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How Do We Develop the Cultural Sensibilities of Children?


I am regularly asked by parents how they can teach an appreciation of good traditional art to their children. 


One father recently went further than that and asked me if there was anything I could do to unculturate them in such a way that their sensibilities are in tune with a catholic culture in its broadest sense.  These are the ideas that I offered to him as personal thoughts. 

1.  All traditional training in art involves drawing by copying from nature and then copying the works of Old Masters. Ideally children would do both but precisely what they try to draw depends on how old they are.  Very young children could colour in line drawings based upon traditional forms — I illustrated a couple of books with this in mind, see Meet the Angels and God's Covenant with You.  The more sophisticated might be able to try some tonal work on a copy of a baroque painting.  A great start for anybody would be gothic or Romanesque illuminated manuscripts.  These are line drawings with limited modelling.  They are great fun to draw and my experience is that Catholics relate to these Western icons more readily than to Eastern iconographic forms.  If you want to get hold of examples of these, type 'psalter' into the Google Images search engine.  You don't need to feel bound to sacred imagery.  The psalters of this period contained pictures of the everyday life at the time.  All the examples shown here are from the Westminster Psalter.

Drawing from nature, even for the most simple subject is more difficult.  When the child is prepared to give it a go start with simple but interesting forms that don't require the child to summarise.  So drawing a tree is very difficult, because it presents the problem of how to deal with thousands of leaves, but drawing a single daffodil is a bit easier.


2.  Pray the Liturgy of the Hours in the family.  This is perhaps the single most important item.  Where possible the father, as head of the family, should lead the prayer and it should be sung.  Wherever possible the psalms should be sung and the prayer should be oriented towards a sacred image or images.  I have written about the creation of a domestic church and the importance of the father in family prayer as well as how to create an icon corner as a focus for prayer in the home, here.  And I have written articles about the importance of the liturgy of the hours in general, here

Interestingly, I made some suggestions to this person who asked me about how he might sing compline with his children.  I sang some very simple tones which he recorded on his laptop so that he could learn them.  (Go here for some audio files of simple tones and here for a good sample to start with).  Then I showed him how to point any psalm so that any of these tones could be applied to them.  (Pointing is the name given to the process of marking syllables in the text to guide the singer in applying the chant music to the words.  In this process, we point the emphasized syllables. Go here to see how this is done.)  He told me lately that his children loved to sing the psalms and were competing for turns to sing on their own.

3.  As soon as possible learn to chant.  Even if it is the simplest form of chant — which would be the introduction of the child to the eight modes that we get in chant.  The intervals and harmonious relationship that are traced out in music impress upon the soul the essential patterns that comprise the beauty of the cosmos and which ultimately point, to use the phrase of Cardinal Ratzinger in the Spirit of the Liturgy, to the 'mind of the Creator.'  Conventional music contains only two of the modes and so if the child is only exposed to the major and minor keys, no matter how beautiful the music, they will have a limited education.



David Clayton. "How Do We Develop the Cultural Sensibilities of Children?" The Way of Beauty (May 18, 2012)

This article is reprinted with permission of the author, David Clayton.

The Author

David Clayton is Artist-in-Residence and Professor at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, Merrimack, NH.  He is the designer of the Way of Beauty program which is taught at TMC and focuses on the link between Catholic culture, in the broadest sense of word, and the liturgy.  He  wrote, co-produced and presented the 13-part TV series The Way of Beauty, shown by Catholic TV in 2010 and 2011.  He writes for his weekly blog, The Way of Beauty, which also has an archive of longer articles, streaming of his TV work, and a gallery of his art.  He is the sacred-art writer for the New Liturgical Movement website.  David was received into the Church in London in 1993.

Copyright © 2013 The Way of Beauty
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