Delightful Homeschool Art History with Courtney Sanford

What is the connection between ideas and art? How can we incorporate the study of art and art history in our other homeschool subjects? What is the place of art history in a Christian classical education? These are just a few of the questions Courtney Sanford and I discussed in today’s Homeschool Conversation episode. Plus, Courtney shared some practical tips you can incorporate in your homeschool today!

Be sure to check out all the other interviews in our Homeschool Conversations series!

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Meet Courtney Sanford

Courtney Sanford was a graphic designer and art teacher before kids. She stayed home with her kids and decided to homeschool in 2005 when it looked like they weren’t learning anything good in school. Her husband, a guy with a DIY heart, really thought they could do a better job themselves. So they threw themselves wholeheartedly into creative homeschooling. Courtney took on freelance writing and design projects within the homeschool community and that led to writing, “Marvelous to Behold” a classical text for high schoolers on art history. Spending all that time looking at art inspired her to begin painting again, and she developed a course in which she taught art history and fine art skills. When the shut down forced everyone online, she took her course online and it really exploded and she formed The Delightful Art Co. which is a hub for Christian art teachers to offer classes for students of all ages.

Watch my Homeschool Conversation with Courtney Sanford

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Amy Sloan: Hello friends. Today I am joined by Courtney Sanford. She was a graphic designer and art teacher before she had kids, then she stayed home with her children and decided to homeschool in 2005 when it looked like they weren’t really learning anything good in school. Her husband, a guy with a DIY heart really thought they could do a better job themselves, so they threw themselves wholeheartedly into creative homeschooling. Courtney took on freelance writing and design projects within the homeschool community and that led to writing Marvelous to Behold, a classical text for high schoolers on art history.

Spending all that time looking at art inspired her to begin painting again, and she developed a course in which she taught art history and fine art skills. When the shutdown forced everyone online, Courtney took her course online and it really exploded. She formed the Delightful Art Co, which is a hub for Christian art teachers to offer classes for students of all ages.

Courtney, you and I got connected through a mutual in real-life friend, and I am so delighted to get to chat with you today. There was your official bio, but could you just tell us a little bit about yourself, your family, and how you got started homeschooling?

Courtney Sanford: Oh, thank you. It’s good to be here. Let’s see, I don’t know where to begin. I went to college to study graphic design, because I’ve always had a real creative heart. I thought I might want to be an English teacher because in high school that’s where you could be creative with your writing, you could be creative in that kind of thing, but when I went to UNC they were not into creative writing. They were really into you regurgitating what the teacher believed, and so that was not a good fit for me.

It’s not that I was a good Christian or that I was aware of indoctrination or anything like that, I just wanted to have my own thoughts. I transferred to the school design at state where they wanted you to have your own thoughts. Now, we had to read the Communist Manifesto and make a poster about it, and I didn’t pick up on that because I thought we were supposed to satirize it. Again, not that popular, but at least I was being creative. Then I had some really fun creative jobs after I graduated, but I married a really smart guy. That’s one of the important points of homeschooling. He is a real smart guy to start with. That’s part of the success of my kids, I think is him, but when we had kids I decided to stay home. I really loved it, but at the time homeschooling wasn’t even on my radar. I was really looking forward to dropping them off at school and I loved dropping the older two off, and then taking the baby to Target and Starbucks. I loved it until my oldest and my oldest is a boy and he’s real smart and spunky, and so he wasn’t the teacher’s favorite.

Now we looked at public school, but I had some issues with school safety. When he was five and it was time to take him to school, we went and looked at the school that’s really just a mile from my house and that was a big no because there were broken windows and there was this barrel. Do you know how men put a fire in a barrel and then they stand around it? That was going on while they watched the kids on the playground. I was like, “How is this even possible?” There’s no fence, my five-year-old girl is not going to be playing in front of these men.

They’ve cleaned it up since, but 20 years ago that was the situation, and so public school was a big no for us. We sent them to the Christian school and that was great for kindergarten, but they were doing aBeka at the time, and so if you asked the teacher, “What are you doing in science?” She would say page 55 and 56. Like, she didn’t even know what was on the workbook page. She was just handing out the worksheets and grading the worksheets.

