Visual Thinking Strategies

What is going on in this picture?
Join our discussion.

What is going on in this picture?
August 10, 2020

The Daum Museum uses Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) as a method of engaging museum visitors with artwork. Please join us in a discussion on Facebook or Instagram by posting a comment about this week’s featured image or submit your thoughts in the form below.

Look closely at the picture and think about the following three questions:

  1. What is going on in this picture?
  2. What do you see that makes you say that?
  3. What more can you find?


What is going on in this picture? – Reveal
August 14, 2020

We promised to share more information about this artwork. Is it what you thought it would be? What was the first thing you noticed when you looked at it? Let us know in the form below.

Helen Frankenthaler (American, 1928-2011), Geisha, 2003; woodcut; 38 x 26 in. Collection Daum Museum of Contemporary Art; museum purchase.

Helen Frankenthaler was just 23 when she painted Mountains and Sea, a germinal work that helped launch the Color Field school. Color Field is a strain of non-objective painting whose artists used thin washes of paint, usually acrylic, on unprimed canvas. Pigment was often poured directly onto a canvas as it lay on the floor, so that the paint pooled, spread, and soaked into the canvas. Frankenthaler was noted for her use of luminous and relatively unmodulated hues, applied with a neutral touch. Although Color Field painters worked to deny narrative content in their compositions, Frankenthaler’s work often seems to be indebted to natural phenomena—changing weather, the light at certain times of day, the atmosphere of land- and seascapes.

In addition to painting, Frankenthaler was a skilled printmaker and produced a substantial body of work in this field. She is celebrated, especially, for her woodblock prints and for her use of the traditional Japanese ukiyo-e woodcut style, staining multiple woodblocks with pigments and then pressing the color onto a single sheet of paper. This technique allowed her to emulate the fluid, lyrical mark making that is found in her poured paintings. For Geisha, Frankenthaler used 15 separate woodblocks and 23 colors.

Frankenthaler received a bachelor’s degree from Bennington College, and also studied with Rufino Tamayo and Hans Hofmann. Her work has been shown in numerous museum exhibitions and is the subject of many publications. Artwork by her is included in the permanent collections of prominent museums both here and abroad, including Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Tate, London; and the Pompidou Center, Paris.

Visual Thinking Strategies is a creative, student-centered, and research based teaching method that uses works of art to enable viewers to look, think, listen, and communicate. Its approach builds awareness through art, develops problem solving skills, expands language ability, and improves academic achievement.

What is going on in this picture?

More About VTS

Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) is a method of engaging students and adult learners with artwork when they are in the museum or classroom by asking three open-ended questions:

  1. What is going on in this piece?
  2. What do you see that makes you say that?
  3. What more can we find?

If students make an inference in giving their responses to the first question and do not back up their statement, then we ask the second question. What do you see that makes you say that? This makes students articulate their thinking and observations and support it with evidence. The third question implies that there are still answers to be sought, which promotes inquiry, and reminds us that no one has all the answers. VTS also promotes research in the classroom concerning the artist’s technique, method, or underlying concepts. This type of thinking transfers across curricula because students develop the habit of higher-level thinking and back up their findings with evidence.

VTS supports the open-ended, learner-centered instruction that is integral to best practices in current pedagogy. In particular, classroom analyses have stressed the importance of encouraging student-centered critical thinking, as opposed to traditional or generic “right” answers, in the growth of significant cognitive development in participants. VTS is a powerful tool that promotes cooperation, respect, and tolerance for various viewpoints. National evaluations have quantified improvements among participants not only in visual literacy but also in general learning, including reading, writing, and math skills. A continued focus on specific key elements of the VTS methodology ensures the success and continued improvement of current and future Daum VTS programs.

“As the ELL teacher at Horace Mann, I have seen improvements in my students’ confidence levels, vocabulary usage, and writing skills while doing VTS. Children who once were too shy or embarrassed around their American peers to participate in VTS are now raising their hands and sharing ideas. They are expanding their thoughts to include not only concrete information but inferences as well. I see this not only in their speech but also in their writings. It seems that VTS has had a positive impact on my second language learners.” –Andrea Kuhlman

Membership in the Daum Museum of Contemporary Art provides unique opportunities and sustains a lasting artistic legacy for future generations. Members receive exclusive invitations to exhibition previews and social events with featured artists to learn firsthand about their art and discuss art-making processes. Special discounts on museum publications and participation fees are also a benefit for members.



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Carol Fleming, United Forest, 2001