Embracing Truth, Goodness, and Beauty in the K-8 Art Classroom

What constitutes a Classical art education in a Classical Christian school? the skill of representational drawing is just the beginning. The well-educated student is exposed to and is able to manipulate artists’ materials to meet his or her needs. The student studies the work of the old masters and, in their tradition, copies their work. By studying the masters’ biographies, the student understands the artists’ place in history. This workshop will offer practical ideas to introduce and train students to draw, to see, and to appreciate the visual beauty around them.

Carol Seitz

Mrs. Seitz graduated from the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, Maryland, with a B.A. in Art Education and began teaching art in 1990. She was introduced to Classical Christian education in 1996 when she was employed by Rockbridge Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. There she developed an art curriculum for grades 1-6, later adding grades 7-8 as the school grew. Presently, she is in her fifth year of teaching art to K-8 students at Lighthouse Christian Academy in Stevensville, Maryland where she has developed additional curriculum for Kindergarten. She is a widow with three grown sons and five wonderful grandsons.

Art Through the Humanities

In a strong classical education, it can be difficult to find the time and place for a rigorous focus on the arts. Many classical schools seek to integrate their subjects, weaving content between the disciplines. Although we celebrate a rich history of integrating subjects in order to address and train the whole intellect, teaching the arts in a classical context often falls short of providing every student with a strong art education. The Latin term “Imago Dei” reminds us that we are created in God’s image, and thus we reflect the Creator. We love to create because we were made to create. It is on this premise that art classes can be focused. In this session, participants will learn logical and practical approaches for combining the study of humanities with art education. Works of art — in a variety of mediums and styles — reflect the period being studied, giving students a better understanding of culture while cultivating artistic knowledge and abilities.

Cathye Price

Cathye Price has been teaching at Westminster for eight years. During that time, she has developed and executed art curriculums for both the Lower and Upper School. She holds a bachelor’s degree in graphic design and a master’s degree in art education. She is passionate about Christian education in the arts. She encourages students to pursue creating because we are created in the image of God — and therefore were made to create.

Using Classical Art Pieces to Integrate History and Biology

Art is a powerful way to capture the ideas of a time period. Come and see mini versions of presentations I have done with my ninth-grade biology class to help my students understand the development of science and biological thought throughout the flow of history.

Robbie Andreasen

Robbie Andreasen joined the Geneva faculty in 2007 and teaches Biology (ninth grade) and Anatomy & Physiology (twel h grade). Robbie has a contagious passion to study the intersection of faith and science, and his students have come to expect a challenging, active classroom characterized by their teacher’s love and enthusiasm for learning. This is also true when he teaches Sunday School or gives a children’s homily at his church. Robbie received a BS in Marine Science and Biology from the University of Miami and an MA in Bioethics from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He was the upper school recipient of the 2013 Paideia Award for Teaching, which recognizes excellence in teaching.

Teaching Is…an Art

In 1950, Gilbert Highet wrote a book called The Art of Teaching. Highet was a well-regarded teacher of classics at Columbia University (a colleague with Jacques Barzun) and he knew very well that the teaching profession was rapidly be transformed into a science by his fellows at the nearby Columbia Teacher’s College. Highet was not at all convinced that teaching was or could be a science. He writes: It seems to me various dangerous to apply the aims and methods of science to human beings as individuals, although a statistical principle can often be used to explain their behavior in large groups and a scientific diagnosis of their physical structure is always valuable. But a “scientific” relationship between human beings is bound to be inadequate and perhaps distorted. Of course it is necessary for any teacher to be orderly in planning his work and precise in his dealing with facts. But that does not make his teaching “scientific.” Teaching involves emotions, which cannot be systematically appraised and employed, and human values, which cannot be systematically appraised and employed, and … which are outside the grasp of science. In this seminar, we will consider Highet’s contention that teaching is an art and contrast it to the scientific, technical approach of so much of modern education. We will consider several reasons why teaching is indeed an art, and explore those ways that science can inform teaching, without swallowing it whole.

Christopher Perrin

Dr. Christopher Perrin is an author, consultant, and speaker who is passionately commi ed to the renewal of the liberal arts tradition. He co-founded and serves full time as the CEO/publisher at Classical Academic Press, a classical education curriculum, media, and consulting company. Christopher serves as a consultant to charter, public, private, and Christian schools across the country. He is the former vice president of The Society for Classical Learning and the director of the Alcuin Fellowship of classical educators. He has published numerous articles and lectures that are widely used throughout the United States and the English-speaking world. Christopher received his BA in history from the University of South Carolina and his MDiv and PhD in apologetics from Westminster Theological Seminary. He was also a special student in literature at St. John’s College in Annapolis. He has taught at Messiah College and Chesapeake Theological Seminary, and served as the founding headmaster of a classical school in Harrisburg, PA, for ten years. He is the author of the books An Introduction to Classical Education: A Guide for Parents (Classical Academic Press, 2004), The Greek Alphabet Code Cracker (Classical Academic Press, 2008), Greek for Children (Classical Academic Press, 2010), and co-author of the “Latin for Children” series published by Classical Academic Press.