My cute little boy James would come home and say he didn’t get to go outside for recess, and so I was like, “Well, why aren’t you going outside for recess?” It was because he didn’t finish all the worksheets. I started meeting with the teacher and trying to figure out, “Well, why can’t my kid not stand up and go outside during the school day?” They thought he might have ADHD which I disagreed with, but I said, I’ll prove it to you. We’ll go to a doctor and get an evaluation, and so we did. The doctor said, “No, this kid does not have ADHD, he can’t spell, but that’s not ADHD.”

We took that letter from the doctor and we had a meeting with the principal and the teacher and we sat down and gave him the results. The teacher and the principal both said, “Well, let’s put him on meds anyway.” I was shocked. Like, okay, first of all, here’s a school that’s professing to be a Christian school. They’re claiming authority over the parents and over the physician, that is not biblical, so we had to get out of there for all those reasons. Biblically the parents have the authority, not the teacher, not a second-grade teacher. I’m not going to give her authority over my child.

That was a big red flag, but homeschooling still wasn’t something that I wanted to do. I did have a neighbor who was doing it well and she was enjoying it, and so she gave me some names of people to talk to. Of course, my husband is a DIY guy, and so he was like, “Yes, let’s do this. No, you’ve got this, you can do it.” I’m like, “I did not believe it myself.” I ended up at a three-day practicum where Leigh Bortins was teaching math. Math was always the thing that I hated most.

She spent three days teaching me trigonometry, and about halfway through the second day, I called my husband I said, “I can do trigonometry. She taught me how, I can do this, let’s homeschool.” What she had done was she taught me trigonometry using the classical model and she broke it down and I was able to learn something that I never understood before. I was sold, from that moment I was all in. Whatever she said to do, I would do it wholeheartedly. That started our journey.

Then Leigh found out my husband was in IT, and so she had him do some work for her. Eventually, he became the IT guy at CC, and so that had another benefit, which is if you’re at the C level in any company you should be participating in it, and so quitting CC was never an option for us. We just made the best of it. I saw my friends every year agonizing, “Oh, should we do this or something else better?” They would agonize over all summer and be like, “That’s not a problem for me. I don’t have a choice. I’m going to do it. I’m going to make the best of it.” That was also a blessing.

Amy: Oh my goodness, I have so many things I would’ve said just from there. I think just starting with that thing at the end, I think it’s such a good reminder because so often homeschool parents of whatever stripe of homeschooling your philosophy or approach is you can have so much pressure like, “Okay, I have to pick the perfect curriculum and if I don’t pick the perfect curriculum or the perfect co-op I’m going to ruin my children forever or whatever.” We really globalize and make it very melodramatic.

One of the things I encourage moms in my homeschool planning ebook is just, the simple imperfect thing you do just consistently every day is better than the perfect thing that you never do. A lot of it isn’t about picking the perfect homeschool method, the perfect homeschool curriculum it’s just sort of, “Okay, I’m going to stick with it, I’m going to do it faithfully.” You can actually use many different ways of homeschooling and have a wonderful home homeschool experience. I hope that’s an encouragement to people too.

Like it’s not just about finding the perfect fit or something, sometimes it’s just what you can afford or it’s what in your case was part of the family business, and so we’re like, “Okay, well this is where God has me and I’m going to walk in faithfulness here and the Lord can bless that and it can be a good thing.”

Courtney: Exactly. Yes.

Amy: Also though I’m just still boggled by the let’s drug this excited little boy into submission. I’m like, no ma’am.

Courtney: I know. Looking back I wasn’t aware of it, but just gradually over time, we saw this lively, eager-to-learn little boy become down and sedentary and depressed for a little boy. It came on gradually, and then when we pulled him out and we started homeschooling very quickly he returned to being eager to learn and joyful. He is real smart and we just had to learn to manage that energy and that school just manages that energy with drugs.

Amy: Yes. I had a little guy we would take out, we would do circles or the hopscotch out on the sidewalk track on the sidewalk and we would do math facts like moving your body because sometimes you just have all this energy and you want to think, but you just need to move your body a little.

