Picture Studies and "Busy Work"

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"In going through the school grades every child should become familiar with fifty to a hundred  of the world's greatest masterpieces of art."

The Grade School Teacher's Art Education Collection had quite the extensive focus on Picture Study.  This particular teacher had 4 collections (2nd, 5th, 6th, and 8th grades.) A large percentage of these "Famous Pictures" (as one ad called them) were of landscapes- at least half of the images. Other images were of religious scenes such as "Arrival of the Shepherds," "Puritans Going to Church," and "Madonna and Child," among others.  The general format of most of the picture study explanations seemed to tell a bit of a biography about the painter, the "most important parts" of the painting, the "story" in the painting, and how the artist used good formal elements such as balance, line, value, etc. The students were then asked a series of questions from very basic "what is the name of this painting?" to more opinion based questions such as "do you like this painting?"  See example handed out in class on 3/25.

In addition to teaching recognition of masterpieces, other lessons in the Picture Study materials were not well hidden.  Many of the paints showed a simple life.  The Picture Study Page in the School Century (1919) made many intentions clear by stating, "[this painting] will appeal instanteously, especially for those who can enjoy a skillful, sympathetic treatment of things of everyday life" (p. 225). The picture study above (Escape Cow) tells how the boy will ultimately triumph over the animal, "since no domestic animal is any match for man." It also tells us about the intention of telling about the simple life. "It is an interesting picture of a peasants' life in France, but it is not a great picture because the theme is not great. It's a story picture." (Studies of Famous Paintings, nd.) 

It seemed that the study of masterpieces was important content knowledge that all elementary school teachers were responsible for.  The other art projects, however, often came in the form of what was referred to as "busy work" by many publishing companies.  These companies advertised that their outlines or picture cards would "make work more pleasant" (Playing with Numbers, 1942, p. 1) or "increase teacher efficiency" and improve status of promotion (The School Century, 1919, p. 254). Busy work included many, extensive "seasonally- appropriate" calendar copying such as:
P1020643.JPGor copying characters. The publication listed strict rules for coloring in Little Red Riding Hood, including given her light pink skin and golden hair while the wolf is a redish brown.  It appears as though this teacher, however, allowed some different colors in their "Paper Cutting" and "Construction Work," (as many publications advertise):
P1020632.JPGThe School Century (above, 1919).  Undated examples of student work (below).
In addition the advertising the need for Picture Studies and Busy Work, classroom teachers were expected to keep their room decorated.  Obviously not all teachers were artistically inclined, so publishers capitalized on that fact.  One ambitious artist advertised "Drawing Help" in which teachers could send her their artwork and she could make it better for them, send them some outline drawings, or give ideas, for a fee. (The School Century, 1919, p. 256). Other companies offered extensive teacher materials in which the teacher would be able to buy "Outline Drawings" that were drawn by talented artists in which students could fill in with colors.  The School School Century also had many ads for Blackboard Stencils so that classroom teachers could make nice, seasonally and age appropriate images to display around their classroom.


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I am stunned by the last image that you posted. I looked closely at the border category and was curious about "brownies" and then noticed that there was an example of the "brownies" in the right corner of the page. I want to look closer at this because I can't believe my eyes. The brownies appear to be small dark-skinned elf-like children, kind of a cross between a mammie and a withered gnome. It is a staggering example of visual culture represented in a education book. Lest we forget...

Another interesting "supportive" element that resonates with the industrial education that seemed to infiltrate education at the time, is the heavy reliance on patterns, piecing together separate elements to create a whole object and not to mention the workings to establish American traditions through school curriculum. Neat stuff.

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This page contains a single entry by JESSICA LYNNE KIRKER published on March 25, 2010 2:11 AM.

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