Question 1

What do you see?


  • Following a few moments of silent looking, participants are asked to mention aloud an inventory—a “laundry list”— of observed details. To encourage participation from the entire group, participants are asked to limit their initial observations to one item each.
  • The facilitator acknowledges each contribution, by paraphrasing the observation.
  • Early on, the facilitator asks how the participant knew the name of the item mentioned. The facilitator then reflects back how much the participant already brings to this artwork through lived and learned experience.
  • If participants offer an interpretation, they are encouraged to retrace their thinking and identify the details that suggested the interpretation. This non-judgmental invitation allows the participant to self-observe the distinction between observation and interpretation.
  • Early on, the facilitator asks the participants to locate specifically where on the artwork the detail is observed. If an additional prompt is needed, the facilitator offers guidelines such as “Upper right? Lower left?”
  • If participants wonder at this stage about what’s not present in the artwork, the facilitator reflects that careful observation often reveals what’s missing as well as what’s present. The facilitator also encourages the participants to remember this question as the process unfolds.


  • The reflective listening technique quickly underscores the non-judgmental nature of the exercise.
  • Participants quickly assimilate what is expected in their responses, catching themselves interpreting instead of observing, clarifying where on the artwork the detail was noticed, etc.
  • This stage of the protocol underscores the importance of description: “Without names it is much more difficult even to see the face, much less remember it…”1
  • Medical charting parallels the experience of rendering the visual verbally.


Holding the silence is particularly challenging for novice facilitators, as is stepping back and reframing interpretations as observations. The intentionally slow pace of this protocol is so counter-cultural that students are often initially hesitant to participate fully. The facilitator’s patience is essential to the succcess of the process.

1.James Elkins. (2000). “How to Look at a Face,” in How to Use Your Eyes (p. 148). New York and London: Routledge).