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Art of Visual Comprehension

The constant bombardment by visual information that characterizes contemporary society demands a highly developed ability to critically observe the images around us. Many art museums believe they are uniquely equipped to train people in the visual skills needed to navigate, understand, and analyze our increasingly visual world.

Past research has found visual training often generalizes quite narrowly, but most training has focused on visual learning limited to a single goal, such as learning to identify visually similar objects in one category. The potential impacts and generalizability of a more diverse and varied visual training program, like those used by museums, has never been studied. We seek to scientifically test whether the kind of visual arts training museums are well equipped to provide can improve visual perception and visual cognition. The project is a collaboration with Vanderbilt University, The Ontario College of Art and Design University, and the University at Buffalo, including the Ross Eye Institute.

Soleil, tour, aéroplane (Sun, Tower, Airplane)

Robert Delaunay (French, 1885–1941). Soleil, Tour, Aéroplane (Sun, Tower, Airplane), 1913. Oil on canvas, 52 x 51 5/8 inches (132.1 x 131.1 cm). Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York; A. Conger Goodyear Fund, 1964 (1964:14).

This project would simultaneously enrich museum programming while advancing scientific understanding in the fields of visual perception and cognition. The team of interdisciplinary partners seeks to combine an art-historical approach to understanding images with the scientific understanding of high-level vision. An arts training program, developed in consultation with OCAD University, will use images of works of art from the collection of the Albright-Knox and draw from existing museum programs and workshops, as well as the basic elements taught in visual studies and introductory visual arts curricula.

In collaboration with the Albright-Knox, Vanderbilt University will test experimentally the impact of the training program on visual perception and visual cognition. The team hopes to use this information to develop a curriculum for enhancing high-level visual skills for people from all walks of life, establishing an even more vital role for the visual arts and arts organizations.

Initiative Sponsors

The AK Innovation Lab was founded with leadership support from The John R. Oishei Foundation, The Seymour H. Knox Foundation, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

Project Sponsors

This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

To find out more about how National Endowment for the Arts grants impact individuals and communities, visit

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