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What do the FBI, NYPD, CIA, Scotland Yard, US Department of Homeland Security, Navy SEALs, the Peace Corps, Georgetown University Hospital, MetLife, Johnson & Johnson, Planned Parenthood, Seventh Day Adventist Church, and New York City doormen have in common? The have all learned to hone their perception and articulation skills with Amy Herman. An art historian and attorney, Amy has spent the last 14 years providing leadership training to top officers in the United States military, law enforcement, medicine, education, and industry that has been described as “invaluable” by the Department of Defense, and lauded by The Chief of Naval Operations. Her book, Visual Intelligence: Sharpen Your Perception, Change Your Life empowers everyone to see more perceptively, analyse more intelligently and use seemingly hidden clues to better understand any situation. The rights to the book have been purchased by Fox and Amy is one of the executive producers currently working to bring to the big screen.
In this week’s Success Stories episode, Amy chats with Catherine Robson about her journey leading up to The Art of Perception and how keen observation and astute perception can change your career and life.
Studying art history as an undergraduate, Amy was passionate about the field but made an early career decision to become a lawyer, something she knew deep down it wasn’t the right fit.
“I practiced law for 5 years and I just thought, I can’t do this the rest of my life. There has to be a way to get back into the art world,” she recalls.
“I went to work in the museum as a lawyer and one thing led to another and I ended up at the Frick Collection here in New York City. I started as assistant to the director then I became the Head of education.”
The Frick Collection are pieces from the Old Masters; Renaissance to the very early 20th century and it was here Amy discovered a unique professional development program based on the observation of artwork.
“I heard about this wonderful program at Yale that they did for medical students. With Yale’s permission, I started a version of it in NYC. The idea was to take medical students out of the hospital and the medical clinic environment, bring them to an art museum and teach them to look at works of art so they’d be better observers of their patients,” explains Amy.
“One night I went out to dinner with friends and one said, ‘You should be doing this for other people, not just medical students, you should be doing it for people who need good observation skills,’” she recalls. Law enforcement professionals seems a great fit.
The idea ignited, Amy cold called the NYC police department, pitched the concept and shortly after her program, The Art of Perception was born.
The Art of Perception is unique among professional development courses for its dual objectives of enhancing observation and promoting effective articulation using works of art and photographs.
Professional teams attend the course at museum galleries where Amy selects specific pieces to open up dialogue and in-depth analysis relevant to the participants’ profession. Issues of bias, assumptions, inclusion, and ethics are also addressed.
“It’s really quite simple, nothing that I’m teaching is rocket science. What I focus on is observation, perception and communication,” she says.
Early adopters of her program were NYC law enforcement but in 2005, the course landed on the front page of the Wall Street Journal and the program exploded. Amy was inundated with requests for her services from around the globe and across the professional spectrum.
“I think that these skills of really astute perception and keen observation have receded because of our dependence on technology. I think we’re all equipped with those observation skills but we’re so distracted by technology that we just fail to notice what’s in front of our eyes. What is it that we’re not seeing?” she says.
“I’m just refreshing people’s sense of critical enquiry by showing them works of art that they’ve never seen and asking them ‘Tell me what you see here?,’” says Amy.
“It’s not threatening, it’s fun, it’s eye-opening and people say my favourite line ‘I would never have thought of that!,’” she laughs.
Developing our skills of perception and observation can help outside of work too. Amy’s book, Visual Intelligence, Sharpen Your Perception, Change Your Life helps readers to understand visual intelligence and sharp communications skills are strong foundations for everyday living. Situations from personal safety to building a better connection with loved ones can benefit enormously from honing these skills.
Turning her passion for art into a business hasn’t dampened her love of hanging out in galleries, studying masterpieces.
“I tell people and they have a hard time believing this; it never gets old. When I’m overwhelmed and overwrought and have too many things going on, where do I go? The art gallery. I still go because it refreshes my soul,” she says.