VTS has been molded and refined over the past 30 years based on ongoing research by VTS co-founder, Abigail Housen. Abigail first developed VTS as an effective teaching strategy based on her theory of aesthetic development .

Abigail's theory describes the viewer's experience of the visual world, and specifically of visual art. Her work is based on over 4,000 subject interviews, as well as published, peer-reviewed research. Abigail's research has influenced every aspect of the VTS program which was developed to accommodate the strengths and needs of viewers at different aesthetic stages.


Abigail developed rigorous research methods based on her work with VTS over several decades, informed by her studies over a wide range of settings and with diverse populations. At the core of her method is a non-directed, qualitative interview which accesses subjects' reactions to preselected visual images.

Abigail chose to focus primarily on longitudinal studies looking at the impact of curricula and programs on aesthetic development, addressing the growth of aesthetic development over time. Her studies have provided constructive data for the revision of curriculum and program design. Through them, she has also been able to expand her understanding of the process of aesthetic development.


Abigail primarily collects data through Aesthetic Development Interviews (ADIs), as well as art and museum biography questionnaires. Depending on the study, additional data may be collected from journals, content questions, Material Object Interviews (MOIs), classroom observations, and videotaped sessions.


Abigail's research has enabled her to:

  • Access how viewers, both experienced and novice, think about visual images.
  • Examine the effectiveness of VTS as an academic intervention.

Images have thus been selected and sequenced in order to challenge viewers appropriately. Questions are asked of viewers that most effectively engage their cognitive thinking skills.

Research has documented a strong relationship between the VTS program and students' academic achievement in math, science, and language arts. Abigail's own research in this area has been backed up by independent researchers. Research has also substantiated that VTS can impact cognition, expanding critical thinking skills as well as aesthetic development.

Ongoing Research

The research branch of VTS is currently focused on new areas of study including:

  • The impact of VTS on brain development.
  • The role of VTS in improving writing skills.
  • The development of teacher quality with VTS.
  • The use of VTS with new constituencies.

VTS provides training based on Abigail Housen's theory and research, as well as workshops in coding Aesthetic Development interviews. Additionally, our research staff members offer evaluation support to museums and assessment tools for teachers using VTS.

We have come to believe that discussions of art may be one of the most fertile grounds for teaching critical thinking skills precisely because there is no one right answer.
—Abigail Housen

VTS co-founder, Abigail Housen, has been involved in art and aesthetic research for more than 30 years. Abigail's doctoral research at Harvard's Graduate School of Education which focused on the stages of aesthetic development provided the theoretical foundation for VTS.

In her longitudinal research studies, Abigail showed that, in addition to developing visual thinking, VTS programs promote creative and critical thinking skills. Her research also demonstrated that students' application of these crucial 21st century skills transfer to other subject areas across the academic curriculum.