Courtney: Yes. We did lots of things like that. Like math on the trampoline or I’d call things out while you jump. You just got to recognize that’s how they are and get it in there, so we did not spend all-day sitting at a desk. We learned to do it in other ways which I enjoyed too. I’m like, I’m creative, I’ll figure this out, I’ll think of another way. It’s trial and error. Some things are too distracting and some things work.

Amy: Mom is a person too. Sometimes I need my kids to just stop moving because you’re distracting me from this read-aloud. It’s a little too much.

Courtney: Yes, I do.

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Growing in understanding of classical education

Amy: Were there any ways in which you approached education or thoughts about homeschooling grew and changed over those years?

Courtney: Well, I continue to learn more and more about the classical model, and what I like about that is that you memorize a lot of information before you really need it. You just load the brain with lots of good stuff. Then you play with the information, you sort it and organize it and you build things with it and you get creative with it. That helps you learn that dialectic just sorting information, that kind of thinking. Then the final stage is when you expect them to do something creative back with that. Either write an original paper or give a speech or teach it to somebody else or do creative writing.

The modern method has that flipped backwards where you expect creative writing when they’re little before they’ve learned a lot of things.

I see it in art too. In art, the modern art education expects original artwork from the kids. I even know an art teacher who won’t show their kids any famous work because it might influence them. Essentially they’re expecting young artists to reinvent the wheel every time. How far are they going to get if they start from nothing? Not very far.

I’m a big fan of, go ahead and tell them lots of information, get lots of information in their head, and then don’t expect that creative essay or an original art piece until they’ve had lots and lots of practice with it.

Amy: I love that. We encourage a lot of poetry and speeches and historic document memorization in our family’s memory work. It’ll have a little one who’s reciting Death Be Not Proud by John Donne, and of course, doesn’t fully understand that. As that poem becomes a part of their heart when they’re older and they return to that, it has so much more depth and understanding which is really a beautiful thing.

Courtney: One of my favorite things was we had this CD with science songs in it. My little kids, as soon as they could learn to talk, they could say Deoxyribonucleic acid.

Amy: I can barely say that.

Courtney: I know. It’s just hilarious to see a three-year-old tell their grandpa, what is DNA? Deoxyribonucleic acid, and see their jaw drop. I know they’re not supposed to be show ponies but that is funny. Then later when they get to that part in science, it’s already in there. That’s a good example.

Now, how have I evolved from that? I’ve gotten better at it and I also got more laid back over the years. The first few years I was so enthusiastic that I really pushed the kids. That comes with conflict sometimes if you have a really strong wheeled kid.

My oldest and I would sometimes clash. We’d have a battle of wills and then by the third one I was getting tired, the other two had worn me down and I was a lot more likely to say, “Oh, that’s good enough, let’s move on.” He is the baby and I don’t know if he was taking advantage of that or not but he turned out okay too. I don’t know what advice your listeners need to hear but sometimes lightening up is not a bad thing. Sometimes you do need to push harder. I don’t know where you are but it might be one or the other.

You might need to push harder, you might need to lighten up. It depends on the kid and the stage you’re in.

Amy: That’s really good advice actually and that takes wisdom. That’s where we pray for wisdom and it might depend on the day too. If you feel like you were too hard or too easy today, you have tomorrow. There’s always a new day.

Courtney: I did farm out a little bit more for that last one as I got tired. I put them in a couple of classes that were taught by people other than me. That was a good solution to being tired.

Amy: Make sure somebody else is strict when you’re feeling worn down.

Courtney: I actually paid someone to grade that math and that was the best money spent because I was so tired.

Having Dad involved in homeschooling

Amy: I love it. Well, Courtney, I want to talk to you about art but before I do that, just I would love to hear if there are any last favorite parts of homeschooling or maybe some challenges that you faced with homeschooling.

Courtney: I think my favorite part of homeschooling was having their dad involved. The best thing I think we did was that he read aloud to them every night. Part of that was we were solving this problem of this wild rowdy kid who didn’t want to go to sleep. My husband was like, I will just read him down. I will read until he falls asleep. Turns out he can stay awake a long time and my husband can read for a long time. They just plowed through tons and tons of books and I really think that was probably the best education that you can give your kids.