The Grammar of Integration

Like many Grammar School teachers, we are always looking for ways to design meaningful learning activities that integrate our curriculum across disciplines. We want our students to recognize the interconnectedness between what they are learning in history, literature, art, math, science, Bible, etc. Teaching an integrated curriculum is important for a number of reasons, not least of all because it demonstrates to students in a tangible way that all knowledge should be viewed as a coherent whole. Given that all truth has God as its single source, the study of God and His creation through the different disciplines should be undertaken as a unified enterprise. Thus developing activities that ingrain this unity is important for helping students to learn the nature of truth and its relation to our Creator.

In addition to finding projects that foster cross- disciplinary integration, we also seek to develop activities that are as hands-on as possible. While such activities are particularly helpful for students with certain learning styles, we have found that all Grammar students learn best by doing. Providing students with hands-on kinesthetic activities encourages their active engagement
in the learning process and also aids them in practically understanding the implications of abstract ideas. We also have found that through hands-on activities we are able to help students make connections between what they are learning in class and practical aspects of their life outside of school.

Developing activities that meet these dual goals of cross-disciplinary integration and hands-on learning is not particularly difficult, but it does require intentionality and planning. The rest of this article consists of a series of such activities that we have developed and found to be particularly effective. These activities are organized chronologically around various historical themes. For each theme we have listed a short series of activities categorized by the curricular disciplines they represent. Most of these activities can easily be adapted to be age-appropriate for various grade levels as needed. Our ideas certainly are not exhaustive but are rather a springboard for further brainstorming. We hope that what follows provides you with some practical ideas that you can implement, or that it at least gets you thinking about how to develop other activities that encourage hands-on and cross-disciplinary learning.


Natural History: Grow a garden from seeds either in an outside container or by starting seedlings in egg cartons in the classroom.
Math: Plant and observe the growth of plants by measurement in inches or centimeters from beginning of growth and record data on bar or line graphs.

Art: Journal sketches of plant growth at each stage. Grammar/Composition: Have students write a paragraph about their observations on the goodness of God through creation with reference to Genesis 1:11.

Reign of Tutankhamen

Literature: Read and research Howard Carter and his discovery of King Tut’s tomb as well as King Tut himself; look at Stanton and Hyma’s Streams of Civilization to study the discovery of beans buried with King Tut that were planted and harvested even to this day.

Natural History: Read about mummification in Aliki’s Mummies Made in Egypt and identify the various stages of mummification; take this a step further by mummifying chickens or hot dogs in class. (Consult an Egyptologist or Google for the steps for mummifying.)

Art: Draw a pyramid on manila paper or sculpt out of clay; make copies of different types of hieroglyphics, allowing students to create messages or name plates, etc.; students also can create cartouches of their names using hieroglyphics.

Bible – Help students make connections between this period in Egyptian history and biblical events happening at the same time such as Joseph being sold into slavery; discuss how through God’s plan He saved the people of Israel from starvation when the famines came.

Greece Colonized, Democracy Begins

History: Have students work in groups and research the beginnings of Greek government using Stanton and Hyma’s Streams of Civilization chapter 6 or Bauer’s Story of the World chapter 22; then study the foundations of elections and voting worldwide, assigning each group a different section of government and allowing them to demonstrate the process by holding a mock election. Natural History: Study how overpopulation and the need for new food sources led the Greeks to turn to the sea for food; discuss food cycles and methods for increasing crop production. Art: Use real (dead) fish to dip in paint and make fish paintings; discuss how the Greeks turned to the sea as a source of food because of growth and overpopulation.

Reign of Caesar Augustus

Literature: Have students read about Octavian & Mark Antony; read about and discuss the officials who served under Caesar Augustus as explained in Haaren and Poland’s Famous Men of Rome.

Natural History: Study and grow grains used during this period such as corn and wheat in a galvanized container inside the classroom.
Math: Record data observations on the growth of the grains in inches or centimeters and create bar or line graphs with the results.

Art: Bring in examples of fully grown grains (wheat, corn, rice, barley, oats, etc.) and create a mosaic.
Bible: Help students make connections between this period in Roman history and biblical events happening at the same time such as the birth of Christ.

Marco Polo

Geography: Draw or create maps depicting the Silk Road from China to Imperial Rome and identifying trade routes through the Holy Land, Persia, and eventually to China. Literature: Read together The Travels of Marco Polo and then have students journal their own journey through the school year (the first day of school, field trips, vacation, special events, etc.).

Natural History: Bring in examples of the different kinds of spices from home, the grocery store, or a spice shop; bring in ginger root and grow it in the classroom by putting it in water until roots appear and then planting it in dirt much like a sweet potato plant.

Bible: Research the missionaries who went to influence the Eastern religions of the time, some of whom are mentioned in The Travels of Marco Polo.

The Renaissance

Literature: Read about and research Leonardo DaVinci

from Stanton and Hyma’s Streams of Civilzation, chapter 16, Hillyer’s A Child’s History of the World, chapter 66, or internet sources; identify his birth place, his educational experience, his inventions, and his monumental influence on today’s society.

