“What’s going on in this picture?” Sounds like a simple question, and it is. It’s also the first step of a process David and I spent some time studying recently – Visual Thinking Strategies, or VTS. Simply put, VTS helps develop critical thinking skills via the viewing and discussion of works of art.

By allowing individuals to talk about art in a group setting – without needing any kind of background in art or art history – VTS assists with the development of skills
useful in creating better ideas and products:

  • Observing
  • Brainstorming
  • Speculation
  • Reasoning with Evidence
  • Cultivating a Point of View
  • Revision & Elaboration

So, what exactly happens during a VTS discussion? A facilitator shows an image of a work of art to a group and asks, “What’s going on in this picture?” Typically simple observations arise first. “I see a couple.” “Farmers are working in a field.” The facilitator would then ask “What do you see that makes you say that?” which then requires the observer to add some more detail – evidence – of how they arrived at that assumption. After we’ve explored one observation or assumption the next question is, “What more can we find?”, and the process continues. Again, sounds simple, right? So where is the value – what is the take-away?

What is probably very obvious is that a wide variety of interpretations will arise. Discussions and disagreements will typically evolve points of view along the way. More detailed “stories” will emerge about what’s happening in the picture. After about 15 minutes of discussion the conversation is wrapped up, and another work of art will be presented as the process begins again. A typical session would review a total of three images taking about 45 minutes.

There are no right answers, no summaries, no group consensus being sought. Neither historical context, nor the artist’s intent are ever revealed. We’re just creating an environment and process for looking, thinking, reasoning and revision – skills that are mission-critical to anyone working in a design or development role.

VTS is backed by over 30 years of field research showing it’s effectiveness and accessibility. You may be surprised to find individuals that are typically reluctant to speak up jumping into VTS discussions with great enthusiasm, enhancing team dynamics and collaboration. In addition to the above bullet points, VTS also helps to advance:

  • Comfort with Ambiguity
  • Openness to the Unfamiliar
  • Civil Debate
  • Willingness to Participate in Group Thinking

The idea of merging art and science is critical to the Nerd/Noir point of view and we feel like VTS fits firmly within this paradigm. If the above skills sound like something you’d like to expand in your team, contact us today to learn more and discuss bringing VTS to you!

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