Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) is a form of art criticism commonly used in classrooms to help students interpret what they're seeing. Essentially, it's a hands-off process on part of the teacher, who encourages students to take control of the conversation by only using these questions:
-What do you see?
(Asking students to visually interpret an artwork)
-What else do you see?
(Asking students to focus in on more than one element/subject)
-Why do you say that?
(Asking students to provide evidence of their visual interpretation)
It's very effective in museum settings and can be used for all types of artwork (for example, it works on Abstract Expressionism). There also exist an extension of the VTS which incorporate the senses. I have found these amazingly effective in landscape paintings.
Asking students, "If you were in this painting, what would you see?"
Asking students, "If you were in this painting, what would you choose to feel? How would it feel?"
Asking students, "If you were in this painting, what would it smell like? Why?"
Asking students, "If you were in this painting, what would you hear?"
Asking students, "If you were in this painting, what would you choose to taste? How would it taste? How do you know that?"
Example of the Visual Thinking Strategies:
Fernando Botero's Sunday Afternoon, 1967
What do you see?
- A family of large people.
What else do you see?
- Mountains, two babies, a bunch of fruit, a baby bottle, a sailor?, tree trunks, and a volcano
Why do you say that?
- The family is very round and these shapes make them look large. There are more than one of them, so I assume they are a family. The little mounds on the foreground and the background look like piles of dirt so I assume they are mountains. One of them has smoke coming out of it so I think it is a volcano. The babies are smaller than the adults so I assume they are children. I cannot see the tree tops so I assume that they are trunks or sticks.
If I were in this painting, I would smell smoke. I would choose to eat one of the fruits, which looks like pears, and it would have a sweet taste and sandy texture because it is not yet ripe. I would want to touch the mom's hair because it looks so solid. I want to feel what it feels like. If I were in this painting, I would see the artist painting the family because they are posing for him. I would hear birds chirping on the tops of the trees, the faint hissing of the smoke coming from the volcano, and the laughs from the babies.
You can learn more about Visual Thinking Strategies at the VTS Website.