Art: Have students observe and create sculptures, architecture, and paintings (for example, The Mona Lisa or The Lord’s Supper) of the time by copying the works as best as they are able or by applying the artistic principles from the Renaissance to create their own original works.
Natural History: Study and research inventions made during this time period (printing press, the flying machine by DaVinci, the bicycle, etc.) and create new inventions; study the human body by having students research and then sketch or create models of the heart, eye, and other major organs of the body
Bible: Help students make connections between this period in European history and the Protestant Reformation; have students read and discuss Martin Luther’s “Ninety-five Theses”; another good reference is Hillyer’s A Child’s History of the World, chapter 67.

Colonial Trading with England

History: Assign each student a colony from the original thirteen colonies; they should research the area where it was located, what crops were grown, what groups of people lived there, etc.; learn about mercantilism between England and the colonies; assign the leader of each colony to individual students and have them write a report and then give an oral presentation to the class.
Natural History: Discuss and bring examples of the types
of crops grown during this time period (examples: tobacco, cotton, indigo, and wood products). Grammar/Composition: After discussion, have students write a comparison paper on the use of various crops in commerce in that time period and how they are used today.

Parliament Acts Unjustly

History: Research the Boston Tea Party, identifying the source of the trouble, how the colonists handled the conflict, etc. Some resources include Johnny Tremain and Bauer’s The Story of the World.
Natural History: Study sugar, bring in examples of sugar cane, and discuss the importance of sugar to the colonies; discuss and bring in examples of different types of tea; grow your own tea plants in the classroom. (This can be done by going to your local nursery to buy Chamomile or other types of plants.)

Drama: Act out the story of the Boston Tea Party, incorporating various elements of the story that have been studied.

Black Leadership Emerges in the South

Literature: Read and discuss biographies of Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver.
Natural History: Study, illustrate, and identify the parts of the peanut and peanut plant; grow peanuts and research all the uses of peanuts; make peanut butter from peanuts and then use it to bake peanut butter cookies.
Natural History: Research Carver’s findings on crop rotation and their economic significance; name the uses of peanuts; have students dissect a peanut and show visuals of the stages of growth of the peanut.
Art: Have students make drawings of the various stages of growth of the peanut.

World War II

Literature: Read and discuss the events leading up to and during this war time with highlights on Adolf Hitler; America entering the war; and the persecution of the Jewish people (novel suggestions: Diary of Anne Frank, The Hiding Place, Number the Stars, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas); research accounts of Pearl Harbor, identifying why and when the US entered the war.
Natural History: Study and research Victory Gardens and their purpose during war time; plant your own Victory Garden in a plot of land on your campus, in a public park (with permission from your local authorities), or in a window box garden; identify the various styles of airplanes used by the Allies as well as their enemies using pictures of the planes. Composition and Grammar: Have students write a paper on what they would do if there was a surprise attack on America today and how it would change their lives.

Modern America

Economics: Research our standards of living compared to

other countries; study our greatest exports and what imports we are dependent upon; after identifying our strengths as
a nation, take time to identify the weakness of America and discuss how we need a Savior who forgives and is gracious to us. (For example, the passage in Matthew 6 about storing up treasures on earth could be studied in conjunction with what Americans (or other countries) most value. How do the strengths/weaknesses of our country relate to what God considers a strength/weakness?)

Natural History: As a leader in today’s world of medicine, research plants used for medicinal purposes and investigate which ones would grow in your classroom; have students grow these plants and observe the growth.

Math: Record and journal the growth of the plants in inches or centimeters and create bar or line graphs using the data. Art: Make scientific sketches of the plants and label the parts used for medicine.

We hope these few examples will be a helpful resource for you as you plan projects for your class. All of them can be modified or expanded in order to meet the needs of your students as you bring your curriculum alive and seek to integrate it in meaningful ways.

Round Table Conversation: Arts Integration in Classical Education

Designed to facilitate conversation among leading art/music ‘thinkers’ in the classical movement, this seminar will connect educators and administrators to share their best practices and pedagogy for integrating the arts into all subjects.

Lilli Benko

Recognized for her ability to generate excitement and an appreciation for music, Lilli Benko has a multi-faceted background as a school administrator, classroom and private teacher and is a passionate advocate for the gospel of Jesus Christ as experienced through the lens of art and music.

Becoming More Fully Human: Art Education as Stewarding the Physical

As art educators we are teaching students to love, understand and respect the physical world. This session aims to situate art education within the larger project of becoming more fully human. By bringing the doctrine of creation into conversation with art education, this seminar aims to explore three different ways that the arts can enrich and shape a student’s relationship to the physical world.

Jim Watkins

Dr. Jim Watkins teaches upper school humanities and bible at Veritas School in Richmond, VA. He received a PhD through the Institute for Theology, Imagination and the Arts at the University of St Andrews. He also studied at Regent College (M.C.S., Christianity and the Arts) and Wheaton College (B. A., Studio Art). He is currently revising his forthcoming book Creativity as Sacri ce: Toward a Theological Model for Creativity in the Arts (Fortress Press, Fall 2014).

