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The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Art and Enjoyment

by K. Sidford.
Volume 11, 1900, pgs. 701-708

"The pursuit of 'Art' is to man what 'play' is to the child; a vent for the energy which is not exhausted in the daily duties. Schiller has clearly and poetically expressed his opinion that the activities of 'play' are the ideal activities of the race, because, by them alone, can man express his whole self. 'Education in taste and beauty has, for its object, to train up in the utmost attainable harmony the whole sum of the powers both in sense and spirit.'"

"Without wishing to be dogmatic in art, I would urge that the illustrated books given to a child for its very own should be few in number and must be selected with care. If a great number are possessed, none of them are likely to have good effect."

"Let the objects of study be few and examined at leisure. Far more good would thus be done than by an occasional rush through the Academy, museums, or various picture galleries."

If my title is to represent my address correctly I must reverse it, because I propose to-day to introduce "Art" to your notice as the handmaiden of "Enjoyment."

Enjoyment is the first essential of life--an assertion which is open to misconstruction but which, rightly interpreted, will, I am sure, be admitted by all now present. To be able to enjoy our own lives, and to help others to enjoy theirs, entails a condition of being which includes all that is best in the world.

To enquire fully into the nature of enjoyment, to discover its sources, to analyze and compare its various phases, to decide how far present suffering should be endured for the sake of future pleasure--all this is work for the scientist, the moralist and the philosopher. To-day I shall not alarm you by scientific metaphysical discussions. If I were to do so, I should probably provide a new illustration for the fable of "The Dog and the Reflection," for, in the endeavour to direct your attention to so large, vague and shadowy a subject, I should no doubt sacrifice the substantial bone of enjoyment and opportunity which this hour affords me.

The consideration which we shall give the subject will, I hope, be of some practical value to those whose lives have direct influence upon the lives of the coming generation.

By far the greater part of our enjoyment reaches us through our senses--scientifically, all enjoyment does--and true enjoyment depends, to a great extent, upon the balanced development of our faculties.

We are all familiar with the delight which children often take in eccentric objects of affection. It is often instructive to try and find the cause of this delight.

I knew a child whose greatest treasure during several years was an almost shapeless pincushion; she never slept without it, for it she would neglect her most elegantly attired doll, her most complicated clockwork toy. Why? Probably because the sense of Touch, the sense through which we first experience pleasure, derived keen enjoyment from contact with the velvet of which the object was made. Another child, even at seven years old, would leave his toys and pets and run about with a reel through which he had slipped a piece of string, enjoying himself. Pure pleasure in motion would partly account for this; but, in this child, the desire for power was very strongly developed, while the faculties by which power is secured were backward; the puppets would not keep a required position unless carefully placed, the bricks needed thought and construction before they fulfilled their end, the animals would go one way when he wanted them to go another; most irritating! The favourite toy was simple, he had made it himself, could do with it as he liked. Thus the imperfectly developed nature was satisfied. Many of you could furnish me with other examples of such childish fancies, of what is often called "imagination," but it is not the function of the highest imagination to blind us to the obvious, its material is true perception. I believe we find in all such instances the effect of imperfectly developed senses and, in the course of natural growth, these fancies pass away, to be replaced by--what? Enjoyment in some form, since enjoyment is man's natural heritage. But in what form? Not, I hope, in the form of gross enjoyment--sensuality which brings a train of suffering and usually its own swift end. Not as feeble enjoyment--placid pleasure in life as it is, vacuous contentment with bodily comfort, such meaningless fatuous enjoyment as we see expressed upon the features of the meaner idols bought as ornaments for our homes. Not even as selfish asthetic enjoyment, which, like a parasite, derives its substance from the beauty provided for it by its superiors, yet contributes nothing itself. No, let us have none of these; they also are the result of imperfectly developed natures, but, unlike the fancies of the child, they do not fade; they ought not to exist.

Let us have in their place a keen, unselfish, lasting enjoyment. An enjoyment which awakens at the rising of the sun, at the singing of the birds, at all that is joyous in nature. An enjoyment that is diffusive, that gives some of itself to all with whom it comes in contact. An enjoyment that is intellectual and discriminative, which selects the results of man's highest efforts as its food, and despises not the lighter sources of laughter. How shall we secure such enjoyment for our children?

Many happy natures possess the power of enjoyment in a high degree and need but little encouragement in order to retain delight in nature all through life; but to attain intellectual and discriminative enjoyment, a long and continuous training is usually necessary.

