Terry Gipson has over 25 years of experience in public relations, marketing, experiential design, and public affairs. He’s a Lecturer in Communications at The State University of New York at New Paltz where he teaches Public Speaking, Public Relations, Argumentation, Social Media, Persuasion, and Interpersonal Communications. Terry is a former New York State Senator, a regular commentator on WAMC Public Radio, and an Adjunct Professor in Communications at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
How Art Can Help Us Improve Our Communication Skills
Every semester, my communication students to visit our campus art museum by themselves for one hour. They’re encouraged to experience all that the museum has to offer by roaming freely through the art exhibits. Then, I ask them to make a list of three pieces of art that speak to them in a personal way, to write a brief description of each, and to summarize why they chose them. Later, it’s explained that the museum visit was actually a study of perception; the process of filtering and interpreting information to create meaning. We use this experience to learn how perception works, and how it can help improve our communication skills.
While exploring the museum, students paid more attention to some exhibits than others. This demonstrates the first stage of perception, which is “selection.” Based on the intensity of the stimuli and personal relevance, we notice some elements in any given situation, but not others. Once something has our attention, in this case a piece of art, our brains organize what we’re seeing into a coherent pattern.
From there we use our personal knowledge and life experience to decide what the selection means to us. This is called “interpretation,” and it influences how we react and respond to all that we encounter; including art exhibits in a museum.
We return to the museum for our next class. I divide the students into small groups, and they take turns showing each other the art they selected and explaining why they chose it. It’s enlightening for them to experience why a piece of art they dismissed is the favorite of another. They conclude the study by writing an essay describing what they learned during the group exercise.
Students comment on how the study challenged them to get out of their comfort zone and look at the world through the eyes of others. They become more curious and open to new ideas. Most importantly, they learn that good communicators make the effort to consider the point of view of their audience. By doing so, they’re able to craft effective messages that have a greater likelihood of achieving their intended results.