Integrating Art with Other Subjects

Art is a dynamic and energizing element to add to any subject. Discuss the grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric of art and discover how to use art to enhance the skills of each level of the trivium and energize your students in every subject: history, science, geography, even math! Our future leaders need a good foundation of visual literacy and a clear understanding of how Christians should think about art in order to lead confidently in an increasingly visual world and perhaps reclaim the art community for Christ. (How Should We Then Live: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture by: Francis A. Schaeffer, State of the Arts From Bezalel to Mapplethorpe by: Gene Edward Veith, Jr., PreScripts Cursive Sentences and Art Lessons: Medieval to Modern World History by Courtney Sanford).

Courtney Sanford

Courtney Sanford earned a BA in Environmental Design/Graphic Design from North Carolina State University summa cum laude. She worked as a graphic designer and writer for the North Carolina Blumenthal Performing Arts Center in Charlo e, NC and as an art teacher at the Bemis School of Art in Colorado Springs, Colorado. She began homeschooling in 2005 and became a tutor for Classical Conversations that same year. She is now the Creative Director for Classical Conversations specializing in new products and marketing. She is also an international speaker, training parents to become classical Christian educators. She also tutors Challenge I (ninth graders) in math, Latin, economics, government, drama, debate, science, and literature. Her enthusiasm for art education was born from frustration when as a graphic designer as she had to educate CEOs of major corporations on basic art concepts so they could make decisions on their own logos and printed materials. She feels that our current paradigm which o ers art education in middle and high school to only those with a talent for drawing should be challenged. All students need to become visually literate, especially those who will become leaders. By integrating visual literacy into other subjects, all students can improve their visual communication skills and be prepared for leadership.

Archangels, Architect, and the Passion of Making

Dorothy L. Sayers’ play The Zeal of Thy House is a play about the work of the artist, the work of the Church, and the work of God. In the play Sayers makes a strong statement about the sacramental nature of man’s work; man as homo faber mirrors the Creator in his making. The play was written to be performed at Canterbury Cathedral for a festival that would celebrate the work of craftsmen and artists. Sayers accepted the invitation to write a play for this annual event and was given the Latin chronicle of Gervase of Canterbury which recounted the burning of the Norman choir of the cathedral in 1174 and the work of the architect William of Sens in rebuilding this choir. In the midst of his work William suffered a crippling fall from the heights of the cathedral which kept him from seeing the work through to its completion. In this incident Sayers saw great possibilities for a play which would deal with both the glory and the dilemma of the artist as an imitator of God.

Sayers explores the relationship between the work of the artist and the work of God in accomplishing His eternal purposes, and to achieve this she puts angels and archangels on the stage. The play opens with a conversation among the angels sent to supervise the rebuilding of the choir which highlights the contrast between the work of angels and the work of men. The angels are God’s servants who do His bidding without fail but also without understanding and without free choice. “I am a soldier, I take my orders,” says Michael. The angels see no place for the work of man, who after the Fall is prone toward sloth and the hatred of work, in fulfilling the purposes of God. “Nothing that men do is ever necessary,” says Gabriel. Here is the most telling contrast: angels work by necessity, man does not, and in this he is like God and higher than the angels. God, says Sayers, writing elsewhere about work, “knows no necessity to work except His own delight in creation” (Letters 251). Man mirrors his Maker in this. “…he makes things–not just one uniform set of necessary things, as a bee makes a honeycomb, but an interminable variety of different and not strictly necessary things, because he wants to” (Vocation 132). He paints pictures and builds cathedrals.

In this high calling to imitate God in our making it is the artist who leads the way. In a letter written in 1941 Sayers says: “The Divine joy in creation, which man should inherit in virtue of his participation in the image of the Godhead, has been largely destroyed, persisting today almost alone among artists, skilled craftsmen, and members of the learned professions” (Letters 252). Artists, she says, understand something about working for the love of the work, not just as an economic necessity to be endured. Artists are among those few who seek to make money, not so that they can pursue mind numbing leisure, but so that they can do their real work, the work they love, the work of creating which is its own reward. The artist does not delight in possessing so much as in creating; for the artist the statement, “This is my work,” does not mean “I own it,” but “I made it.” The artist, more consistently than most, lives to work rather than working to live. Sayers sees the act of creating as a primary human need (Mind 224). She says that man “cannot fulfill his true nature if he is prevented from making things for the love of the job; he is made in the image of a Maker, and he must create or become less than a man” (Vocation 132).

William of Sens loves his work, does it with integrity, and finds much satisfaction in it. In much that he does and says throughout the play William shows a right understanding of the high calling of the artist. Alone among the architects being considered for the job William stands on his work alone and puts forward drawings and designs of earlier projects as the sole argument for choosing him to do the job in Canterbury. His skill as a diplomat and his arrogance begin to show themselves in this opening scene, yet he comes across as an impressive figure because of his confidence in his artistic skill. After he is chosen and has been at the work for two years, Gervase, the monk who serves as his clerk, says of him, “He thinks of nothing, lives for nothing, but the integrity of his work.”