I cannot attempt to point out the way in which we grow to appreciate all the varied results of man's highest efforts, scientific, literary, scholarly, &c., but shall confine myself to some suggestions in regard to the pursuit of "Art," taking "Art" in the limited meaning of "the production of the beautiful in a form palpable to the eye." The beginning of Art lies in "play." Primitive man, after killing his food, and probably his neighbour, amused himself by chipping the handle of his flint weapon into the form of some animal; thus was exhibited the germ of the art of Phidias. The pursuit of "Art" is to man what "play" is to the child; a vent for the energy which is not exhausted in the daily duties. Schiller has clearly and poetically expressed his opinion that the activities of "play" are the ideal activities of the race, because, by them alone, can man express his whole self. "Education in taste and beauty has, for its object, to train up in the utmost attainable harmony the whole sum of the powers both in sense and spirit."

During the last glorious summer, I spent some long time in Normandy with a party devoted to the graphic arts, and during the leisure for reflection which the time afforded, I became strengthened in my opinion that no other form of recreation brings so much healthful pleasure to its followers, leading them as it does into close communion with nature, with nature in her freest poetical aspect, that is, in her loveliest guise, and though I regret to say that even adult efforts do not always produce "things of beauty" yet our very failures lead us to admire and appreciate, not only the great masterpieces of art, but the many less known but beautiful works with which we come in contact through life.

In the invaluable years in which the childish faculties are awakening, home influence is the most important factor; to it we must look for guidance of the early "love of beauty" which every child possesses, though in varying degree. I have been greatly interested for some time in experiments made in order to test in what way home surroundings, toys, books, pictures, &c., are likely to affect the development of artistic taste and faulty; much kindly assistance has been given me in this matter and though I know these tests have not covered a sufficient area to be of true scientific value, yet the results of the investigation are instructive. As a summary of my conclusions, I may say that these tests tend to prove that the favourite books, pictures, &c., have great influence in developing discriminative appreciation, but have very slight effect as incentives to effort on the part of the child. In but two cases amongst sixty have I found voluntary effort made by a child to copy or produce similar pictures to those he admired. Friends who come in contact with children in large masses have kindly put tests to them in order to gauge the depth of impression made upon average children by the illustrations with which they are familiar. The results were somewhat disappointing to me; except in a few cases, no impression seemed to be made. To cite a typical test. A gentleman asked a class of over thirty boys to draw "Guy Fawkes," and only two out of the number had any idea of the costume, though Gardiner's Illustrated History had recently placed it continually before them. Large numbers of children of from ten to sixteen years old have also been asked to draw or describe verbally in detail some favourite picture; about 20 per cent have given fair verbal descriptions, but not more than three or four good delineations have been obtained. I hope that, by mentioning these tests, that parents should [not?] always be studying and analyzing the mind and dispositions of their children; I most strongly deprecate any such intention. The sensible mother judges intelligently as to her child's physical condition without making a special study of medical science, the doctor is at hand where more than simple remedies are required; it is lawful to buy or gather flowers and revel in their beauty without a special study of horticulture or botany. Labour is needed in so many directions that we cannot all concentrate it on one point. Let the psychologist and the teacher pursue their researches aided by an intelligent encouragement, and let parents reap the benefit of improved methods without specializing in education unless they have strong inclination for such work. Do not let our increased interest in children lead us to treat them in such a manner that they become self-conscious; in our endeavour to help them to become happy men and women, we need not sacrifice the pleasure of all with whom they come in contact as children.

I conclude that most parents who belong to this and similar societies are awake to the advisability of encouraging the love of beauty, but I feel that few give sufficient thought to cultivation of the graphic art as a means of self-expression. Both are necessary. I need hardly mention to my present audience that a child's surroundings should be artistic; its nursery, its clothes, its toys, should therefore be simple, adapted to their purpose, refined, not necessarily expensive, seldom elaborate. Without wishing to be dogmatic in art, I would urge that the illustrated books given to a child for its very own should be few in number and must be selected with care. If a great number are possessed, none of them are likely to have good effect. In regard to those chosen, I suggest that, for little ones, the illustrations should be simple in colour, pure in line, and, especially, that they should express the ideas clearly. I mean the kind of illustration that I shew you in these books, (Marcus Ward's Fable Picture Book [these appear to be similar to Milo Winter's], Caldecot's Series, &c.) If intended to excite laughter only, they should be of a nature well within the child's grasp. For instance, this book, Master Charley, by C. Harrison[appears to be a book of cartoons], should not be given to very young children, it is drawn from the grown-up standpoint and is only amusing after a certain standard of judgment has been reached. I have not had time to test the effect of this particular book upon many children, but, as examples of opinions elicited, I may quote first that of a little girl about eight years old, who derived much pleasure from it herself, but would not choose it as a Christmas gift for younger cousins, as she was sure they would like prettier pictures better. Another boy about six years old expressed great disappointment on opening the book and pronounced the pictures "disgusting bad," thus showing that the examples of art familiar to him had established a good standard in his mind; he, however, discovered afterwards that the pictures were "funny." Other children under six years old exhibited little interest in them, they see nothing humorous in the drawings which have caused me many a hearty laugh. A kind of picture which at once strikes the child as "funny" and does not encroach upon caricature, which of course belongs to a later stage, is far preferable for children. Such pictures as these in Lewis Baumer's Fumbles, &c. [Lewis Baumer was a talented caricaturist whose drawings were often used in Punch magazine.]

