Visual Thinking Strategies

with Jude Valentine, Farnsworth Coordinator of Public Programs

A little background: Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) was first developed at Harvard University through the work of cognitive psychologist Abigail Housen. It was adapted as a museum education program at MoMA more than 30 years ago and widely used since then in educational environments including classrooms, museums, and hospitals around the world. VTS is a teaching method centered on deep listening and open-ended yet highly structured discussions of visual art, which significantly increases a viewer’s critical thinking, language, and literacy skills along the way. Through VTS’s engaging individual and group problem-solving process, viewers cultivate a willingness and ability to present their own ideas, while respecting and learning from the perspectives of their peers.

I have been using VTS as part of my work in education in art centers, museums, and classrooms since 1998 and was trained as a VTS teacher/school trainer. But having a chance to engage our online audience at the Farnsworth was a bit of a risk! Would people want to share their thoughts about an artwork? Would there be resistance to not knowing the artist, context, or history of the artwork? Also, we wondered, would people even be interested? So, it was so exciting to see so many insightful responses roll in about the artist Lilian Hale’s painting, Daffy Down-Dilly. Thank you to everyone who took a look and wondered, and to all who took a moment to share your thoughts on “What is going on in this picture?”

Here is a short video introduction to VTS featuring the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s partnership with the Boston City School District and more information on current VTS research.

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