A good picture is a silent teacher.
Another valuable means of developing the child’s aesthetic nature is picture study.
In giving him pictures which are examples of the best in art, we are giving him standards which influence his ideals and his feelings.
Children must be taught how to look at pictures, as they are taught how to look at nature — for they look but do not see. For this phase of the work pictures which appeal to the child’s interest are selected. They may be connected with some thought that is uppermost in his mind—Christmas pictures, or good animal pictures in connection with the primitive life study, or with some experience in the child’s life—so that he may see some of his own experiences realized.
It must be remembered in making selections that unless the child has had experience which will help him to interpret a picture, it means little or nothing to him. It is the thought and the spirit that are expressed in the picture that the child must be led to find.
Questions and suggestions lead him to get these, and telling the story which the picture tells him often deepens the impression. Although no study is made of the technique of the picture, the child’s feeling for its beauty is awakened. This is greatly influenced by the teacher’s feeling for the picture, but questions and suggestions may lead the child to see the light and shade, balance and harmony, that make the picture beautiful.
As he becomes familiar with good pictures, he unconsciously becomes acquainted with some of the true principles of art.
A writer describes what he sees, or expresses his thoughts and feelings, by means of words; an artist describes what he sees, or expresses his thoughts and feelings, by a picture. Hence, a picture is a kind of thought expression.
As we study a literary selection to get the writer’s thought, so we study a picture to get the artist’s thought. This study can be made valuable, and should have a place in language work.
Conversation lessons should be given, and such questions asked as will bring out the story which the picture tells or the thought which it expresses.
In studying a literary selection we try to find the central thought, and then select the things that contribute to it. This is also true of picture study. The mere enumeration of the things seen in the picture is not picture study, and is valueless.