Every night he would read for at least an hour aloud to the kids and I learned to not get involved. I don’t pick the books. If I suggested a book that was pretty much the kiss of death, they would not want to read it. It was totally up to him. He would go to the bookstore and buy whatever he wanted and I had to keep my mouth shut. I remember one night I would listen, I would let him be with the kids but I could hear from another room. I also enjoyed that time to myself knowing the kids are getting something and it’s not me. It’s a nice little break but I could hear them and he was reading. I know some people don’t like Junie B Jones because the grammar’s not correct but we thought it was hilarious. There was this one book where she’s getting ready to graduate from kindergarten and they’re all wearing these white graduation robes and the teacher leaves them alone in the room and you just know Junie B is going to do something ridiculous and sure enough– I started laughing just knowing that it’s coming.

By the time we got to the part where Junie B is coloring on everybody’s robes with markers, my husband and I were crying, laughing. It was just so funny. He remembers that too. We enjoyed school as much as the kids did. That was fun.

Then another thing we did was when we were doing Middle Ages, we would study the Middle Ages for the whole school year. I had two other families get involved and we decided we’d have a great big medieval feast and the dads overheard.

Three moms were planning the food and costumes and games and stuff and then dads go, we’re going to build a real trebuchet, real trebuchet. One is a builder, one is a software developer, and the other one is also a builder but he can weld. The three of them together built a real trebuchet and they had computer models because they wanted to throw pumpkins over the tree line and it’s clear the tops of the trees and then land in the woods so they wouldn’t have to clean it up.

It was just months and months they spent designing the hinges and doing the physics behind it. Of course, the kids are little. They didn’t get involved in the physics of it but that was so much fun. Then everybody brought their pumpkin and everybody launched their pumpkin over the treetops and all that was so much fun. That was really cool.

Amy: That’s amazing. I want to now go build a trebuchet.

Courtney: You’ll not see your husband for six weekends in a row but totally worth it.

Why is it important to study art history?

Amy: Oh, that’s awesome. Well, let’s talk a little bit about art. Courtney, I know you love art, you teach art but can you give a picture if someone’s listening and they’re like, but why is art history really even important? Why does this matter? What would you say about the person who’s just wondering whether it’s even worth investing in art history?

Courtney: That is a great question. If you look at Proverbs 4:23, it says guard your heart with all diligence for everything you do flows from it. When you look at art, you really can see what was in a person’s heart. When you look at– I like to line art up from the beginning to the end, so oldest first, then you can see the worldview of that culture coming through in the art. There’s a lot of clues. In my classes, I teach people what the clues are to look for.

If you look at art from the Middle Ages, you’ve probably seen those icons where Mary is holding baby Jesus but baby Jesus looks like an old man and he does not look like a baby. That’s because at the time the church was really de-emphasizing the idea that Christ was fully human, they wanted to emphasize the spiritual part of him, and they wanted to promote him as the spiritual side of him. They wanted to promote Mary as being the queen of Heaven. They always painted her dress as a queen would be dressed.

That’s their message but it’s also their worldview and they really thought drawing attention to the human body would be sinful. People were going to monasteries and nunneries to get away from anything that’s earthly. They really thought earthly things were sinful and bad, and so you don’t see any backgrounds in there because that would draw your attention to the earth. That’s how you can read worldview in the Middle Ages.

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And then, if you look at something from the Renaissance, like the statue of David, the statue of David is a perfect man who’s just gorgeous, and he’s 40 feet tall and is still a biblical story that’s still a biblical theme, but he’s portrayed man as being larger than life, and here this little guy who was able to defeat a giant.

It’s really exalting humanity and saying, isn’t man great, and men can do so many things, and man can defeat the big bad enemy with his bare hands. Those are just two examples of different worldviews coming through an art. It’s a really useful thing to take students through art history and show them the different worldviews and how they’ve changed. Sometimes one’s a reaction to another, like the Renaissance came about when they started to realize, Jesus had a body and he came to earth. How could the earth and human bodies be all bad? Made sure there’s some sin involved, but it can’t be all bad if Jesus is at that one, right?

That led to gradually thinking, maybe human bodies and the earth aren’t totally sinful. Worldview, it comes down to two important things, how you see man, and how you see God. When I look at a piece of art, I try to figure out how do they see God, and how do they see man. I like to spend the whole year with high school students, looking at art from cave paintings all the way up to today, asking these questions, and then comparing to them to what we see in our culture so that hopefully, they can start to evaluate the messages they’re hearing in the culture.

