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Tuesday, June 26, 2018

"The Master and His Apprentices: Art History from a Christian Perspective" Review

I have been using the book The Master and His Apprentices: Art History from a Christian Perspective. We received a digital copy of it from The Master and His Apprentices. This book is intended to be used to study art and can be used as a full credit of art history for high school students.

It would also be good to use as a reference or supplement to other art history courses, or to just learn about art history for fun. I chose to use it as an adult studying art history. This book is full of examples of many pieces of artwork. What makes this book unique is there is no nudity. When you get to the Michelangelo pages, the statue of David is cropped to show only a foot. The Creation of Adam is cropped to show just the forearms and hands.

The digital copy was nice in that I could use it on my tablet (377 pages wouldn't be so easy to transport), but I felt very limited in use also. For books like this, with full color images and multiple chapters to flip back and forth to, I much prefer a printed copy. And I found plenty of places that I wanted to flip to a different chapter mentioned in the text. The PDF file is linked so I can click on a section in the Table of Contents and it takes me right to it. But I encountered difficulties when I wanted to highlight sections or make notes. For some reason the apps I have would not remember what I had highlighted when I came back to it the next day, even when leaving the tablet on and the app open. That is probably a limitation of the apps I used, but three different apps had the same problem and that makes it very frustrating to study (or make notes for a review.) I would love to see this book formatted for a dedicated e-reader app for tablets.

Syllabus and first four weeks of work with digital textbook

There is a teacher guide available that I also received access to. It explains how the course can be used in a classroom and contains grading sheets and a sample syllabus (with a link to download an editable one for your own use.) Even though it's written for a classroom it could be used as a homeschool study guide. The syllabus is written as a 36 week course, and there are instructions for shortening to a 17 week course. There is also an answer key. The pages that you would hand out to your students include:

  • "Terms to Describe Art"
  • Instructions for the four writing papers due in the class
  • Weekly worksheets for each chapter
  • Final exam

I've been using the weekly worksheets as I read through the book. If you purchase this Teacher Guide, please note that the Print Rights are for one person, but you can purchase additional rights for only $2 per student. We were given print rights for everyone in our household, and my 10th grader asked if she could study the book too once she saw what I was reading! The image below is a sample of a chapter review worksheet. I have not been doing the writing papers, but they are great opportunities for high school students to work on their essay skills.

The book starts with an introduction that helps you understand what the writer's intentions are in creating this book and giving it the title she did. Her idea is beautiful, all artists are apprentices to the master artist, God. He is the creator of all, and by creating, studying, and appreciating artwork, we are showing Him honor and gratitude. The book also says, "Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Creator of all, LIVES. If this statement resonates with your spirit, then please, enjoy the material presented in the following chapters which praise your Saviour." I think the goal of this book is pretty great.

Important to note is that the author is very dedicated to a timeline based on the work of James Ussher, which places creation at c. 4004 B.C., and a theory which places the formation of the Grand Canyon during the flood of Noah's dispensation. The Palette of Narmer is placed at c. 2100 B.C., which is a 1000 year difference from other historians. The author does state that it is well known that radiocarbon dating can be inaccurate, which I think many people agree with, yet it is still a reliable science in many ways. And on that note, there is an awful lot more history included than I expected in an "art history" course.

The author uses the ESV Bible and admits she does not read the Bible in its original languages (not many do, right?! It's still useful to study at least a concordance when writing a history book, or consult with other historians.) But then she states "specific language used in this passage is clear," (Exodus 31:3) yet the passage quoted in the book seems to combine various versions of the Bible. Because of this and a few other items I noted in the introduction, I do not suggest this book be the only source text concerning included biblical topics.

The second chapter is on the creation. It is organized into sections by days. While there is much beauty in this chapter, I did encounter some things that do not sync with what we believe. The author writes with a strong belief in "original sin." I feel like that demonstrates an incomplete understanding of the Plan of Salvation and the Atonement of Jesus Christ. For example, the book states, "Ultimately, they (Adam and Eve) decided that they were going to be the ones to determine right from wrong." Also stated is that the results of the fall are the world we experience today, "The ramifications are seen in natural disasters, babies born with physical defects or events causing entire species to go extinct. These do not reflect poor workmanship in God's creation, but rather they are the result of sin." We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam's transgressions (2nd Article of Faith). And again, quoted from the book, "Ultimately, kings were elevated to positions of gods, resulting in worship by their subjects, ... Ironically, it was this very desire to be like God that caused the original sin in the Garden of Eden and here, ... man is once again trying to place himself on an equal standing with God." The introduction and early chapters are written in a way that at times I felt like I was reading a series of persuasive essays.