Throughout the play William speaks with great passion about the special place that the artist has as an imitator of God. In their first conversation William tells because he is in love with his work. He adds:

What does a woman know

Of the love of knowledge, passing the love of women?

The passion of making, beside which love’s passion

Shows brittle as a bubble? To raise up beauty from ashes
Like the splendor of resurrection; to see the stone Knit unto stone and growing, as in the womb Bone grows to bone; to build a world out of nothing-

That is my dream; that is the craftman’ s dream..

Later he speaks to Ursula again of how well he as an artist can understand the joy in creating which God experienced when He spoke the world into existence.

We are the master-craftsmen, God and I-
We understand one another. None, as I can,
Can creep under the ribs of God, and feel
His heart beat through those Six Days of Creation; Enormous days of slowly turning lights
Streaking the yet unseasoned firmament;
Giant days, Titan days, yet all too short
To hold the joy of making.

After describing God’s joy in making trees and flowers, beasts and fish and birds, he concludes:

And lastly, since all Heaven was not enough
To share that triumph, He made His masterpiece, Man, that like God can call beauty from dust, Order from chaos, and create new worlds
To praise their maker.

He speaks here with mounting pride just minutes before his fall from the heights of the cathedral, yet the content of his speech is true; it is his tone which is wrong. Rightly perceived, this truth about being made in the image of a Maker should cause us to fall to our knees in worship rather than to boast as William did. Nevertheless, it is true that man is like God in his ability to bring something into existence that did not exist before except in his mind.

Out of a conversation among the archangels comes one of the play’s greatest tributes to William as an artist and to the value of good work. After Michael the archangel catalogues William’s sins and Gabriel credits him with building columns and vaults “all well and truly laid without a fault,” Cassiel, the recording angel, asks Raphael, the archangel responsible for receiving men’s prayers and offering them before the throne of God, “Canst thou indeed find any grace in William the builder- up of Canterbury?” Raphael answers:

Behold, he prayeth; not with the lips alone,

But with the hand and with the cunning brain Men worship the Eternal Architect.
So, when the mouth is dumb, the work shall speak And save the workman. True as a mason’s rule And line can make them, the shafted columns rise Singing like music; and by day and night
The unsleeping arches with perpetual voice Proclaim in Heaven, to labour is to pray.

Later in the play the Prior chides Theodatus, a monk who is extremely critical of William, for calling William “a man without truth, without shame.” Theodatus is complaining that William is “a notorious evil liver, a seducer of women,” and “a cunning liar.” The Prior, who sees the integrity of William’s work, says,

You must not say, without truth,
Lest you should hear the very stones cry out Against you. Truth is glorious; but there is one Glory of the sun, another of the moon,
And all the truth of the craftsman is in his craft. Where there is truth, there is God; and where there is glory,
There is God’s glory too.

In so saying the Prior is not excusing William’s other sins, but he is affirming that work well done speaks truthfully about the truth, goodness, and beauty of God the Creator and that artists as sub-creators can bring glory to God in their work. We hear Sayers speaking here through the Prior, for she states elsewhere that this is a play about “integrity of work overriding and redeeming personal weakness” (Hone 89).

This critic of William, Theodatus, is a major character in the play who represents the Church at its worst in its view of the artist and his work. Theodatus has a neo-Platonic view of reality. He has narrowed down serving God to prayer and acts of piety. To him it is more important that the architect chosen for the work be a virtuous and devout man than that he be a good architect. He says to the Prior: “I would rather have a worse-built church with a more virtuous builder.” He does not see the value of artistic work or manual labor done well, nor admit to the possibility that one can serve and bring glory to God through the work of his hands.

Sayers believes that it is the work of the Church to encourage the artist in his work; she has no use for the super-spiritual view that only recognizes certain spiritual activities as having value to God. The churchman who thinks this way and thus discourages the artist in his work has missed a key message taught to us through
the Incarnation; flesh and blood and muscle are not to
be despised. God put on flesh and picked up a hammer and nails and worked and sweated as one of us. When Theodatus says he would rather see righteousness than skill in the architect, the Prior answers thus: “My son, will you not let God manage His own business? He was a carpenter, and knows His trade better, perhaps, than we do, having had some centuries of experience.” Our acts of making, of giving form and substance in wood or stone or clay or pigment to our creative ideas are of equal value in God’s eyes to our praying and proclaiming the Gospel. A clergyman who does not understand this is not doing his work well. In her essay Why Work? Sayers says:

It is the business of the Church to recognize that the secular vocation, as such, is sacred. Christian people, and particularly perhaps Christian clergy, must get it firmly into their heads that when a man or woman is called to a particular job of secular work, that is as true a vocation as though he or she were called to specifically religious work …It is not right for the Church to acquiesce in the notion that a man’s life is divided into the time he spends on his work and the time he spends in serving God. He must be able to serve God in his work, and the work itself must be accepted and respected as the medium of divine creation (57-58).

The Prior again speaks for Sayers in telling Theodatus that God would not be honored by a “worse- built church.”