Then we want them to be real intentional about their own worldview, and not just soak up whatever’s around them.

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Finding connections between art and history

Amy: I love hearing how, as you’re studying art and art history, it’s really connected, it’s like an idea on a canvas or an idea in a sculpture, we know the phrase, ideas have consequences. You’re able to make this connection with the ideas that are going on through history, the people, and the cultural shifts, and it’s this tangible way to discuss that with kids. Would you normally then study the same time period of art that you’re studying in your other history studies, or can it, who takes two pads at the same time?

Courtney: When they were little I used to, like if we were studying in Middle Ages, I would concentrate on Middle Ages art. In high school, I started doing this along with a course in Western cultural history, which involved architecture and music, and all types of culture. I don’t understand music enough to pull that in. It’s a little complicated for a non-music person to understand, but visually, I can see what you’re talking about, if you’re talking about the art. I feel like art is a really good way to do an overview.

I also link paintings to historical events, and that helps me remember history. With little kids, I used to take a laundry basket to the library. I put it on my calendar every two weeks, we have time that we would go to the library. I would have a note card of everything that we were studying in other subjects. It was usually whatever history period and what we were doing in science, and I would fill up the laundry basket. Of course, they got to pick two, but I would make sure we have something in all the subjects and art was always on that list.

If I could find an art book from that period, or an artist from that period, I would for sure, get that. If I couldn’t, I would bring in something that just looks interesting to us. It might be subject matter, and if you’re studying ancient Rome, maybe it’s a modern person painting a picture of Italy. There’s lots of ways to connect dots for them. Sometimes there’s just the fun of a style that you want to try at home. A lot of those art books will have an idea for trying it yourself. If you’re looking at money, a lot of books will say, get some oil pastels and try it. We would always use the library books for that.

Getting started with art history in your homeschool

Amy: A mom who’s listening is like, oh, this would be great, I’d love to incorporate art history and my homeschool, but maybe they’re like, I don’t know what this looks like in real life. Can you maybe give a few suggestions starting, if you have younger kids, Middle Ages, and then older students, what would that look like in a person who maybe doesn’t even have an art history background, who’s just trying this for the first time?

Giotto art book for kids

Courtney: I would start with library books. There are some great children’s books. I remember a really good one on Georgia O’Keeffe, there’s a really great one on Giotto and he’s transitional between Middle Ages and Renaissance. It’ll have a little biography of his life and show some examples of his work, and so we definitely read aloud those books that you find. You can keep it real simple, get copy paper and pencils, and draw some of the things that you see in the book. If there’s simple enough, you can even trace what you see.

If you were like looking at Giotto, Giotto was famous for having drawn on rocks, and he was discovered by another artist walking through the sheep field where he was supposed to be watching the sheep, and he saw these drawings on the rocks. In the picture book, it gave a little cartoon example of a little boy drawing on the rocks. Immediately, my creative brain goes, let’s go outside and see what rocks will leave marks. We would gather up different kinds of rocks, and we tried drawing on the driveway, so that’s an afternoon right there.

You can also draw what he drew on the rock, so it’s probably something simple. I would draw that for the kids and then have them draw it too, depending on the age, or you could draw it and they could color it. There’s probably also good resources online if you search drying projects for kids by Giotto and you can print off a coloring sheet.

You can also use coloring sheets to draw from, so don’t just colorize it, the littlest kids can color the coloring sheet. If they’re ready to start drawing, they can look at the coloring sheet and draw from that.

You could even put a grid on it, draw some vertical lines and some straight lines, and then you just draw what’s in each cube, and that helps them break it down into lines and shapes.

I also like the book, Drawing With Children that will break down for you how to name what you see, like if it’s a circle or a line or a dot, that helps you teach them to draw. I also love Mark Kistler. You can find Mark Kistler drawing lessons for free on YouTube, and they are so much fun. I actually subscribed to it, and for a monthly fee, you get access to millions of them.

The kids just love it. You can turn it on and they can just spend 15 minutes learning how to draw a spaceship or an alien or something crazy and fun.

homeschool art made simple 10 tips for all ages

Amy: Oh, that’s great. I’ll have to link that up in the show notes for this episode for sure. That sounds great.

