Shaping Open Minds (2016), Janneke van leeuwen

'Shaping Open Minds' explores the brain dynamics of perception, communication and the experience of visual art. Written for a broad audience and illustrated by striking drawings it offers insight into how we make sense of the world. While it's easy to understand how verbal languages differ across cultures, we are far less aware how cultural and social context also influences the way we perceive things. Arts-based learning with Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) connects what we see to what we think and communicate and opens up our minds to different perspectives. Based on an extensive review of neuroimaging research, this pamphlet makes the case how VTS engages our brains in a way that facilitates the development of social identity, visual literacy and critical thinking.

Softcover $15 / Ebook $10

Softcover $15 / Ebook $10


Vts in elementary education (2013), philip yenawine

In his book "Visual Thinking Strategies", VTS co-founder Philip Yenawine writes engagingly about his years of experience with elementary school students in the classroom. He reveals how VTS was developed and demonstrates how teachers are using art -as well as poems, primary documents, and other visual artefacts- to increase critical thinking, language, and literacy skills. The book shows how VTS can be easily and effectively integrated into elementary classroom lessons in just ten hours of a school year to create learner-centered environments where students at all levels are involved in rich, absorbing discussions.


aesthetic development (1999), Abigail housen

In the 1970s, Abigail Housen's research demonstrated that viewers understand works of art in predictable patterns called stages. She found that when asked viewers talk in a stream-of-consciousness monologue about an image, and every idea, association, pause, and observation is transcribed and analyzed, the different stages become apparent. Each aesthetic stage is characterized by a knowable set of interrelated attributes. Each stage has its own particular, even idiosyncratic, way of making sense of the image.

In ensuing studies, Housen, with colleague Karin DeSantis, demonstrated that, if exposed to a carefully sequenced series of Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) materials and artworks, viewers' ways of interpreting images change in a predictable manner. Moreover, growth in critical and creative thinking accompanied growth in aesthetic thought. In other words, in the course of VTS lessons students develop skills not typically associated with art.


Visual Thinking (1969), Rudolf Arnheim

"All perceiving is also thinking, all reasoning is also intuition, all observation is also invention." 

Rudolf Arnheim was strongly influenced by Gestalt psychology, which was basically a reaction to the traditional sciences. A traditional scientific experiment was based primarily on breaking down its object into single parts and defining them. The sum of the definitions then corresponded to the object. By contrast, the Gestalt psychologists, referring among other things to the arts, emphasized that there are common connections in human nature, in nature generally, in which the whole is made up of an interrelationship of its parts and no sum of the parts equals the whole. Every science has to work with the whole structure. Gestalt theory also says that the factual world is not simply understood through perception as a random collection of sensory data, but rather as a structured whole. Perception itself is structured, is ordered. This also concerns art.


Source: From the Writings of Rudolph Arnheim

In Entropy and Art: An Essay on Disorder and Order, Arnheim argues that order is a necessary condition for anything the human mind is to understand. Arrangements such as the layout of a city or building, a set of tools, a display of merchandise, the verbal exposition of facts or ideas, or a painting or piece of music are called orderly when an observer or listener can grasp their overall structure and the ramification of the structure in some detail. Order makes it possible to focus on what is alike and what is different, what belongs together and what is segregated. When nothing superfluous is included and nothing indispensable left out, one can understand the interrelation of the whole and its parts, as well as the hierarchic scale of importance and power by which some structural features are dominant, other subordinate.


Social Development Theory, Lev vygotsky

The work of Lev Vygotsky (1886 - 1934) has become the foundation of much research and theory in cognitive development over the past several decades, particularly of what has become known as Social Development Theory.

Vygotsky has developed a sociocultural approach to cognitive development in which no single principle can account for development. Individual development cannot be understood without reference to the social and cultural context within which it is embedded. Higher mental processes in the individual have their origin in social processes.

Unlike Piaget's notion that childrens' development must necessarily precede their learning, Vygotsky argued, "learning is a necessary and universal aspect of the process of developing culturally organized, specifically human psychological function". In other words, social learning tends to precede (i.e. come before) development.

The zone of proximal development (ZPD) has been defined by Vygotsky as:

"the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers"

Vygotsky views interaction with peers as an effective way of developing skills and strategies. He suggests that teachers use cooperative learning exercises where less competent children develop with help from more skillful peers - within the zone of proximal development. Vygotsky believed that when a student is in the ZPD for a particular task, providing the appropriate assistance will give the student enough of a "boost" to achieve the task.


Source: SimplyPsychology


Constructivist Theory (1966 - 2016), Jerome Bruner

Jerome Bruner argues that the outcome of cognitive development is thinking. The intelligent mind creates from experience "generic coding systems that permit one to go beyond the data to new and possibly fruitful predictions". Thus, children as they grow must acquire a way of representing the "recurrent regularities" in their environment.

To Bruner, important outcomes of learning include not just the concepts, categories, and problem-solving procedures invented previously by the culture, but also the ability to "invent" these things for oneself. Cognitive growth involves an interaction between basic human capabilities and "culturally invented technologies that serve as amplifiers of these capabilities." These culturally invented technologies include not just obvious things such as computers and television, but also more abstract notions such as the way a culture categorizes phenomena, and language itself.

The aim of education should be to create autonomous learners (i.e., learning to learn).

In his research on the cognitive development of children (1966),  Bruner proposed three modes of representation:

  • Enactive representation (action-based)
  • Iconic representation (image-based)
  • Symbolic representation (language-based)


Source: SimplyPsychology