Visual Thinking

In his 1997 article Thoughts on Visual Literacy, Philip Yenawine describes visual literacy as

"…the ability to find meaning in imagery. It involves a set of skills ranging from simple identification (naming what one sees) to complex interpretation on contextual, metaphoric and philosophical levels. Many aspects of cognition are called upon, such as personal association, questioning, speculating, analyzing, fact-finding, and categorizing. Objective understanding is the premise of much of this literacy, but subjective and affective aspects of knowing are equally important."

Coined by German-born author and psychologist Rudolf Arnheim, whose primary book shares the same name, "Visual Thinking" stands paramount in Abigail Housen's "empirical research" and resulting theory of aesthetic development. The application of Housen, Arnheim, Piaget and others constitute the genesis and ongoing theoretical underpinnings behind the development of Visual Thinking Strategies methods and curricula.

In her over two decades of research and in her subsequent essay, Eye of the Beholder, Housen considers how people think when looking at works of art. Through the process of collecting and analyzing Aesthetic Development Interviews and identifying and understanding the concrete words and ideas of novice viewers in the moment and over time, the developmental stage theory that informs all VTS methods and curricula was born.

"The clarification of visual forms and their organization in integrated patterns as well as the attribution of such forms to suitable objects is one of the most effective training grounds of the young mind."

—Rudolph Arnheim

Philip Yenawine discusses Visual Thinking. from Visual Thinking Strategies on Vimeo.

Video footage courtesy of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and Vida Health Communications .

The interview of Philip Yenawine is part of a 20-minute documentary on the Gardner's school partnership program Thinking Through Art, which uses VTS as its primary teaching strategy.

Click here to watch the entire 20-minute documentary.