Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Art of Copy (Part Two)

Yesterday, I wrote about the value of copying great works, in any field, in order to learn and practice to achieve a new skill. Today, here are more examples.

In the beginning of the Suzuki Violin Method, four essential points are given. The first is:

  1. The child should listen to the reference recordings every day at home to develop musical sensitivity. Rapid progress depends on this listening.
The key to rapid progress is reproducing the sounds, tones and notes heard on the recording. The development of musical ability is in copying the recordings listened to daily. Also recommended are group lessons where the younger, newer students are mixed in with the older more advanced students. Again, opportunity is given to provide good examples for the younger students to copy. The same principles are applied in the Piano Method.

Years ago, when I was expecting our fourth baby, with three under age five, I inherited my aunt's drawing table and art supplies. Inspired by her pencil drawings, and wanting to follow in her steps, I took a drawing I loved from a favorite book, L'Abri, by Edith Schaeffer (drawing by Deirdre Ducker). 
I drew a grid over the drawing in the book, then very lightly drew a larger grid over my paper. I worked on it each day as the kids were napping: drawing, focusing on only what was isolated in each square. By closing off the visual of the drawing as a whole, and looking only at the details of each square, one by one, I was able to reproduce the drawing very closely. When finished, I erased the lightly drawn lines on my drawing, but left them in the book as is. 

At the time, because it was just a copy, I didn't frame it, and it sat in a pile of papers in the garage for years. When an artist friend and I were talking, I pulled it out, and she insisted on framing it, saying that any art is of great value, even if it is just a copy. Now, it hangs on our living room wall with other original art and prints.
In the Charlotte Mason Companion, by Karen Andreola, she delineates a technique of teaching called narration, or "retelling what has just been read", either aloud or written by the students. "Narration strengthens and challenges all the powers of the mind." As the child thinks about what was read or heard, s/he builds powers of concentration, memory, evaluation, interpretation, and comprehension. By synthesizing and articulating their thoughts about what they understood and telling back (spoken or written) what they heard or read, knowledge is assimilated and reproduced. Copied. While copying, the student "develops a style all his own," a concept which was also shared in the quote by Pablo Picasso, yesterday.

In my workout sessions, watching the DVD, I am copying the movements of athletes who are far beyond my abilities. I match their moves as accurately as I can, working and striving to develop my muscles and strength as they demonstrate. By setting my goals beyond what I am currently capable; by copying those with a level of fitness I am working towards, those goals become possible, achievable (eventually).

Why do we enjoy looking at magazine or catalog photos of rooms decorated with a certain style? We imagine copying them, duplicating the look in our own rooms. Also with clothing catalogs, we imagine ourselves looking like the models, which the designers, of course, know very well and choose their models accordingly.

Learning by copying, teaching by copying, are  both valid methods. Of course this does not imply infringing on copyright laws or claiming a copied work as original. As a learning tool, copying is worthwhile and productive, a step toward discovering your own voice and skills and abilities.

Can you think of other examples of learning by copying?


  1. Mo - I loved these two posts! I am a great believer in "copy" - always remembering Paul's admonishment to "imitate me as I imitate Christ"!

    The read-aloud and narration method Charlotte Mason writes about has always been my teaching style. As I'm reading aloud to my students, I feel the inspiration of the Lord in my mind and spirit , filling me with spiritual metaphors I can relate to life, living, character qualities, illustrations of intangibles - that I bring out as I lead the discussion of what we've just heard. It is my favorite time of teaching - reading and comprehension discussion.

    I also loved your L'Abri story about the grid. I did that when I was younger - but haven't revisited the system. I even made overhead transparencies for the purpose. I need to find them and plan a sketching project for the winter! I lament my loss of my visual arts skills - set aside so long ago for my writing and theatrical pursuits. I'm crafty, but often for the purposes of creating costumes or props for a show. My goal this year is to do more visual arts for ME - feeding creatively by exercising creatively.

    Got a grueling school year ahead - if this first week is any indication - much to get used to with the career changes I've made this season. God leading the way - I shall know smooth pathways . . .


  2. Your well-worn "Companion" is a joy to see.

    I'm glad you decided to rescue your drawing of Swiss L'Abri from the garage of all places - and have it framed. The loving work you put into it shows. You have a wise friend.

    My eldest daughter, Sophia, attended L'Abri in Massachusettes some years before she married. I still have a box of cassettes which she brought back with her. Over the winter I dug them out of the basement and listened to Edith Schaeffer (recorded in the 1970's) talk on "What is a Family."

    My girls learned violin and cello by the Suzuki (copy) method. Seeing your pile of books brings back memories. They both have students today.

    In their leisure, when they were bored, all my children would copy art that they liked with pencil or water color. I think it was an advantage to their brains over screen time. Two of my children (now adults) just recently mentioned that they wanted to find time to draw again.

    Karen A.