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THE APPLICATION OF ART TO HAND-WORK.
RALPH RADCLIFFE WHITEHEAD,
The difficulties of the application of art to the teaching of
hand-work in schools arise from the fact that very few teachers
are artists. It is impossible for a man to communicate to others
what he does not know himself. Not everyone has the capacity
for art, and even for those who have, the attendance for a few
months at a summer school, or even the taking of a short course
in design, can hardly be sufficient preparation.
One not infrequently meets with teachers giving instruction
in manual work who have made the discovery that there is some
connection between things of beauty and the work in hand of
which hitherto they have only seen the mechanical side. For
such, of course, there is some hope; but the stress of school
work and the multiplicity of things they are expected to know
renders it generally impossible for them to spend sufficient time
in developing their latent faculties. They see the beauty of some
picture by Raphael or of some modern landscape, and perhaps
of some example of architecture, but the way of art by which
these were created are incomprehensible to them, and the con-
nection between such objects of beauty and the work to be done in
wood or in weaving is hidden from them, because they have had
no fit training in the appreciation and the practice of design.
For these reasons it seems as though specially trained teachers
were necessary to teach those branches of work to which design
is applicable; and design is a necessary part of all better hand-
The ugliness of almost all the articles of modern manufacture
can be combated only by the development of the sense of beauty
in the people who buy them, and the gulf between the really
artistic work which is done by a few, and the want of beauty in
the articles of common use, can be bridged only by the training
of the young of the nation to see with their own eyes beauty of
THE APPLICATION OF ART TO HAND-WORK 93
form and color. The hideousness of the ordinary wooden or
stone house in town or country, and the tawdry decoration and
graceless form of such things as the usual forks and spoons, can
vanish only when a future generation shall have been trained
to see and to feel that they are ugly ; the designing and making
with their own hands of such simple articles as are within their
power to make at a suitable age is the surest way of developing
better taste in children.
For those who wish to teach design there is but one way of
developing what faculty they have for it, and that is by draw-
ing, and at the same time by being with students and teachers
who have a better appreciation of such things than they have.
Hence it is obvious that a course of design at a real art school
is the best means open to them. Such a course must last for
years, not months ; and they had better attend the regular classes
for art students than any specially devised " normal " course, in
the first place because the standard required is a higher one, and
in the second place because they will have the opportunity of
being among more students who are really artistic. It need
hardly be said that the ordinary " normal " school is the last place
to study such things.
The beauty of such articles as children can make with tools
or with a loom depends, as does the beauty of all things, chiefly
on simple proportions, on the balance of spaces or the harmony
of colors. The subtle principles of such balance and harmony
have been set forth in many a lecture by Dr. Denman Ross, and a
course in his summer school at Cambridge would be a great help
to a teacher. Some things connected with the balance of values
in design are expounded in Mr. Dow's book on composition,
which might well be placed in any teacher's library. But the
reading of a mere statement of these things is not sufficient ; the
study of art can be made only by the practice of the art. You
can no more learn to draw and to design by reading about draw-
ing than you can learn to sing by reading text-books. The daily
practice of drawing lines and filling spaces with design is the
only royal road open to the student.
Of course, manual work can be done with very little regard
94 THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL TEACHER
to design, and is useful in itself. The greater part of the
so-called sloyd is good training for the hands and brains of
children of a certain age; and in the same way the mechanical
drawing introduced by Mr. Liberty Tadd has much to recom-
mend it as mechanical work. In the one as in the other case
there is very little beauty of design applied; but there is no
reason why the good there is in both systems should not be
joined to beauty of model and finer appreciation of form.
And now as to the children. Probably the first art — art in
the ordinary acceptation of the term, and apart from the subtle-
ties of pedagogical and anthropological pedantry of which we
have had a good deal — to which they are accessible is music.
And the music best suited to them is to be found in the folk-songs
of the peasants of different countries; for natural selection
through many generations has preserved a large number of
beautiful melodies in Germany, in Italy, in Russia, in Scotland,
and elsewhere. The first training in the artistic emotions can
be accomplished by the musical singing of these simple songs.
I say musical, because in a great many kindergartens and grade
schools it is not music which is produced by either the teacher
or the pupils. The music should be taught by a musician daily,
and not by an unmusical teacher with a weekly visit from a
musician as superintendent. Of course, if a teacher is musically
gifted, she should be encouraged to train herself, and be allowed
to take part in the teaching.
The next forms of artistic handicraft for young children are
clay-modeling and basket-making. The latter should be done
with somewhat coarse materials. In this, as in other kinder-
garten work and in drawing, there have been made many mis-
takes in giving work which is too fine and too small for the
children, much to their detriment.
At the age of six or thereabouts drawing with the full arm
on the blackboard after the system of Mr. Tadd, can be used.
Each day an exercise of fifteen or twenty minutes would be in
As the children grow, the basket-maker can be gradually led
on to simple forms of weaving, and in connection with it to the
THE APPLICATION OF ART TO HAND-WORK 95
relation and harmonizing of color; the brush-work with water
colors which would go on at the same time is excellent if capably
conducted by one who has an eye for color. Then at the age
of about nine carpentry of a very simple kind may be introduced,
and at about twelve simple carving in low relief might be added.
Such work as is done with the fret-saw, or so-called Venetian
iron-work, is less desirable than the other crafts which have been
mentioned, as there is less variety of skill required in them, and
the results are not so interesting.
One word as to results, and at the same time as to technique.
Children want results — articles made to take home and show as
their work ; and much of this desire is natural.
But the true workman who is learning a craft cares little for
the objects which he can produce in comparison with the satis-
faction of his desire to acquire skill in the use of his tools.
And it may be that in many classes too much stress is laid
on "objects made," and much too little on the acquisition of
Manual training is also mental training, and the power of
concentration required to use any art really well is of more worth
than rooms full of articles made for use or for show.
It is said that children cannot be got to practice the use of a
tool. There is even one rather well-known superintendent who
asserts that the practice of technical studies on the violin are
useless. This, of course, is foolishness, although it may be
granted that such practice as may be best for an apprentice of
sixteen is impossible for children of ten ; still it would seem that
more regard to technique and more practice in the use of tools,
regardless of the child's haste to produce finished objects, is
desirable, than has been the case in most of the manual-training
It is as great a mistake to set children to any sort of manual-
training work before they are fit for it as it would be to teach
them Latin grammar at the age of eight, as used to be the
fashion. It is frequently the case that both brush-work and
carpentry are begun far too early. Any kind of work may be
a pleasure when it is done by one who is either the master of it
96 THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL TEACHER
or who feels that he may attain to mastership. But there is
nothing so disheartening to a child as to be set to do what is
beyond his years.
And this remark applies, of course, to the artistic side of
hand-work. You must not expect appreciation of the composi-
tion of a Japanese color-print or of a Botticelli picture from
young children. But you can set before them models which any
but the perverted among them will admire, and which yet have
nothing in them to contravene the laws of beauty obeyed alike
by Botticelli and by the Japanese. And in these truly lies the
difficulty named in the creation of beauty in simple forms.
We have far too little respect for art, and anyone who learns
to draw and paint thinks himself, and is thought to be, an artist ;
but this is not so. Of the thousands who go through the Paris
art schools not 5 per cent, are artists. And the first great step
toward the introduction of more art into manual-training classes
may perhaps be possible only when the majority really recognize
the high mission of art and the reality of beauty, which is trodden
underfoot by the present turbulent course of commercialism.