Courtney: Yes, and books too, Learn To Draw In 100 Easy Lessons by Mark Kistler is great. These foundational drawing skills are good for all kinds of things. It’ll improve your handwriting, improves hand-eye coordination, and makes you more observant, those observation skills that you need if you’re going to be a scientist. Learning to draw can be related to art history, but it doesn’t have to be. As they get older, you can get more advanced books about the artists, and just read everything about art history, and the library is full of great things.

In fact, I think there was probably a section in the children’s section on art, and you can just randomly pull a book every two weeks, or you just add an artist every two weeks.

Amy: Oh, that’s a good reminder too, because I think sometimes we think we have to have this big, grand, glorious plan like the whole unit study planned out with this artist and that artist, and the crafts that go along with it. It can just be as simple as, what artist book do I want to get at the library this week? This one looks interesting, and then let’s go outside with the rocks, I love that. It just demystifies it and also just makes it feel less stressful, like okay, I have to do this big, great, glorious thing.

Art history can just be approachable and that simple. I love that.

you can draw in 30 days art book

Courtney: Yes, for sure. I would also say incorporate the element of play and discovery. I do this with science experiments too. Give them the space to play with the stuff that you have out. This is a big difference between crafts and art. In crafts, you’re learning to follow the directions and the outcome should be exactly what you have planned. In art, it’s more about exploring and doing your own thing. If one of those books had a craft in it, we might get out scissors and colored paper and glue, and we might follow the directions, but then what if I just left all that stuff out on the kitchen table and I walk out of the room, what’s going to happen?

They’re going to start discovering their own things and they’re going to start putting things together in different ways and having a great time. I would totally do that with whatever art material you have, if it’s chalk or paint or whatever, you might not want to leave the room, but step back and just let them explore with it. I do the same with science experiments too. I remember some of the– This usually involves kitchen stuff. If you have the alcohol-water thing where you drop the alcohol and it pushes the water away.

We do the experiment, but then I’ll back off, and just let them explore it themselves in their own way, and I think that that’s huge.

Amy: Oh, that’s a really great idea, really great tip. Sometimes it’s good to just let them be creative and explore without us giving specific directions. Because sometimes that’s where the real learning happens.

Courtney: Learning to follow instructions is a good thing. I’m not saying cut it all out, but realize that following directions is not going to produce a creative person. It will produce an obedient person but if you want someone who’s going to excel, let’s start their own business or discover new things. You want them to experience this creative, playful learning.

How do we teach difficult art topics?

Amy: Courtney, you’ve brought up several times about how art reflects ideas, and there are some ideas that we might feel a little bit concerned about showing to our children. I know some parents may be concerned about art that is disturbing or otherwise may be at odds with a Christian worldview. What does it look like to teach art history to our children wisely? How do we approach some of those more challenging or troublesome pieces of art?

Courtney: That’s a good question, and I’m going to tell you a funny story. I looked at Degas in all the children’s books, and I read the children’s books to my kids, and then when I heard he was coming to the North Carolina Museum of Art, I was like, wait, everybody get in the car, we had a stroller, we’re going to see him.” We get there and it was not at all what I had seen in the children’s books. This was a dirty old man, and his sculptures were foreign, and it was one of those exhibits that we had paid for, and it was crowded and I was in there with two little kids hanging on the sides of the strollers and I could not get out fast enough.

It was like this embodied parts of women and men and I just couldn’t get out fast enough. I was like, excuse me, excuse me, please, let’s get out of there. Of course, the kids didn’t say anything about it, I don’t know. They might not even remember it but the good news is that the children’s books don’t put that stuff in the books. You’re safe with the library book and if you run into it in the culture, just keep moving and then it might not even register to them what it is. I never felt like I really had to protect the kids from it, just keep moving. Then this disturbing part of art didn’t happen until after the ’50s. It was probably not until the ’60s or the ’70s, 1960 or 1970, and that is a really small amount of time in terms of all art history. When I am teaching this to high schoolers, I even have a college-level course, when I’m teaching that to them, I will show it to them because we get to that point in history and we talk about what might have motivated them to create those things, and it’s usually that they’re trying to provoke a reaction.

