What does it mean to listen well? That is, not just to hear or to demonstrate having heard, but to listen with compassionate intent. Listening is of course necessary for conversation, but listening well expresses something meaningful in and of itself.

One way of thinking about listening is as a form of attunement. Attunement suggests that listening is not only receiving, but actively adjusting oneself to the presence of another. It is not merely passive, although it is compassionate; it is about being present and patient and opening oneself in order to let another’s truth in. Attunement does not impose or coerce, it invites. It resonates. In this way, it is also about power. If I am attuned to you, I am not dominating you. Listening can have any motive—listening in order to—, but listening well is always sharing authority. If I am listening well, I am not simply listening to you, I am listening with you.

This edition of Site Specific is about what happens when we learn to listen to one another during VTS discussions, even how that learning can have lifelong effects outside the realm of art education. The essays here speak not only to the impact that VTS has on the participants, but on the facilitators as well.

Artist and educator iris yirei hu’s writing eloquently reflects on the meaning and politics of the type of deep listening that VTS engenders and considers how these practices manifest in many aspects of her work. Julia Moustacchi, an independent curator studying VTS in Ireland, testifies to the power of what she refers to as the “group aspect” of VTS, including its ability to inspire the imagination and transform group dynamics.

Learning to listen is critically important work; with VTS, we do it together. —Madison Brookshire

Special thanks to Amy Chase-Gulden, peer reviewer for this edition.

Madison Brookshire lives and works in Los Angeles. In addition to editing Site Specific, he is an artist, VTS Trainer, and professor at the University of California, Riverside.

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