Visual Thinking Strategies

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

What is going on in this picture?
May 10, 2021

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?
May 14 – Reveal

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.

James Brinsfield (American, b. 1949), Super Freak, 1998; acrylic and paper on canvas; 66 x 44 in. Collection Daum Museum of Contemporary Art, gift of Douglas Drake and Elizabeth Kirsch.

James Brinsfield has been committed to abstract painting since the 1970s. The artist works in evolving series, but a through line of his oeuvre has been his interest in gestural, non-representational art making. He tells us that the first artworks he really responded to were by Abstract Expressionists, and Brinsfield regards the New York School as a continuing source of inspiration. Even as he works toward a mode of abstraction that is unique to him, he feels that Abstract Expressionism “wasn’t just an era of painting . . . it could be continued,” and there is “something more to say.”

In Super Freak, Brinsfield explores ideas related to the grid and to gestural mark making. He improvises on the grid patterns found frequently in classic modernist art, while he organizes a composition that has the immediacy of drawing, with ample evidence of the artist’s hand. “I want to move paint around,” he says, “I want to be about paint.” Explaining that “abstraction has paint as its content . . . as the meaning of the work,” Brinsfield offers conceptual configurations in place of references to the observable world.

James Brinsfield received degrees from the University of Illinois (BFA) and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (MFA). His work has featured in 20 solo exhibitions across the country, and it is housed in a number of public collections, including the Nerman Museum, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, and Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Brinsfield was a lecturer in the painting program at the Kansas City Art Institute for 18 years. He lives and works in Kansas City.


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