Can You Sharpen Your Observation Skills By Studying Great Art?

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Can cops improve their on-job performance by visiting an art museum?

Amy Herman, an art historian and lawyer, thinks so and her experiences with LEOs in New York City seem to prove it.

As part of a 3-hour course for law enforcement she teaches called “The Art of Perception,” Herman leads officers from NYPD and other agencies to NYC’s art museums, where she has them study and report on what they see in a variety of classical paintings. The idea is to fine-tune their attention to visual details and their ability to objectively communicate them to others, skills “which might prove critical in solving or preventing a crime.”

Herman started with a similar course for medical students and expanded to the police world after a harrowing night on a ride-along when she realized that cogent and precise communications “could have life-or-death consequences.”

One of her program’s crime-fighting successes involves a multi-agency task force that was investigating mob control of garbage collection in Connecticut. During the probe, an undercover FBI agent who was involved happened to attend Herman’s class.

His boss said later that the experience helped the agent “sharpen his observations of office layouts, storage lockers, decks, and file cabinets containing incriminating evidence.” The information he provided led to detailed search warrants and ultimately resulted in 34 convictions and government seizures worth up to $100,000,000.

Herman’s training is described in more detail in a recent issue of Smithsonian Magazine. Click here to read the article.

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