In the Renaissance, they wanted the reaction of, “Oh, isn’t that beautiful?” Well, now any reaction like, “Oh, that’s disgusting,” that’s still a reaction. It’s trying to provoke you to feel something and they don’t care whether it’s a good or bad thing that you feel. They’re just trying to be provocative and a lot of times it comes from a worldview that’s postmodern, which believes whatever’s true for you is true for you, and that means nothing’s true, and if nothing’s true, nothing’s beautiful.

They’re coming from probably a very unbiblical worldview, and they’re probably are depressed and they don’t believe anything is beautiful. My reaction to them is, bless their heart, they need, I wish I could tell them about Jesus, and that’s how we react to it. In class, we don’t do that kind of art because that wouldn’t come from a heart of someone with a biblical worldview. We wouldn’t put a urinal in the art museum because that’s not what’s in our heart. I think for me it evokes sympathy and, I tell my students, I’m not trying to get you to go start an argument with the curator of the art museum.

They’re probably not in a listening space, you’re probably not going to be successful converting that artist or those people, but it does bring me back to that proverb, that we’ve got to guard our own heart, or else we might be producing these ugly things if we don’t.

Encouragement for the homeschool mom who feels inadequate to teach art history

Amy: I like the way you made that connection between truth and beauty, that you can’t have beauty apart from truth. It really gives an opportunity to talk about that idea, which has value in itself as well. Courtney, if someone’s listening and they’re feeling really stressed out right now, they’re like, I don’t feel adequate to teach art history to my children. This feels great, but I don’t even think I can do it. What encouragement or advice would you have for that mom?

Courtney: Well, I for sure have an online class that you can take. I have one for parents that is– A lot of parents do it in the summer when their kids are off doing other things. If your kid goes to camp, you could watch some of these videos and help you understand art history for yourself, and then I also have yearlong classes for the students where I’m going to talk about art from a biblical worldview all year long. There’s that, and then we also have courses for younger kids, and I don’t really worry about the worldview and the philosophy until they get to high school when they’re younger than that.

Just knowing some names like Georgia O’Keeffe and trying some of the styles that they did. She did great big flowers, you can see behind me, those of you who are watching, you can see. I really love Georgia O’Keeffe’s style and I apply it to different types of flowers. That’s one way that I just like to interact with art. I like to look at it and then I like to try it myself, and that’s all you need to do when they’re little. We do have classes, one really popular class is related to history and my daughter-in-law actually teaches it. That’s a whole other conversation if you want to talk about what it’s like to have your son get married. My daughter-in-law teaches art too, and she has a history degree and she teaches art skills. They read a book together, and then she and I together will think of an art project related to what they’re reading. If they read Little House on the Prairie, we might do a landscape of the prairie and talk about what plants grow there and draw some of those plants in our landscape. That kind of brings the book to life a little bit for them.

There’s a lot of other ways you can incorporate art into what you’re doing. If whatever you’re talking about, can you find a simple picture of it and draw it? If you’re doing science, do you want to draw the things that you use in your experiment as part of your lab report? Anytime you incorporate drawing into other things that you’re doing is going to really fire off lots of different connections in their brain. It might not look amazing, it might just look like scribbly-scrabbly stuff to you, but in their heads, they’re making all kinds of connections.

You’re using their creative brain to process their science or their history or something else. Another thing I like to do is read a poem and then draw the things that were in the poem. If I read Rossetti’s poem, Brown and Furry Caterpillar in a Hurry, Take your walk To the Shady Leaf or stalk, then we go draw caterpillars, or you can even make a caterpillar craft, and keep reciting the poem, that’s going to fire off all different kinds of connections in their brains. It’s really good for their little brains.

Amy: That is really fun. I love that idea of incorporating it with poetry study as well since poetry and poetry memory work is such a huge part of my homeschool. I haven’t really thought about trying to bring some drawing in, but I have some kids I think, who would really enjoy doing some art associated with their poetry. I’m going to keep that in mind for next school year.

Courtney: I have a book in which– I had trouble doing it consistently, and so I wrote a book where for 12 lessons– No, it’s 12 a semester, so it’s 24 poems. After each poem, I’ve given you some ideas for an art experience after the poem. One of those is the caterpillar, and then I teach you how to draw a caterpillar.