Chapter 2, Day 5 section

There are some fascinating topics in the creation chapter, such as properties of light, color, water, plant diversity, and more. These chapters really do make you think about whether or not you show gratitude for the wonderful creations around us. I found some interesting theories though, such as the light on the first day of creation is generally understood to have emanated from God himself, and the sun, moon, and stars were created later. I have a little different understanding of light and dark and day 1 and 4 - including that the sun, moon, and stars are for the reckoning of time and navigation. And while the book doesn't specifically say one day refers to 24 hours, by sticking to the c. 4004 B.C. creation date and according to essays in the introduction and appendix, it is clear that the author believes in a very young earth and fast creation. She does state in a few places that only God knows (many) mysterious answers, which I also believe. But I'm more likely to believe the creation happened in periods, which Moses saw and then taught as recorded in Genesis using a seven day vehicle. What better way to teach the Israelites the importance of the seventh day as a day of rest, than present it in the time period of a week! (Thanks to our neighbor for sharing that thought; an archaeologist and professor of Jerusalem history and the Bible.)

Each chapter, from 3 to 17, contains a timeline showing art presented in that chapter as well as other significant events of that time period. The appendix contains a complete timeline on 8 pages, as well as a link so you can download and print your own copy to tape together. I LOVE that timelines are included in the book, it's so helpful to have a visual representation of events and the artwork together.

The chapters begin with an introduction to that time period, list other notable persons and historical events, and then presents the artists. It's not always an artist listed though, for instance in the Ancient Rome chapter there is a section on architecture and city design and notable buildings such as The Colosseum, the Pantheon, and triumphal arches. Plenty of buildings and statues are included through the next chapters, even the Bayeux Tapestry. Each artist has historical information, style, and a few of their works. If you are familiar with the notebooking method, you could use this book to present lessons in that teaching style. That's what first came to mind when reading this book, and I feel this book could be worked into any homeschool style.

The appendix also has a list titled "Pieces by Location" which organizes the artwork in the book according to continent and country.

Chapter 4 has a handful of tidbits of information included that are written in a "this could be proof of..." sort of way, such as a canal called "Joseph's Canal" from the 12th Egyptian Dynasty, and an entire city occupied by Semitic slaves with boxes containing deceased babies buried under the floorboards. I wish more of the book was written in that style, and there is a lot of information there that I want to research further.

There is SO MUCH included in this book, as you can see in the Table of Contents posted earlier, but it had to stop somewhere. There is so much NOT included that the author could easily write a second book if she desired. The last couple of chapters are where I wished more "art history" had been covered than just "history." Chapter 18 is titled "Rococo to Today" and touches briefly on Neoclassicism, Romanticism, Realism, Impressionism, Modernism, and Contemporary Art. Chapter 19 is titled "Global Highlights" and includes so much more that I'd love to see in another volume. Included are areas such as African art, Asian art - The Great Wave off Kanagawa, the Terracotta Army, Buddha, and the Taj Mahal. There are little sections on Australia and the South Pacific, South America, Native American art; Stonehenge and the paintings in the Lascaux caves get a few sentences too. These last two are placed here because their dates do not align with a biblical timeline. It almost feels like these in the last chapter were brushed aside (hence the reason I'd like a book focusing on them!) But they are beautiful and we can learn so much about other cultures and time periods by studying them, whether they point to God as the rest of the book does, or whether they do not.

Chapter 19

I wanted to love this book more than I did, but the specific religious beliefs were very heavily presented (much more than I expected in an art book such as this) and not as inclusive as I'd hoped. I felt like there was something lacking, such as the plain and precious truths that have been lost from the gospel (which made me even more thankful for my testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.) I am used to finding something here or there in most Christian curriculum that I need to expound on according to our beliefs, but this book had a lot more sorting and correcting than I expected. Things here and there such as Noah's ark landed in the Fertile Crescent, which is where the Garden of Eden was located. Or the confusion between Nebuchadnezzar and Nabonidus. Or little bits of truth about the Creation and the Fall. And the dates being so strict in this book, because the Hebrew Masoretic texts, the Greek Septuagint, and the Samaritan Pentateuch don't have the same dates; many scholars (even religious ones) agree that the numbers of ages and years listed in the Bible aren't reliable at all. I just want to name a few points though, because really, the book is good and I have been learning a lot about the artists as I read through it. I am just finishing Chapter 5 with its worksheet, but I have also spent time jumping around and reading about some of my favorite artists and pieces of art. I feel more comfortable with the information about each artist because that type of history is less contradictory. Overall, I wish more of the book had been devoted to actual art history rather than history, the Bible vs. science, and the sins of the world.

My 10th grader loves art and as I said above, wanted to work through this book on her own timetable. After discussing my thoughts about it she skipped forward, past the first three chapters, and read sections here and there, more for review and a personal interest than for academics. I do plan to use this book in future art lessons this fall because there are a lot of artists we haven't yet covered and I'd like to teach my children about them. This book brings information about artists together in an easy to present way, and I feel if we use the notebooking method with younger students we'll have a good learning experience together. The teacher guide has plenty of questions to help students understand what they're learning about and some of these questions would make great discussion starters. That makes it perfect for homeschoolers!

Where to find The Master and His Apprentices:

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