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Visual Thinking Strategies

January 20, 2016

As an arts educator with a Catagory A gallery, I am involved in a wide variety of arts interpretation for all ages. My position is unique to an art teacher, instructor or artist, but married to all three. One of the greatest arts education theories I have come across so far is Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS).


VTS is a form of arts interpretation created by Philip Yenawine, former Education Coordinator of the MOMA, along with cognitive psychologist Abigail Housen. Philip was attempting to improve the understanding of the visitors to the gallery, Abigail was hoping to understand how people process visual information. Together, they created the Visual Thinking Strategies, which you can find here: vtshome.org


Essentially, VTS requires only three questions. 


1. What is going on in this picture?

2. What do you see that makes you say this?

3. What else can you find? 


The genius of this technique is that you are letting the viewer approach the artwork from their level. 


1. You are asking the viewer to look closely, and translate what they are seeing, rather than merely repeating what they see. 

2. You are having them back up their deductions with the visual information they are seeing. 

3. You are asking them to look for more. 


This technique teaches people to interpret artwork on their own. It enables them to view artwork without a docent, interpreter, or teacher telling them what they should think. It works on all types of artwork and with all levels of understanding. Finally, it develops visual literacy, which is increasingly important in our increasingly visual world. 


For the educators out there, this technique can be used for more than just art, it allows students to 'deduce' what is going on in a math problem, poem and more. Check out Philip's book Visual Thinking Strategies: Using Art to Deepen Learning Across School Disciplines. 


I will return to Visual Thinking Strategies multiple times in this blog, and I encourage you to try it out with this image by Zalman Zafra to check out what you can learn!



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