1.   What’s going on in this picture?     
  2.   What makes you say that?      
  3.   What more can be found?
Study the image on this page for at least 30 seconds then answer the three questions above. Repeat this cycle until all possibilities have been drawn out. Reflect on these observations to make an informed interpretation of the image.
This open-ended inquiry approach is the keystone of MOCA Cleveland’s object-centered teaching methodology: Visual Thinking Strategies [VTS]. VTS helps structure visual information and observations. Each step requires careful looking, discussion, and evidence-based reasoning. As David Perkins notes in The Intelligent Eye, open-ended inquiry teaches individuals to think in ways that are organized, broad and adventurous, and clear and deep. 
VTS always begins with sustained observation. Long looking is a first step in honing visual literacy and critical thinking skills, both key goals for all MOCA Cleveland educational programs. This first step involves pinpointing all of the visual information provided, noting as many aesthetic, contextual, and historical connections as possible, and expressing personal, visceral responses to the artwork. As with basic problem solving, viewers must initially identify all variables before hypothesizing a solution.
Asking the question, “What’s going on in this picture?” is a terrific exercise for building students’ descriptive vocabulary, improving confidence, and strengthening their ability to share ideas and consider others’ views.  During these collective group observations, MOCA Cleveland docents link and frame viewer comments to begin constructing a meaningful, correlated understanding of the art. Knowing and using the elements of art and the principals of design is an important foundation to cultivating visual literacy, and so MOCA Cleveland docents introduce and emphasize art vocabulary that best aligns with the students’ observations during this process.
Observations lead to different ideas that can yield interpretations. In order for interpretations to be meaningful, however, evidence must be provided. The question, “What makes you say that?” compels viewers to align visual information and observations with assumptions and meaning. This practice often reveals that multiple valid interpretations or “right ideas” exist for a single work of art.
When a docent asks, “What more can you find?” students look, describe, and substantiate ideas again. This repeated sequence encourages curiosity, sharpens critical thinking skills, and ultimately leads to evidence-based understandings of the artworks.  
As a non-collecting museum, MOCA Cleveland finds VTS to be a reliable method for decoding today’s art. Students of all ages continue to create meaningful connections to a wide variety of artworks through this approach. Teachers routinely report improvements in students’ ability to confidently and articulately share insights after multiple MOCA Cleveland tours using VTS strategies. The methodology extends beyond the art room, providing valuable skills in developing informed, well-reasoned arguments in various disciplines.
To learn more about Visual Thinking Strategies, visit www.vtshome.org