I should like children to be surrounded by some examples of really good art, but I should avoid forcing them into notice. It seems impossible to lay down any rule as to the age at which a child will appreciate such and such points in art. I have known children of five who delighted in Raphael's pencil studies; others who cared for no drawing or pictures till over twelve years old. It is well to let children see that we love or admire good specimens of art, and we must try to find the happy mean between allowing a child to pass by all that is beautiful with indifference, and the folly which forces it to turn an unappreciative attention to those works which at a later day would best be presented with the charm of novelty.

I now come to a more important way in which parents can help their children; that is by providing means for the child to vent its energy in any direction requiring manual dexterity and invention--bricks, coloured paper, wool, clay, fretwork, and especially to encourage them to make their own pictures. Do not let them see that the results of their efforts often appear grotesque and even unintelligible to you; be very cautious in suggesting improvements; be content to see the child making efforts and avoid judging results from the adult standpoint; give help only when requested; the main thing is that the little ones should endeavour to express themselves pictorially, for in that lies the hope of originality in later attempts. For older children, various drawing games are of assistance, such as illustrating the names of places, historical events, titles of books, &c., and I advise the exercise previously mentioned, of asking them to draw and describe in words some favourite pictures. You could not, of course, expect a reproduction from a child, only an attempt to delineate in any medium it chooses what it remembers of the picture. As a rule, the younger the child, the more it attempts to produce an imitation of the picture. I regret that I have not here some of the specimens which passed through my hands, but my enquiries were begun merely as a matter of personal interest, not with the idea of introducing the results to others. Here, however, are two outline drawings with descriptions which I will read to you; they will help to show why I consider such an exercise is good. It brings into play all the faculties which are exercised in the learning of "Memory Drawing," of which I cannot speak too highly. (Here followed the descriptions). Children who have attempted such descriptions will observe pictures in the right way. All such games and occupations should be urged when they are a source of pleasure, not other wise. I do not wish to infer that the whole of a child's course of study must be a "primrose path;" far from it, but the essence of Art is enjoyment, and with that I am concerned to-day.

I find a great drawback arises when a child develops discriminating power at an early age; its own efforts fall so short of its standard that, in bitter disappointment and disgust, it abandons all effort. Such children must be gently encouraged to do something well within their grasp and passed over to a special teacher as soon as possible. I advocate the regular study of Art at a very early age in a form suitable to children, because, unlike most studies, its very first stages are distinctly pleasurable. Many are the devices by which we teachers endeavour to make the opening paths of literature and mathematics pleasant to the young explorer. In the early teaching of Art, we are spared much, for it is rare to find a child who does not delight at least in using the brush and bright colour.

Ruskin expressed his opinion many years since that twelve or fourteen years old was young enough to begin the regular study of Art, but, since then, methods have changed. In no branch of school work can I remember greater change than in the teaching of "drawing," as it is usually called in our time tables and in the bills as many older parents will remember with regret! New methods of teaching this subject have arisen, methods which are of the utmost value in early years, methods which aim at the arousing of interest, at the directing of childish observation to the beautiful in nature. Such teaching is content to wait till later years for manual dexterity and correct expression. It bears the same relation to the later study of Art as the singing class which trains the musical faculty bears to the serious study of vocal music after the vocal organs are matured. At a later period, say about fifteen years old, I should like any child who has displayed a liking for graphic art, to devote much more time to this subject than is usually given. If a child shows aptitude for instrumental music, parents do not hesitate to allow one, two, three or more hours daily to be devoted to practice, but I have never heard of any school, public or private, in which they are allowed to give even one hour daily to any branch of pictorial or applied art.

In this city of London we can find examples of all branches of Art, pure or applied. Why not organize visits to some especial treasures and afterwards provide instruction concerning the particular examples chosen for inspection! The expedition should be made by few at a time and the members must be desirous of knowledge or we should lose the optional character of true art. Let the objects of study be few and examined at leisure. Far more good would thus be done than by an occasional rush through the Academy, museums, or various picture galleries.

I will not venture on further suggestions as to the fostering of or training in Art study at a later period, and shall be satisfied if I have helped in some measure to impress upon parents who may have given little thought to the subject, that the appreciation of and, still more, the exercise of Art, holds high rank, and that the early cultivation of the love of beauty should always be accompanied by encouragement given to effort at self-expression on the part of the child, however immature such expression may be, and thirdly, that early training should be given to the faculties upon which artistic expression depends.

I conclude with sincere apologies to those who have considered this subject for the trite manner in which I have presented it to-day.

Proofread May 2011, LNL