This is God’s House, and if on any pretext We give him less than the best, we shall cheat God As William never cheated God, nor us.

He that bestowed the skill and the desire To do great work is surely glad to see That skill used in His service.

Sayers blames the view of churchmen such as Theodatus for encouraging shoddy workmanship.

No piety in the worker will compensate for work that is not true to itself; for any work that is untrue to its own technique is a living lie. Yet in her own buildings, in her own ecclesiastical art and music, in her hymns and prayers…the Church will tolerate, or permit a pious intention to excuse, work so ugly, so pretentious, so tawdry and twaddling, so insincere and insipid, so bad as to shock and horrify any decent draftsman. And why? Simply because she has lost all sense of the fact that the living and eternal truth is expressed in work only so far as that work is true in itself, to itself, to the standards of its own technique. She has forgotten that the secular vocation is sacred. Forgotten that a building must be good architecture before it can be a good church ….that work must be good work before it can call itself God’s work (Why Work? 58-59).

The Prior goes on to tell Theodatus that God the carpenter knows how to work with men as His tools to accomplish His eternal purposes and that in the process he redeems and purges them. It is at this point that we see that Theodatus has a wrong view of his work as God’s minister. He sees himself as the one who should carry out God’s vengeance against sin, a ministry never given to man. The Prior counters that God does not need us to defend His honor and that we dare not pass judgment upon those made righteous by the blood of God’s Son, and then, seeing how blind Theodatus is to the Pharisaical spirit within him, he warns him to “set charity as a bridle on his tongue” and look to his own work.

Theodatus does not heed this advice and the consequences are grave. What irony that it is his work carelessly done that becomes the human means of William’s crippling fall. Given the job of examining the rope that would support William as he was raised to help set a keystone in the ceiling of the choir, Theodatus did this work with his eyes closed in prayer! “Scandalized” by what he perceives to be William’s sins of the flesh with the Lady Ursula, Theodatus recites prayers “with his eyes tight shut” (according to the stage notes) misses the flaw in the rope, and does not hear the archangel’s warning cry, “Take care, Theodatus! There is a flaw in the rope.” What a vivid image Sayers has created in this scene to support her words about the damage the Church can do when she has a wrong view of work.

When the Prior confronts Theodatus after the accident, Theodatus tries to defend himself: “God Himself laid the seal upon my eyes. I was His appointed instrument to overthrow the wicked man.” The Prior’s answer sets the matter straight:

Think what you say, my son. It is not for us
To ordain ourselves the ministers of vengeance; For it must needs be that offences come,
But woe unto that man by whom the offence Cometh; ‘twere better he had not been born. This is thy sin: thou hast betrayed the work; Thou hast betrayed the Church; thou hast betrayed
Christ, in the person of His fellow-man.

What work has Theodatus betrayed? He has betrayed not just the work of examining the rope, but the work of the Church.

In the final act of the play after William’s accident, we see God at work both in Theodatus, who repents of his sin and humbly serves the crippled architect, and in William. William is guilty of sins of the flesh, but it is not these that are at the heart of God’s dealings with him. While William does his work with integrity and understands much that is right about how the artist mirrors God as he creates, in his pride and self-love he draws a wrong conclusion from this understanding; he declares himself indispensable to God. He says, “…in making man God over-reached Himself and gave away His Godhead …Man stands equal with Him now, partner and rival…This church is mine and none but I, not even God, can build it.” After his fall William expresses his determination to finish his work in spite of the pain it causes him in his crippled state. He says that no amount of pain or suffering that God can heap upon him will cause him to give up his work. William has succumbed
to the special temptation of the artist to make an idol of that which was given to him as a gift of incredible love. Now God does His work of grace in William through His minister, the archangel Michael. Michael shows William that no amount of suffering on his part can match the suffering already experienced on his behalf as God did His work of redeeming fallen man. It is made plain that God Himself is the only One Who loves and serves His work perfectly, for He loved His work enough to give up His life for it. William, in fact, has come to love himself and his reputation more than he loves his work. Confronted with the selflessness of God’s love and the sacrificial work of Christ on his behalf, William sees his own pride and repents of it. Immediately his attitude toward his work changes; he decides to leave the completion of the cathedral choir to another and makes one request of God:

Jesu, the carpenter’s Son, the Master-builder, Architect, poet, maker–by those hands
That Thine own nails have wounded–by the wood Whence Thou didst carve Thy Cross–let not the Church
Be lost through me. Let me lie deep in hell…
But let my work, all that was good in me,
All that was God, stand up and live and grow.
The work is sound, Lord God, no rottenness there- Only in me. Wipe out my name from men
But not my work; to other men the glory
And to Thy name alone.

The angels declare the work for William’s soul complete. The play ends with Michael addressing the audience and exhorting people to praise God “that He hath made man in His own image, a maker and craftsmen like Himself…” This is man’s calling and his glory and a cause, not for boasting, but for wonder and praise.

Which Way is the Geographer Facing?

