A comprehensive guide to seeing what others do not, distilled from art historian Herman’s acclaimed seminar The Art of Perception.
A few years ago, an image of a lung X-ray went viral due to the fact that 83 percent of radiologists who examined it failed to note something obvious: a 2-inch cartoon of a gorilla superimposed over the right lobe. Psychologists call this effect “inattentional blindness,” suggesting that when our brains focus exclusively on a certain task, such as evaluating a lung scan for cancerous tumors, other details can fade to the background even when they are literally right in front of you. The author takes it one step further. “The ability to see, to pay attention to what is often readily available right in front of us,” she writes, “is not only a means to avert disaster but also the precursor and prerequisite to great discovery.” Since developing her seminar at The Frick Collection in 2000, she has used famous works of art to coach FBI agents, physicians, CEOs, and police officers to enhance their abilities to observe their surroundings and effectively articulate what they see. In converting her lectures to this fascinating book, Herman convincingly argues that closely analyzing works of art is an empowering exercise that translates to seeing the 'hidden' clues in many real-life scenarios. Perhaps most compelling are the author’s descriptions of actual crime scenes that were only solved because someone noticed the right detail—a pair of inside-out pants, a whirling ceiling fan—when most people missed it. Yet despite her expert clientele, Herman amply demonstrates that tapping into an inner Sherlock Holmes isn’t only a skill for investigators and that heightened observation is critical to communicating effectively, empathizing with others, and making informed decisions. With practice, she argues, everyone has an innate “visual intelligence” waiting to be refined.
Sharp and original, this book should alter how readers look at the world.