AMHERST, Mass.–At the University of Massachusetts Amy E. Herman gave a lecture to a group of art history students about the art of perception. She began her Mar. 29 lecture with a warning, “Refrain from using two words–obviously and clearly. We live in a complex world where nothing is obvious and nothing is clear.”
Herman discussed the method in which she trains law enforcement and medical practitioners to refine their observation and communication skills through the examination of works of art. According to Herman, art is a non-threatening medium which gives her students a set of communication tools to apply on the job. Many of her teachings that night are inter-sectional to the field of journalism.
When looking at a piece of art or a situation at hand, be wary. You should not reach for the conclusion you want to or feel you should grasp for. Instead, Herman says, “Ask ‘what do I know definitively’, then ‘what don’t I know’, and finally ‘if had time to gather more information what do I need to know’?”
Make observations using your senses. These observations inform your perception of a situation, but know that two observers of the same situation may perceive very different things. As a journalist you must take care to write with plain language. Concise communication and proper word choice are essential to let the listener know exactly what you mean. Proper articulation of observations helps everyone receiving that information to be on the same page.
“Lay out the foundation of what you’re seeing. When you can be as specific with your words as you can, you should be,” Herman says.
Herman presented works of art similar in subject or style side by side to illustrate an important lesson. Instead of looking at two very similar situations and noticing how they are the same, look for where they differ. In the law enforcement field as too the journalism field, this lesson applies to problem of looking at different situations with the same lens. It is dangerous to think: This crime is the same as that crime, this motive is the same as that motive, and because these two situations are so similar they should be approached or documented in the same way. In reality, all people are inherently complex and their stories unique.
The lecturer presents a painting of a woman and a man beside a large picture window. The woman is wearing a blue dress and the man holds a newspaper. The newspaper visually connects the two subjects in the foreground. Through their window the viewer sees across the street a partially visible sign on a building which demarks a hotel. In one of the windows, the viewer can just barely make out a third subject looking out of his window back at the woman. To a cursory observer, this third individual is perhaps overlooked.
“People have experiences of which we know nothing,” Herman says. Sometimes the picture does not provide the whole story.
Try to notice every detail and take note of especially what seems to be hiding in plain sight. Know your strengths and weaknesses. Self perception–knowing how you communicate and how you come off to others–helps to refine your articulation skills and assess how you might deliver information in a more concise way.
“Do not shy away from saying what you see. You will never get in trouble for saying what you see, although you might get in trouble for saying what you think about it.”
You never know when an overlooked detail can re-frame the whole story.
For more information, visit http://www.artfulperception.com. Herman will be releasing a book entitled “Visual Intelligence” this May.