Ask anyone involved in classical education about the importance of the arts and you will likely meet enthusiasm of a sort usually reserved for pep rallies. But then ask the same person which direction Vermeer’s Geographer is facing, whether or not we can see the face of Rembrandt’s Prodigal Son, to hum the subject of any of Bach’s fugues, or whether Mozart’s Figaro is a baritone or a tenor, and you’ll be left with silence. Almost everyone loves “the arts.” It’s actual art and music that freezes them up. We do not meet the same disparity in literature. Ask the same person to tell you who is dead at the end of Hamlet, and you’ll be met with mostly correct answers. There is a good reason to explain why educated people like both literature in general and actual books, but like only “the arts” and not actual art or music. At some point in his life, the educated person has been taught a Shakespeare play. It is unlikely that he has ever been taught, in the same sense of the word, any work of art or music. And this too can be explained.

Part of the reason stems from what C. S. Lewis would describe as too much Parthenon and not enough Optative. The opening of his essay is so clear that I repeat some of it here:

…I have tended to use the Parthenon and the Optative as the symbols of two types of education. The one begins with hard, dry things like grammar, and dates, and prosody; and it has at least the chance of ending in a real appreciation which is equally hard and firm though not equally dry. The other begins in ‘Appreciation’ and ends in gush. When the first fails it has, at the very least, taught the boy what knowledge is like. He may decide that he doesn’t care for knowledge; but he knows he doesn’t care for it, and he knows he hasn’t got it. But the other fails most disastrously when it most succeeds. It teaches a man to feel vaguely cultured while he remains in fact a dunce.

Unlike the study of classical literature, the study (as opposed to practice) of art and music was introduced to the litany of higher education at around the very time when the Parthenon was at its height and the Optative at its nadir— that is, in the mid-20th century. For three generations now, educated Americans have been subjected to a course that whirls them through the breadth of Western art and music. For students to succeed in this course, they learned to voice enthusiasm for the subject. In the process, they may even have become convinced of the value of “the arts” without learning much art or music. We all remember such courses.

Usually the content of these courses was filled up with history proper—that is, the life and times of the artists and musicians. Biographical and historical details would be affixed to particular works, but it was the biographical and historical details students were made to learn, not really the works themselves. A conviction about this deficiency coordinated with improved technology, and some teachers began testing students on the actual music by playing the first twenty seconds of a piece and expecting them to identify it, to which challenge students rose by learning the first twenty seconds of a dozen pieces of music. In art, the slide projector started showing up on test days as well as the other class days. But was this learning art and music? It mattered little, because even this approach was exceptional in “gen. ed.” classes. By in large one could generate biographical and historic facts, along with a properly articulated enthusiasm for the subject, and appreciation had been taught. But appreciation cannot be taught. It comes almost unbidden, when a malleable soul encounters greatness in a sustained way. If appreciation is to come,
it will only do so because the student has been put into unavoidable contact with greatness. If he can avoid contact with that greatness, by focusing on anything other than the art or music, his human nature will encourage him to do so. And just such an opportunity was given to practically every lettered person in America today through an appreciation class that focused on now the biographies of the artists, now the sociological conditions that produced their art.

Things were easier in literature in that a longstanding model was in place, predating even the days when English literature was something one could study formally. When tested on Virgil, one was given a set of quotations from the Aeneid (in Latin, of course) and asked to give the context of the passages, with explanation where necessary. Whether or not you liked those passages in the correct way was, for the examiner’s purposes, irrelevant. Whether you knew what Virgil was wearing, or what Augustus thought of the poem was likewise irrelevant. One needed a lot of the Optative, but very little Parthenon. Those who answered correctly had read the book carefully and knew Latin. Those who could not did not. On that model, even to this day, a teacher of Shakespeare will set a series of questions which will have the students demonstrate that they know the works in the traditional old-fashioned sense. His lectures may point out to those students the great things in the plays, but he will test them to make sure that they know the plays themselves.

Things in the arts were not so fortunate. With the dubious background he gained from his appreciation class at college, the high school teacher charged with teaching art or music as part of the rhetoric stage may feel ill-equipped at best and, at worst, may fall back on the model given him. The results will invariably be a group of students who, like their teachers, are enthusiastic about the arts but with little solid knowledge of any art or music. The easiest way to break this cycle is to teach music and art like we teach Virgil and Shakespeare.

But can art and music be taught in the same way as Virgil or Shakespeare? Most people are under the impression that art and music speak to us in some mystical way so that, I suppose, “the arts” are presumed to work like an opiate—magically to effect in us some emotional response. But art and music are explicable in some of the same ways as a poem or a play. They speak, not in English, but in the language of design (if Psalm 19 is to be understood, so do the stars). When they effect an emotional response, they do so in the same way as a sentence does: by presenting truth to us, to which we respond emotionally. Art and music have parts which relate to one another. Those relationships are interesting and set up expectations in us which are fulfilled or satisfactorily unfulfilled. Shape relates to shape. Tune relates to tune, color relates to color, key relates to key. And the combined whole of a work articulates its meaning—often a meaning not directly translatable into English—to the viewer. A teacher of art or music can teach those works in much the same way as the teacher of English can his play, by pointing out the ways by which the work speaks, expecting students to remember those things, and then testing them in ways that insure the students have learned the works.

