The ‘Silent Observation’ Method

by Addie Boswell
Published on: February 24, 2013
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Comments: 1 Comment

1-looking-at-art-salvator-barkiWhen I teach my students to look at art, we start with the silent observation tool. It goes like this:

1) Observe the piece for at least one minute, and preferably two, in complete silence. Try to get your eyes to all parts of the canvas.

2) Describe what you see using art terms like line, shape, color. Use the phrases “I notice…” and “I see…”

3) Wonder about the meaning or intention of the artwork, using the phrase “I wonder…”

Besides the obvious benefit of getting kids to look deeper at art, this method also serves to withhold judgement. Imagine a similar scenario when you hold up a picture and say, “What do you think?” Likely comments will be “I like it” or “It’s weird.” And an opinion, once stated, is rigidly adhered to, or so the research goes.

Our job in critique is similar: to truly see a story and respond to it as openly as possible (regardless if we ‘like’ it or see a market for it). There is a form of critique that is similar to Silent Observation, and most writers I know try to follow it. I’ll call the writer’s version “the 2 Reads.”

1) Read the manuscript in silence. No line editing or blanket judgement. You are looking for the feel of the piece, for major threads and plots, and for the things that emotionally grab you.

2) Describe what you’ve read by jotting down notes on major issues like plot, character, pacing, and voice. Try those great words “I notice…” and “I see…”

3) For the second read, get down to the business of line edits or more detailed edits based on the themes you’ve noticed. When making suggestions, the phrase “I wonder…” is nice to use, as opposed to “I think you should …”

I sometimes skip the 2 Reads when I’m pressed for time, but I always feel a little guilty; reading only to critique is doing a disservice to the writing. Silent observation reminds me to truly look and to truly see, so that the story might be fully heard.



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1 Comment - Leave a comment
  1. Diane Dulken says:

    Thanks for a very useful post. In addition to creating art, I also volunteer in a local school art program and your suggestions are a nice reminder of questions to ask when kids ask me “do you like it?” “Is it good?”

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