In her new book "Visual Intelligence: Sharpen Your Perception, Change Your Life," Amy E. Herman invites readers to practice their observational and critical-thinking skills by studying works of art. Here are a few exercises from the book.
1. Look at this photograph. What do you see?
It's a cow. Although some people see the cow immediately, this exercise elicits a Rorschach Test's worth of responses. No two people see things in quite the same way. Our perception of an artwork--or any kind of visual information--is affected by personal filters that include everything from where we grew up to our political beliefs.
2. How would you describe this photograph to someone who could not see it?
You probably mentioned the water, the bridge, and the building. But did you mention the table and chairs on top of the bridge? Many people don't because they don't know what that is or why it is there. But leaving out information just because you don't understand it or where it fits in with other information can be dangerous.
3. Look this photograph. Describe in one sentence what you see.
You probably described the woman walking, the bench, and the trees. But 50 percent of people who see this photograph fail to notice the enormous letter "C" in the background. From time to time we all experience "inattentional blindness," which causes us to miss even large and important pieces of information. Studying artworks can help people develop their attention and observational skills.
4. In one minute, describe the top image to another person whose eyes are closed. Then show that person the three images below it. Can your partner identify the image you described?
If all you described was the water, the lily pads, the bridge, and the trees, your partner will have a tough time picking out the right painting. Describing the color scheme in detail is the most obvious way to distinguish the paintings. For the advanced, you could also note the white border that runs down the right side and along the bottom of the image. When noting and conveying information, you should look at everything, even if it is not front and center.