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Beauty is Truth: Fine Arts at Home

Beauty is Truth: Fine Arts at Home

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,”—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

—John Keats, “Ode on a Grecian Urn” (1819)

Exposure to the fine arts is an important part of every child’s education. I knew I wanted to introduce my boys to all areas of fine arts—drawing, music, painting, dancing, and poetry. Until reading Gene Edward Veith’s State of the Arts, though, I had not considered that art was ordained by God in the Old Testament. During the construction of the tabernacle, He commissioned Bezalel as the first artist. Created in His image, people produce works of art because God is The Artist. What a revelation to consider as we teach our children at home!

In my March column, I discussed the importance of drawing with small children. It is important for them to recognize the component shapes of a drawing and be able to reproduce those shapes. In other words, their first lessons in drawing are lessons in copying. When my boys were very small, we enjoyed working our way through Ed Emberley’s series of drawing books, which teach children to recognize shapes and reproduce them. Mona Brookes’ Drawing with Children helped me (as their teacher), to understand the basic shapes and the importance of training children to make realistic copies of drawings.

Although we do not have any proficient painters in our home, I wanted my children to be exposed to different styles of art and painting techniques. At the same time, I wanted them to have a familiarity with major artists. The book Discovering Great Artists fit the bill. Each project gives a brief biographical sketch of an artist, and then children are asked to copy the techniques of one of their major works. We enjoyed mixing our own paints with egg whites and chalk in order to recreate the experience of thirteenth-century Italian painter Giotto. The children were amazed that his beautiful frescoes—made from homemade paint— are still intact today. Another project replicated Michelangelo’s struggles painting the ceiling of the Sistine chapel. We taped butcher paper to the underside of a table, and then students lay on their backs to paint a mural. Walking away with paint in their eyes and hair, the students had a new appreciation for his masterpiece. These experiences served as a foundation for the later study of art history.

In addition to drawing, painting, and art appreciation, I knew I wanted to expose my boys to great composers and classical music. Since I did not have an extensive music background myself, I searched for a resource that would be a simple, step-by-step guide to listening to music. Even though the title is unattractive, Classical Music for Dummies worked for us. As we listened to the musical selections, I read the guide to my boys in order to call the musical details to their attention. They learned to sit still, to recognize the sounds made by different instruments, and to appreciate classical pieces of music.

As children grow older, they can progress from these early lessons to art and music history. I want my children to understand the technical terms of each of these disciplines—terms such as tempo, dynamics, sonata, and waltz. I also want them to understand the major movements that have influenced artists and composers. They should know the basic characteristics and major artists of the major periods of art—the medieval period, the Renaissance, Impressionists, and the Modern era. They should recognize and appreciate musical compositions from the Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and Modern periods.

As in all other subjects, I want my students to develop a Biblical worldview of each subject. Francis Schaeffer’s How Should We Then Live?—both the books and the DVD series—offers a Scriptural perspective on art and culture from the Roman times to the present. The ultimate goal is to equip our students to understand the past achievements or artists and composers so that they can actively shape the culture instead of passively receiving it. I hope that one of my children or some of the students I have tutored will go on to be artists, dancers, composers, or architects who will practice their arts for God’s glory. Christians and home educators should not neglect the fine arts, because our souls yearn for truth, goodness, and beauty.  

“Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness” (Psalm 29:2).

A Short List of Fine Arts Resources

  • Brookes, Mona. Drawing With Children. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1996.
  • Kohl, Mary Ann and Kim Solga. Discovering Great Artists: Hands-On Art for Children in the Styles of the Great Masters. Bellingham, WA: Bright Ring Press, 1997.
  • Pogue, David and Scott Speck. Classical Music for Dummies. New York: Hungry Minds, 1997.
  • Schaeffer, Francis. How Should We Then Live?: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1976.
  • Strickland, Carol. The Annotated Mona Lisa: A Crash Course in Art History From Prehistoric to Post-Modern. Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2007.
  • Veith, Gene Edward, and Marvin Olasky. State of the Arts: From Bezalel to Mapplethorpe. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991.

Leigh A. Bortins is author of the recently published book The Core: Teaching Your Child the Foundations of Classical Education. In addition, Ms. Bortins is thefounder and CEO of Classical Conversations,Inc. and host of the weekly radio show, Leigh! At Lunch. She lectures about the importance of home education nationwide. She lives with her family in West End, North Carolina.To learn more, visit her website, www.classicalconversations.com, or her blog.

Copyright 2012, used with permission.  All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the June 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine.  Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.

Publication date: February 5, 2014