lot more. I didn’t expect to hear them rely on the tired and dangerous reasoning that the government has made a deal, so let the rabble live with the steel because it’s a deal. That kind of mentality leads to wars. We had a deal with Vietnam. I didn’t expect to hear the arrogant position that art justifies interference with the simple joys of human activity in a plaza. It’s not a great plaza by international standards, but it is a small refuge and place of revival for people who ride to work in steel containers, work in sealed rooms, and breathe recirculated air all day. Is the purpose of art in public places to seal off a route of escape, to stress the absence of joy and hope? I can’t believe this was the artistic intention, yet to my sadness this for me has become the dominant effect of the work, and it’s all the fault of its position and location. I can accept anything in art, but I can’t accept physical assault and complete destruction of pathetic human activity. No work of art created with a contempt for ordinary humanity and without respect for the common element of human experience can be great. It will always lack dimension.

The terms Katz associated with Serra’s project include arrogance and contempt, assault, and destruction; he saw the Minimalist idiom, in other words, as continuous with the master discourse of our imperious and violent technocracy.

 

 

The End of Art

Arthur Danto

 

Andy Warhol carries a Brillo box in his Factory

 

Like Greenberg, Arthur Danto was an art critic for The Nation. However, Danto was overtly critical of Greenberg’s ideology and the influence he wielded over Modern and contemporary art. Nor was he a follower of Harold Rosenberg, though they shared influences, among them the phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Danto’s chief contribution to contemporary art was his advancing of Pop Artists, particularly Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein.

In “The End of Art” Danto argues that society at large determines and accepts art, which no longer progresses linearly, categorized by movements. Instead, viewers each possess a theory or two, which they use to interpret works, and art institutions are largely tasked with developing, testing, and modifying various interpretive methods. In this way, art differs little from philosophy. After decades of infighting regarding the proper way to interpret works of art, Danto essentially sanctioned each approach and the institutions that gave rise to them. He came to call this “pluralism.”

RELATED: What Was the Pictures Generation?

Similarly, in “Painting, Politics, and Post-Historical Art,” Danto makes the case for an armistice between formalism and the various theories that arose in opposition, noting that postmodern critics like Douglas Crimp in the 1980s, who positioned themselves against formalism, nonetheless adopted the same constrictive air, minus the revolutionary beginnings.

 

Notable Quote

Modernist critical practice was out of phase with what was happening in the art world itself in the late 60s and through the 1970s. It remained the basis for most critical practice, especially on the part of the curatoriat, and the art-history professoriat as well, to the degree that it descended to criticism. It became the language of the museum panel, the catalog essay, the article in the art periodical. It was a daunting paradigm, and it was the counterpart in discourse to the “broadening of taste” which reduced art of all cultures and times to its formalist skeleton, and thus, as I phrased it, transformed every museum into a Museum of Modern Art, whatever that museum’s contents. It was the stable of the docent’s gallery talk and the art appreciation course—and it was replaced, not totally but massively, by the postmodernist discourse that was imported from Paris in the late 70s, in the texts of Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Jean Baudrillard, Jean-François Lyotard, and Jacques Lacan, and of the French feminists Hélène Cixous and Luce Irigaray. That is the discourse [Douglas] Crimp internalizes, and it came to be lingua artspeak everywhere. Like modernist discourse, it applied to everything, so that there was room for deconstructive and “archeological” discussion of art of every period.

 

 

Editor’s Note: This list was drawn in part from a 2014 seminar taught by Debra Bricker Balken in the MFA program in Art Writing at the School of Visual Arts titled Critical Strategies: Late Modernism/Postmodernism. Additional sources can be found here, here, here (paywall), and here. Also relevant are reviews of the 2008 exhibition at the Jewish Museum, “Action/Abstraction: Pollock, de Kooning, and American Art, 1940–1976,” notably those by Roberta Smith, Peter Schjeldahl, and Martha Schwendener.

