Join Philip Yenawine for an in-depth discussion in this video VTS theory, part of Visual Thinking Strategies.
- When you're confronted with the fact that your best efforts, the conventional methods that you've been using for a really long time aren't working, what do you do? And to try to get the answer to that, I was introduced to a woman named Abigail Housen, who is a cognitive developmental psychologist who had done graduate work at the Graduate School of Education at Harvard and had learned how to study how people think when they look at works of art. We were trying to impact what people know, the facts and data they carry around with them.
What she was interested in studying was how they use what they know. There are two things that are really quite interesting. One is that when you're trying to teach viewing skills, what you're really trying to do is reawaken the skills that every 3-year-old has. The natural ability of every young child to look around them and to observe what they see and to think about it and to become interested in it is there. This is the capacity that we found that was missing in most museum visitors.
So, when you're trying to teach viewing skills, what you're really trying to do is reawaken ones that are there all the time. People use them a lot. You use them every time you go into a party, to figure out who it is you're going to talk to. When you're in a foreign city, you're seldom at a complete loss for how to get around, because you have experiences with streets and buildings and one thing and another. So, you use that to figure out what you don't know, and that's the capacity that allows you to sort of make meaning. Those are the capacities that allow you to make deep and serious meanings out of works of art, but people don't know to apply that in the museum, for whatever reason, and it's not just in the museum.