How to Smell a Painting

What does a painting smell like? Not the canvas or frame but if you were inside the painting, what would it smell like?

9780544381056_86a57That is a question Amy Herman asks when she trains police officers to be better observers. She shares her lessons on optic acuity and awareness in Visual Intelligence: Sharpen Your Perception, Change Your Life (HMH/Eamon Dolan).

It is the front page story of this Sunday’s NYT Art & Design section and has broken into the Amazon top 100. It is getting attention from NPR’s All Things ConsideredThe Atlantic‘s CityLab, and TED as well.

NPR host Ari Shaprio asks Herman about the uses of learning to see more precisely:

“If you remember a small detail about a patient’s life, you remember a small detail about a suspect’s family where they said they go. If you remember small details about your clients, it can really bring the big picture together.”

She goes on to point out that learning how to see more fully helps in every day life, from being able to notice what is happening with your children to observing the details of a job process.

The NYT offers an example of how Herman uses paintings in her work, using “Vermeer’s exquisitely ambiguous “Mistress and Maid,” a 1666-7 portrait of a lady seated at a table, handing over (or being handed) a mysterious piece of paper”:

“There are so many different narratives … The analysts come away asking more questions than answers — ‘Who’s asking the question? Who’s doing the talking? Who’s listening?’ The cops will say, ‘It’s a servant asking for the day off.’”

Herman’s TED talk and the full NPR interview are below:

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