Reading Pictures: Practicing Visual Thinking at Home

Reading Pictures: Practicing Visual Thinking at Home

    The task of the new era of visual art education is to develop visual intelligence and to inspire intelligent viewing ability by using famous paintings. The importance of the "visual thinking" course in the United States has been greatly improved for over 10 years, through teaching art that promotes multi-level thinking. This advanced method of thinking is especially aware of emotion, so that people have the ability to master their own minds, know their own ideas, grasp the contents of their minds, modes, and directions of thinking, and have the ability to self-examination.
     Professor David Perkins of the Department of Psychology at Harvard University believes that art requires profound thinking and that in order to deeply explore the connotation of art, one must develop the zeal of method and devotion, and train thought to be exploratory, clear and organized. But this rich art learning experience is currently very unfamiliar to most educators, let alone the parents of non-education majors. So grasp the following spiritual principles before you can master the right tools and guide your child into the practice of visual thinking at home.

     1. The ideological trend of modern art does not require accuracy in depiction as the only standard, and artists even use their thinking to create vague, multi-level interpretations. That is why so many contemporary artists expect their works to be interpreted through the personal experience of viewers, and like to accept unexpected perspectives, even if they are different from the original intention of his creation. So if you guide discussion, you must also accept different perspectives and also remind children that there is no right or wrong answer.

2. Start by asking "What do you see?”. Allow children to share what they observe and see. From the seeing the lines, a shape, or a woman holding...begin to describe.

3. Give children time to think. You must patiently wait for a response, but do not in your eagerness provide the answer. If it really is necessary to provide answers, wait something like six seconds, then answer. The purpose is to train the ability to think actively.

4. As the guide, repeat the child's answer. If there are several children participating, let the whole group hear what others are thinking and broaden their views of the painting.

5. The guide can not be critical of children's’ ideas, so as to make the learning process lively and fun. Removing the element of pressure encourages learning more interpretation possibilities.



Mary Cassatt’s In The Loge

     From the observation, description, and interpretation of the steps, guide children to understand a work. We will use “In The Loge” by American female painter Mary Cassatt as an example. At the beginning of discussion, the guide should not specify the image content or data, only lead in-depth observation for 2-3 minutes. Only then begin to ask:

I. Observation: Observe the whole picture in silence for three to five minutes.

II. Description: Guide careful observation of the painting’s various parts
1. Tell me what you see in the picture.
2. Take a closer look at the setting and share the various aspects
3. Describe the figures in the picture.
4. What is the woman holding the binoculars doing?
5. How she is dressed?

Tell me about the lighting and color in the painting.

III. Interpretation or Analysis: The guide should ask "why" the painting is the way it is.
1. What do you think these people are doing here?
2. Do you know what this place is?
3. Why are these people here?
4. Do you think the men and women holding binoculars are connected in any way?
5. Do they know each other? Are they friends?

   Art historians look for clues from paintings, so their descriptions and interpretations of a piece of art must be from the surface of the artwork, not from the imagination. Through practice, learning, analysis of the structure, and their own thinking, children can go through this very important process. A guide helping children see the clues does not need to explain in advance, and should not directly tell children the answer, allowing them to passively receive. The purpose of training art thought is not to observe and understand one picture, but to accumulate the habit of observation for a long time. Doing so can develop the ability of advanced thinking through thought and analysis.

This article was published in the April 2005 issue of National Children's Paradise Magazine