Cops Study Art History to Become Better Observers

(Photo: Sam Hodgson/New York Times)

Amy E. Herman is an expert on visual perception. She teaches people how to observe things and gain information from them. This is an essential skill for police officers, so she frequently trains cops how to be better observers by taking them to art museums. Herman shows police officers paintings and asks them what they see. The New York Times describes one such class:

Ms. Herman also displayed a pair of slides featuring reclining nudes: Goya’s “The Nude Maja” (1797-1800) and Lucian Freud’s 1995 “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping,” who is very fat. Ms. Herman asked the group to compare the pictures. “Most cops, when I ask this question, say it shows someone before and after marriage,” she said.

Several officers raised their hands.

“Uh, the woman at the bottom is more generously proportioned,” one said.

“She is morbidly obese,” said another.

“Right!” Ms. Herman said. “Don’t make poor word choices. Think about every word in your communication.”

Police often look at art differently from art historians. When they're in the museum, they're taking down criminals:

“Sometimes they’ll say, ‘We have an E.D.P. here’ — an emotionally disturbed person,” Ms. Herman said. Once she showed some officers El Greco’s “The Purification of the Temple,” which depicts Jesus expelling the traders and money-changers amid turmoil and mayhem.

“One cop said, ‘I’d collar the guy in pink’” — that would be Jesus — ‘“because it’s clear that he’s causing all the trouble.’”

-via Glenn Reynolds


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