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How Art Is Making People More Self-Aware

Did you know that looking at art can help you make better decisions? It can also help you overcome bias and become more self-aware. This is the premise of a new book, Fixed: How to Perfect the Fine Art of Problem Solving, by Amy E. Herman.

The author knows what she’s talking about, not just because she’s an art historian, but also because she runs a consulting company, Art of Perception, that uses art to teach people to change how they look at the world. In a recent interview with the Think podcast, Ms. Herman explained how she’s helped a wide variety of people–from medical students and business executives to cops and even former prisoners–to broaden their perception by looking at art.

Cover of the book Fixed. by Amy E. Herman

What makes her method effective is viewing art together. She asks participants in her workshops to explain what they see when they look at a particular piece of art. Even when they’re looking at something that seems straightforward, like a portrait, no two people see the same painting or photograph exactly the same way. Listening to others’ different viewpoints helps people notice things they overlooked the first time they saw the piece of art, and encourages them to look at it in a new way.

Herman says that people can even learn from looking at art they dislike. The key is articulating why you dislike the art, and listening to someone else give their impression of the same piece. By looking at photographs and paintings instead of charts and spreadsheets, she has taught people to examine details differently in their regular jobs, and to question their first impressions of what they see.

This is something you can try yourself. Take a friend to an art gallery, or look at a favorite piece of art on the wall of your home with a family member. Take turns saying what you see in the piece, and listening to the other person’s impression of the art. Notice how your perceptions of the same thing can differ.

You don’t have to be an artist or art historian to have an opinion about art, Herman asserts. Art is meant to be looked at, and every one of us is welcome to see something different in it.