Art’s Role in Analysis

Amy E. Herman uses René Magritte’s Time Transfixed to make a strong case that art can help teach analytical skills. Herman states the importance of being able to thoroughly analyze a scene. She notes everything she sees in Time Transfixed, from the train coming out of the fireplace, the large mirror and the clock siting on the mantle, to the less obvious empty candlesticks, wood floors, and wall moldings. She then points out that a detective needs to be able to notice inconspicuous details in a crime scene, much like doctors should be aware of the same kinds of details when diagnosing their patients. Herman believes that studying art can train a person to be apt to noticing these details.

Herman also encourages the viewer to look from a different perspective and ask questions to fill in any missing information. She asks of Magritte’s painting, where are the tracks for the train to run on? Or the tunnel the train might be coming out of? Where is the fire in the fireplace, or the candles for the candlesticks? And why is the lighting of the room inconsistent with the time on the clock? She relates these questions to detectives interrogating a suspect for more information. Herman comments that, similarly, doctors consider symptoms that are present just as important as symptoms that are not present when making a diagnoses. A doctor must explicitly ask patients if they are not experiencing symptoms in order to make a proper diagnoses. She concludes from this that art can also be an important tool when training the eye to pick up on the absence of details.

This was an interesting topic to learn about, as I had never thought of interpreting art as an analytical skill. In retrospect, it seems obvious that the painstaking attention to detail employed by art historians is a skill can that can be carried over into other professions. The jobs of doctors and detectives are both very important, they carry the lives of others in their hands. I’d like to see this skill taught and utilized on a smaller scale. What if we analyzed every advertisement, every news article, the way we would analyze an old painting or a political cartoon. What if for all the media we constantly see, we asked what we aren’t being shown. For one thing, we’d probably see a lot more conspiracy theories and a lot more skeptics. More importantly, we might see people start to research more, go to more than one news source, have more diversified views as opposed to just one option or the other. The investigative skills taught by art are ones we can all use.

1 thought on “Art’s Role in Analysis

  1. Paul Fess

    Lily, your post raises a very provocative idea: that we need to think about what we aren’t seeing when we engage media. This is an important, but overlooked idea. I’m wondering, though, how you might consider balancing maintaining this critical perspective against falling into a kind of paranoia.

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