SmART: Use Your Eyes to Boost Your Brain by Amy E. Herman

SmART, a young-reader version of the best-seller Visual Intelligence, employs art as a way of teaching observation and interpretation.

SmART: Use Your Eyes to Boost Your Brain by Amy E. Herman with Heather McLean. Simon & Schuster, 2022, 169 pages plus notes, index, and note to parents.

Reading Level: Middle Grades, ages 10-12

Recommended for: ages 10-15

In Visual Intelligence, a best-seller from 2016, Amy Herman instructed adults how to “Sharpen Your Perception, Change Your Life.” SmART is an adaptation for middle-graders and up. She uses “three simple steps” to truly seeing, thinking about what you see, and talking about what you see. In other words, observation, interpretation, and communication. Readers practice their observation skills mostly on art reproductions, like Edvard Munch’s The Scream. The techniques can be helpful, such as following a hidden maze, finding embedded shapes, and learning to observe details. When it comes to interpretation, readers are urged to recognize their own assumptions and separate impressions from facts.

The author is correct that the brain is a marvelous instrument (“magic,” she calls it), and that most of us don’t take advantage of its capacities. Mere observation is a skill that should be taught in school, and studying art is an effective means to that end. I do have a bone to pick with her when it comes to interpretation. “As humans,” she says,

we all have emotional reactions to things. How can we keep our strong opinions from getting in the way of our objectivity? By noticing and acknowledging them, so we can let them go.

For example, when observing an ugly, creepy, nightmarish painting, she reminds the reader that ugly, creepy, and my nightmare are not objective descriptions. They may not be objective—but are they appropriate? In The Abolition of Man (published eighty years ago), C. S. Lewis inveighed against an overly objective, positivist education that gave no value to emotional responses. It’s certainly possible to swing too far in the other direction, as we have today, when my feelings have become “my truth” that must be respected even it’s objectively untrue. Still, that doesn’t mean we should “let go” all our strong opinions when observing, but rather that we should continually evaluate our opinions against God’s truth, and judge our observations accordingly. That’s well worth talking about with your kids if you pick up a copy of SmART.  

Overall Rating: 3.75

Worldview/moral value: 3.5

Artistic/literary value: 4

Read more about our ratings here.

Also at Redeemed Reader:

Review: Temple Grandin urges kids to think differently in Calling All Minds.

Resource: Picture books are ideal for introducing art to all ages. We’ve listed some outstanding examples in Art and the Picture Book.

Resource: Read The Abolition of Man along with us!

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