 

why it is important for our children to study great art? I'm trying to explain this to someone who doesn't see the point, but deep philosophical ideas don't go over well. =) *I* understand why, but I'm having a hard time putting it into words. "

Well, Teresa....well, everyone...this is one of those articles! ;-)

I am going to share this old article from Time for Tea...Hope you enjoy! Love, Cindy

One extra thought before I do...I think that the bottom line is that we, as Christians, are challenged to have dominion over this world. All of the beauty is sent from God for us to enjoy and to share with others to glorify HIM! We must be acquainted with the beautiful and lovely in order to do this. Also, I think it is virtually impossible to have a correct view of history without the study of art. It tells the heart of the people. I am not saying that Jesus had long hair because they painted it that way...going back to Ancient Roman art, we find that at the time of Christ, the men wore their faces cleanly shaven and their hair very short (the Republican Style)...as matter of fact, hair was not grown longer (except if they took a Nazarite vow which was a time of disgracing themselves...hence longer hair for the men) in the Roman Empire until after the time of Christ when Paul was actually writing his letters to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 11???)

You cannot know these little details of history unless you add in the extras like Picture Studies to your History AND Bible Studies! ;-) It sure helps us to see that REAL story behind history. By the way...did you notice that I said the history of that TIME period? It is not enough to trust art from today to depict what went on because it is biased by belief so much. If I were to paint a picture, it would first of all give you a good giggle!, OK...It would be based upon the beliefs, or Worldview, that I hold. Just like literature, where you get a Worldview of the author, so it is with Art and Music. Soooo, you might can see the heart condition of the time period of the painter through his creation. It is sooo shaped by the thoughts and beliefs of the culture. That is why I guess I love Rembrandt...MY personal favorite time period is that enthusiasm after the Reformation for living wholeheartedly for the Lord...I love the art after that period because it portrays that enthusiasm and passion for God. I think it is because being in a Post Christian Society...I feel that little flicker of a great revival that is growing upon many like pre-reformation times! I love the idea that men and women like Frances Schaeffer, David Quine, The Clarkson's, Marilyn Howshall, and prayerfully even me...will influence through the pen the next generation of art...wouldn't it be neat to see the art of those returning to a Judeo-Christian Worldview??? Whew! It gets me excited!

Now...Here is that article! Love ya! Cindy

Picture Studies

By Cindy Rushton

Art�what comes to your mind? For most of my life art brought a blank. As a child, art was perhaps the most neglected subject of study next to music. I never really could understand the importance of studying much less teaching great art to my children until around 4 years ago as we continued developing our studies based on the Charlotte Mason Approach. Charlotte's works have challenged me to not only give my children the best�but to do myself a favor by giving myself the best! Let's look at the why and how of Picture Studies!

Why study art?

Art seems to be one of the greatest means that we can employ to encourage our little ones to really "see." By this I am not meaning to quickly look and go on, rather I mean to really give full attention to the details, to the spirit behind the great works. Art forces us to take time to look at details that we often walk right past whether the beauty in God's creation or the beauty in creations of others. Art opens the mind of the child (as well as the mind of the adult!) to beauty. It slows us down to see the beauty that is in the little things in life. Great art encourages a greater enjoyment of the beautiful things in our life. Art is the gift that disciplines our minds to really pay attention, to enjoy the little things that exist just for our blessing!

Art is not just for our discipline; it is a great bridge to times of the past. We are able to introduce our children to great minds of the past. As children are influenced by great masterpieces, they are able to develop friendships with the artists. They are able to get a glimpse at the society, culture, and predominant Worldview of the time period that the painter lived or based the work. In the study of art, we are able to see whether or not the predominant influence was a belief in God. As we look back to the art of the past, we are able to compare the effect that worldviews have on art, government, culture, and theology. As we take note of the shifts that have resulted from worldviews, we are better able to understand our own society, art, government, culture, and theology. Can you imagine the disservice that we do to our children and ourselves as we place art studies as a last priority? We are unable to understand history until we are able to understand art.

Two Kinds of Art Instruction...

There are really two kinds of art instruction for children: art expression and art appreciation. I found myself feeling very inferior in the area of both. For one thing, I had never been able to understand art much less enjoy it! I was unable to get past the fact that so much art went against my conscience. It seemed as though there was so much nudity and chaos�it simply did not make sense to me! I began to study art with the Cornerstone Curriculum's program Adventures in Art. During our studies one day, I realized that it was my Worldview conflicting with the Worldview of many artists! (Such as Picasso! YUCK!) I found certain artists that not only agreed with my Worldview, but also were able to express it so beautifully on canvas! I began to APPRECIATE art!