Students in the rhetoric stage are more capable of this than we give them credit. If they can process Herodotus and Livy, they can process Botticelli and Haydn. And just as many classical schoolteachers who hadn’t learned Herodotus or Livy until they were assigned them for class nevertheless teach them with success, so too can classical schoolteachers have success with art and music regardless of background. All they need to do is look and listen.

For instance, a class on Botticelli’s Pallas and the Centaur, might begin by explaining the allegorical nature of the painting—of wisdom bridling lust. And this is where many appreciation classes would stop. But had Botticelli cared only to say “wisdom bridles lust” he could have given us a sentence instead of a painting. He wishes to say more, however. One way he does so is by contrasting the figures of the centaur and Pallas. The centaur is nude. His torso is athletic and idealized, but it intersects vividly with the horse body to make the creature’s bestial nature all the more apparent. His curling horsehair is even echoed in his beard and chestnut locks. The animal nature is not just in the centaur’s body but in his head as well. And his face bears the exaggerated grief, through a furrowed and contracted brow, that comes to a man who cannot control himself. By contrast, Pallas is rendered like a classical statue. She has as neutral an expression as one could imagine. She is not only clothed, but clothed in a highly ornate garment decorated with a device that shows three intertwined rings—surely suggestive of numeric perfection. She stands on an elevated plane from the centaur. Her background is an idyllic landscape while his is a rocky cliff face. Even their weapons articulate the difference between wisdom and lust. The centaur’s bow—aptly recurved—is contrasted by Pallas’s halberd, the shaft of which is arrow strait and cuts through the foreground closest to the viewer. Indeed, it nearly threatens us through its dominant position. And perhaps this is part of Botticelli’s point, that we too must master lust with wisdom.

To insure students learned this work, one would need to make sure that they could recognize its parts and know how they related to one another visually. One could present students with the following details: And then have the student place them within the following chart (top right): A student who can place those details in that chart knows the image tolerably well.

Notice that the classroom discussion will prepare the student for this kind of questioning, even as it models for him appreciation of the solid sort. Many of the details excerpted above are ones mentioned in the analysis. A student who has paid attention during the analysis will be more likely to remember the image itself. The same process can be applied to teaching music.
A class on Viennese classicism might rightly focus on one of the symphonies of Joseph Haydn. Each movement could be taught in turn, but here I will use as an example the last movement of Haydn’s so-called “Surprise” symphony (Symphony no. 94). This movement takes the form of a rondo. The rondo form involves a reprise: a short, self-contained bit of music that returns periodically. Only, you have no real idea when it is going to come back. It is the musical equivalent of peek-a-boo. Haydn thinks this uncertainty a very funny thing and uses it against his listeners almost to the point of absurdity.

The reprise is the first thing Haydn gives us, in bars 1-38 (the first thirty seconds or so of any recording of the piece). This reprise, like most, has two halves, with the first half repeated and then reformed to round off the second half. No sooner than we finish the reprise, we are launched into a rather disorienting section of fragmentary snatches of the reprise melody. We mill about for a while until, after a pause (in bar 74 or a little over a minute in) we get a new melody that is firmly in a new key. Now, one might demonstrate the similarities between this new melody and the reprise, and one could with some efforts show this similarity to students of all ages, but the point is that we are not hearing the reprise and we’ve lost our home key. Where have they gone? Haydn evidently wonders too. So, with comically poor tact, he plops us back into the home key by means of lumbering chords (in bars 95-103, note that they are just elongated versions of the staccato notes in the reprise itself). Once there, we fall back into the reprise as if to ignore what had been going on for the past thirty seconds. “Never mind all that,” we think, “so long as we have our reprise and home key.” Only we are given merely the first half of the reprise, which spits us back out, so to speak, into more of the sort of music we were given at our first point of departure. Again a flirtatious gesture (at bar 141, or around two minutes in) prepares us for another reprise, which again turns out to be only the first half. So much for a “bit of music that returns periodically.” Yet, we haven’t much longer to wait before it makes its final—and actual—return. In bar 181 (or around two and a half minutes in) it appears in its entirety. But whatever happened to that second theme which we first met in a key opposed to the home key? Peek-a-boo. It appears just as the reprise finishes (in bar 210 or about 2’ 50’’ in most recordings). Only now it returns in the home key instead of the new key in which it first appeared. In this gesture Haydn evokes the best of the sonata allegro form—the most prevalent musical form of his day and the form of the first movement of this symphony.

Were one to test on the symphony, one could play students excerpts from each movement and then ask them to identify excerpts by movement as well as place each within the movement’s form. An easy question for this last movement would involve playing an excerpt and then asking students whether or not they were hearing the reprise, and if so, whether the reprise appears in part or in whole. Alternatively one could play an excerpt involving that second theme (at bars 74 and 210) and then ask them to identify it too. Students who could do this can be said, in a meaningful sense, to know the piece. That they will find it funny, one may hope and pray. But we can be sure that they will not likely find it in any way at all if we do not show it to them.