Visual Thinking Strategies

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

What is going on in this picture?
November 16, 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
November 20, 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.

Judy Chicago (American, b. 1939), Return of the Butterfly, from A Retrospective in a Box, 2012; lithograph; 19 ⅞ x 19 ⅞ in. Collection Daum Museum of Contemporary Art, gift of Dr. Harold F. Daum.

Judy Chicago is an artist, author, feminist, educator, and intellectual whose career spans more than five decades. Chicago began her career as a painter and sculptor in the modernist tradition, but purposefully varied the course of her career in the early 1970s by adopting an overtly feminist iconography for her work. Chicago is best known for her mixed-media installation The Dinner Party, an artwork that celebrates the achievements of 39 women from throughout history. The project includes a large triangular dining table with personalized place settings for each of her subjects. First exhibited in 1979, The Dinner Party is now permanently housed in the Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum.

In 2008, Chicago began work on a five-year project with Landfall Press, which she titled A Retrospective in a Box. It comprised a suite of seven lithographed images that surveyed Chicago’s range of art making over 50 years. According to Chicago, The Return of the Butterfly, a print from the suite, represents the reclaiming of an earlier image: “When I was in graduate school at UCLA, I often used a butterfly motif in my paintings and sculpture. At that time, feminine impulses in art were severely criticized and my butterflies provoked considerable hostility from the male faculty. As a result, I suppressed this image for ten years. When it re-emerged in the early 1970s, I embraced the butterfly form because, by then, I had discovered that it was a symbol of the goddess and of liberation, fitting motifs for the imagery that would be developed on the plates in The Dinner Party.”

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