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.