The Art Of Perception

You’d never tag Amy Herman as a law enforcement trainer. Tall, chic and sophisticated, you might guess she’s an expert on fine art, working for a major gallery or perhaps a Manhattan corporate attorney. Actually, she’s all three. Ms. Herman has a master’s in art history and a law degree. Her career began with practicing law at a private firm in New York City, but her love of art led her to combine the two, working with the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Frick Collection in Manhattan and others.

Now, if you spot her striding through the Metropolitan Museum, she’ll probably be leading a group of cops. The increasingly respected course she teaches is called The Art of Perception, and her “training aids” are the masterpieces on the Met’s walls. Cops already know how to look. Herman teaches them how to see, and objectively analyze and articulate what they’re seeing. It’s not about the art; it’s all about what’s going on in the painting. Brush strokes, texture and styles are irrelevant. The artists and the names of their works are unimportant. Reading labels is discouraged.

Ms. Herman often stops in front of a painting and simply asks officers, “What do you see?” One of the first rules given is not to point; keep hands lowered and speak; describe exactly what you’re looking at without providing the easy visual cue. Just think about that for a moment: to point and say “See right there? That, uh … thing!” makes for fast communication, but it short-circuits vital deductive analysis and articulation. Having to clearly articulate what you’re seeing without first drawing conclusions about it not only forces the observer to make a much more detailed account, but while doing so, it stimulates greater focus, which prompts discovery of more detail, and creates a superior and indelible memory of the observation. That’s valuable on-scene, and extremely valuable — perhaps years later — in court.

 

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