Although I still have the ability to express art that would make an art instructor quit teaching (MINE DID!); I love Art and enjoy trying out my elementary skills! This is key to teaching art to your children! First, give them contact with the great artists. Let them learn to love and appreciate good art. Then, watch their expression! They'll begin to use techniques that were common to the masters because they will be students of the all time best!

How to Study a Picture...

We study art in the simplest way, yet we have enjoyed such benefits! Here are some tips for Picture Studies:

? Show the children (I teach my children all at the same time!) a print giving them plenty of time to look and enjoy. Try to make picture studies a family fun time, like your family read-aloud time. Curl up and enjoy the print with them over tea! Relax and enjoy...they will learn to cherish this time with you!

? Discuss the print with your children...DO NOT lecture or explain! If you are like me and know very little about the print or the artist, then trust me-it may be for the very best! You will be less likely to lecture or try to be a source of information. You will let the child get in touch directly with the art and artist! This is the GOAL!

? Turn the print over and let the child describe the details from memory. This can be in the form of a narration or drawing or discussion. I have found that my children are remarkably attentive! They notice the most incredible details! This will encourage them to notice even greater details. We have sometimes given them a blank sheet of paper to let them have a chance to try to recreate the print themselves. This is fun and very interesting as you see how much they are really able to recall! You can keep the drawings and narrations in a notebook just for Art! If you have extra prints, you can even let the children have their own for their notebooks as well!

? Turn the print back over to see how accurate they were!

? Leave the print out for the children to come back to it during the week. We placed ours on the wall as you walk out of our family room for a long time. I recently purchased a gorgeous portfolio to place all of our prints in. I have placed it on my coffee table in our family room for the children to enjoy. We often just sit down with the entire portfolio and enjoy all of the gorgeous works�even those we have enjoyed in the past! You may choose to purchase or check out a beautiful art print book. (I have been coveting a book at the Christian Book Store about all of Rembrandt 's Bible Art!) We have access today to these wonderful resources at great prices or for free from our libraries! I have found myself personally steering away from many of them because of my convictions about not exposing my children to the nudity in many works of art. If you feel as I do ,there are several alternatives! You could take out all the prints that you do not mind your children studying and place them in a portfolio! I haven't because they ARE still too expensive for me to justify cutting up and throwing out the book! Another option is to use inexpensive print books (I have found some for only $1) and "dress" the nude figures with handy magic markers�the children just giggle over "mom helping the artist!" Many moms also use prints from post cards, calendars, art prints from department stores, and greeting cards. These are O.K. But, I personally prefer nice large prints so that we can enjoy the intricate details!

? At the end of the week, we usually discuss the painting and details that we have enjoyed from the print. (Again, this is where I have loved Adventures in Art because it is complete with the prints and the study guide!) At this time, if the print is religious in nature, we look up and read the Bible account in Scripture. For example, while studying Rembrandt's The Raising of the Cross we looked up the gospel account of the crucifixion. This adds to the emotion of the print and helps us to actually go back in time to Rembrandt's studio...as well as, the cross! ? Speaking of this print, I try to bring out certain prints at certain seasons: The Raising of the Cross by Rembrandt and Cimabue's The Crucifixion at Easter, Fabriano' s The Adoration of the Magi, and Duccio's The Nativity during Advent. They compliment our decorations and our festive moods! Also, I do this with Music such as Handel's Messiah...but that is another article!

A challenge...

Picture Studies will open up the world not only for your children but also for you! I never had the benefit of Picture Studies, much less from the Biblical Worldview! Since our family has made Picture Studies a priority for every year instead of a luxury or one time unit, we have chanced to meet the greatest men and women of all history! We have learned to see life more clearly. We have seen history from the eyes of men and women who had much to tell us! We have been able to see things as they really were with accurate, firsthand communication. We have been given a challenge to create as the masters have created! We have been challenged to appreciate beauty! Yes, we should not neglect this area of study when so much is captured on canvas. I challenge you to make picture studies a priority in your homeschool and watch out for all the blessings! Happy Studies!

Copyright 1998 by Cindy Rushton. Rushton Family Ministries, 1225 Christy Lane, Tuscumbia, Alabama 35674. Picture Studies is a reprint from Time for Tea. For more information about reprints or subscriptions, please request from the above address or email haroldr@getaway.net

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