Amy: Okay, that is so fun. You’ll have to send me the link to that and I’ll put it in the show notes. That is awesome. I love it.

Courtney: That’s really fun. Then you can use the poem for copy work and for memorization. They’re mostly fun. I include Jabberwocky and some fun things like that. That’s one of my favorite things because it’s something I wanted to do with my own children but I had a really hard time sticking to a schedule. I would do two or three and then forget about it. I thought, “If I had a book that I did once a week throughout the school year, I might develop a habit.” I hope that that is helpful.

delightful homeschool art history courtney sanford delightfulartco homeschool conversations podcast

What Courtney is reading lately

Amy: Courtney, this has been great. I’m so glad to have gotten a chance to chat with you. Here at the end, I’m going to ask you the questions I ask all my guests, and so the first is just what are you personally reading these days?

Courtney: I am reading Nancy Pearcey’s book, Love Thy Body. She has a newer one out but I’m one behind. I’m really enjoying hearing her. She was, I want to say, a disciple. She was a student of Francis Schaeffer. Francis Schaeffer is one of my heroes. He wrote, How Should We Then Live? which is how a Christian should interact with the arts. She’s a second generation. I hang on every word that she writes. That’s the book I read when I’m awake and I have some brain power left. Then I usually have a historical fiction novel.

When I went to Italy this past March, I took a group of college students to Italy and we stayed in Florence for a week, so I bought several books. I’m going through them very slowly. Right now, I’m reading The Bookseller of Florence. It is very interesting. Now that I’ve been there, I can picture it and I know what it looked like. That’s just for fun, really. Then I think I mentioned I’m on the board of directors for a Christian youth theater, and so I’m reading more– As my business grows, I’m reading more and more books about business things and the Christian workplace.

I’m reading The 6 Types of Working Genius. That’s a fun read to think about how you can see different people’s talents and use them in the workplace. Although as homeschool moms, we’ve been doing this for years, drawing out one kid’s talents and helping them pursue the things that they love and the things that they’re good at. It’s not brand new information but it’s helpful to think about it in a different way.

Amy: I’m telling you, if homeschool moms wanted to, once our kids left home, we could take over the world.

Courtney: Yes. My friends are empty nesters and a lot of us are starting our own businesses. It’s really exciting to see where people, where we go now that– Because once you get up to speed, you can’t stop. I’m still going full speed ahead, just like I was when I had two high schoolers. I’ve just narrowed it down. I don’t have to do math and science anymore, I can just focus on art, and that’s been really great.

Courtney’s best tip for helping the homeschool day run more smoothly

Amy: I love it. Well, what would be your best tip for helping the homeschool day run more smoothly?

Courtney: I think the best thing that I did for everybody’s mental health was I made my schedule. Well, first thing, I killed the TV. That was probably the best thing that I did. I don’t know that it was intentional, we just didn’t have one. I’m sure we never got one. If you don’t have a TV, it’s going to really help.

Then the second thing that I did was in my planning, I set aside an hour and a half for math. It should only take an hour. If they finish in an hour, I would let them go outside and run around for half an hour.

That’s a bonus to them, a reward, but it also pays back in that. After they run around, they can focus again. Then if they drag their feet and they don’t get it done for an hour and a half, I don’t stress out. I know that I had that time anyway and so we’re still on schedule. That was probably the smartest thing I did the whole time. Then that just sets your day off really well. If they need an hour and a half to get through their math, that’s not a big deal. Then usually, I would end up with 20 minutes break too, so I’d have another cup of coffee while they were outside chasing.

Amy: I love it. Brilliant. That’s a sneaky mom tip.

Courtney: Yes. They did not know but an hour and a half is fine with me. They knew the goal was an hour and then they could play.

Find Courtney Sanford online

Amy: I love it. Well, Courtney, where can people find you and your art resources all around the internet?

Courtney: We are at Delightful Art Company, but we shortened it to Co.

Amy: Perfect. I’ll have that link in the show notes for this episode along with the other things we’ve talked about over at Thank you so much, Courtney.

Courtney: Thank you.

Check out all the other interviews in my Homeschool Conversations series!

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