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  • Writer's pictureLisa Norris


Attending an opening to an exhibition always uplifts me! People are abuzz with excitement and interesting discussions about the work abound. This is how artwork should be viewed … in a room filled with conversation and celebration!

“The arts, quite simply, nourish the soul. They sustain, comfort, inspire. There is nothing like that exquisite moment when you first discover the beauty of connecting with others in celebration of larger ideals and shared wisdom.” Gordon Gee

"Art of Insecta" artworks by Kate Brunner, 2018

Yesterday, I attended the opening of a local exhibition, Art of Insecta, at the Mackay Regional Botanical Gardens Cafe. Through photography, illustration and painting, artists Maya Harrison and Kate Brunner, have created a wonderful array of artworks. The works brim with all the spectacular variety of colour, shape, size and pattern you would expect to find in the world of insects. The two artists explore scientific classification, render detailed observations of their insect subjects and provide a few twists of humour throughout the works. The wonderful sense of joy and play found in these artworks would certainly captivate a diverse audience, especially a younger audience of children.

Artworks by Maya Harrison and Kate Brunner, 2018

Strategies, employed when viewing artworks, is much the same as reading and viewing picture books with children. Megan Dowd Lambert, in her publication “Reading Picture Books with Children: How to Shake Up Storytime and Get Kids Talking About What They See” advocates using the Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS), developed by Abigail Housen and Philip Yenawine, as a way for children to critically examine an image and engage in discussions to make meaning from what they see.

"Song of the Stars" by Gordon, 2011 CC BY-SA 2.0

The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, where Lambert resided as an educational officer during her research, also advocates employing these Visual Thinking Strategies through facilitated discussions with children, when viewing artworks and picture books.

“Students look carefully, develop opinions, express themselves, consider multiple viewpoints, speculate together, argue, debate, and build on each other’s ideas, and sometimes revise their conclusions. They are also asked to support their opinions with evidence as they try to decode complex and diverse material and construct meaning together. This approach not only uses art to teach thinking, communication skills, and visual literacy, but also helps students practice respectful, democratic, collaborative problem solving.”

"Eric Carle Museum" by Amy Gizienski 2010 CC BY 2.0

Our regional gallery, Artspace Mackay, has recently begun delivering, monthly VTS practice sessions, to strengthen participant’s visual literacy and communication skills. Indeed, many organisations, not just within the arts or education sector, are employing the use of VTS. The founders of VTS asserts that “[o]ur research, and that of others, has continued to confirm that VTS is an effective means of developing critical thinking and communication skills with every demographic.” Visual Thinking Strategies, 2018.

So what are “Visual Thinking Strategies” (VTS)?

"Four Hands Collect the Gears" by Wix Shutterstock

In short, VTS is a method or approach in viewing and discussing artworks so that a person can utilise their own (and the group’s) prior knowledge and develop inquiry skills using detail observation to enhance understanding (Colorin Colorado).

Visual Thinking Strategies sets out the following parameters and questions in their approach:

Select appropriate images for the audience.

Peer group considerations may include what is appropriate for a particular age or ethnic group. Diversity amongst the audience will elicit a greater range of responses and discussion.

Ask 3 Questions:

  1. What’s going on in this picture? OR What do you see in this picture? (for a very young group).

  2. What do you see that makes you say that?

  3. What more can you/we find?

It is also vitally important that the facilitator (parent, teacher, gallery educator, etc) listens carefully to comments made by everyone; highlights features in the image by pointing to areas, paraphrases (repeats in a clear way) what the audience has said; remains neutral in the discussion, not forcing their own opinions upon others; and links discussion to other related knowledge, ideas and points made by others in the group.

This article by Anne-Marie Slinkman discusses using VTS further.

"Reading and Family" by Wix Shutterstock

Undoubtedly, these same strategies can most certainly be applied to reading/viewing picture books with children. By discussing the images as the book is read, children can make connections to their own world and find greater meaning in the images and story. Children’s innate sense of inquiry will often lead the way for deep and delightful conversation.

Most importantly, remember to have some fun and let children’s learning be a joyful and colourful experience!

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