Slow Art Day is an international event celebrating looking at art in a different way. This year Slow Art Day is taking place on Saturday 10 April 2021 in nearly 100 venues around the world (and counting…).
So, what is Slow Art Day all about? Here’s what you need to know.

How did Slow Art Day start?

In 2008 Phil Terry visited The Jewish Museum in New York and instead of trying to see everything, he found a select few pieces to focus on: just 2 paintings: Hans Hoffman’s Fantasia and Jackson Pollock’s Convergence.
He wanted to find out what would happen if he looked at art slowly and carefully.
He discovered that by taking time with the above paintings he made a deeper connection with them. He also found when he looked slowly at a piece of art he discovered that he knew how to look and experience art without an expert (or any expertise).
This experiment grew into what has now become an annual all-volunteer event with hundreds of participating museums and galleries internationally. What all the events have in common is a shared focus on slow-looking and the way it can transform the way you look at art.

How does it work?

The idea is simple: look at 5 works of art for 10 minutes each – either as an individual, with a group of friends or as part of an event at a museum – or in an online guided or recorded session.
Some venues pick five pieces of art, others may focus on just one or two, while others will give yet more options.
Afterwards discuss your experience – if it’s just you and a friend, go and grab lunch together to discuss your experience.
Think about: Did you have the same experience? Did you notice different things?
Or you can take part in an educator-led discussion with each piece of art. This last part is up to you – or the venue where you are taking part.

In numbers

  • Over 1,400 individual Slow Art Day events have taken place since its official launch in 2010
  • Slow Art Day events have taken place on all seven continents, including Antarctica
  • 700 venues (museums, galleries, artist studios, sculpture parks, public art sites, etc.) have hosted Slow Art Day events both in-person and online

Slow Art Day and me

I first got interested in slow looking whilst developing a new educational programme for primary school children at the Tropenmuseum way back in 2011.
I was developing a method using thinking routines (from Visible Thinking) combined with museum education practices and noticed how this gave students the structure to look at objects carefully and slowly, whilst investigating and constructing meaning.
With this method, we had students from ages 5-18 looking intently at objects and art in the museum for 15-20 minutes at a time – a real case of the more you look, the more you see.
Teachers were often surprised at first that their students would explore only 3-4 objects in a 90 minutes programme, but would be amazed that they still remain engaged and curious throughout the programme.
The main focus was to let students slowly explore and discuss objects for themselves using thinking routines as a structure to guide their thinking and to help them practise and develop certain skills, such as careful observation, thoughtful interpretation and considering different viewpoints.
Whilst researching for my Masters thesis in 2011/2012, I discovered Slow Art Day and after a chat with Phil Terry over Skype decided to get more involved. As Regional Coordinator for the Netherlands my role is to spread the word about the event and to encourage more Dutch museums to take part.
I’ve been a fan of Slow Art Day since the beginning and I’ve seen how the event and the slow looking movement has grown since then – particularly in the online space in the past year (2020).

Why Slow-Looking?

Looking at something slowly and carefully is in itself a rewarding process – the object or art work becomes more interesting the longer you look at it.
Some paintings, for example, do not inspire any sense of connection until you have looked them and thought about them for a while.
It’s all too easy to brush off an artwork with ‘I just don’t get it’ but if you ask yourself to stay a little longer, look a little harder whilst thinking about all the questions you have about it; you might ultimately get more out of the experience.
I love working in this way with all age groups – challenging adults to spend an hour in the museum with just ONE painting or timing a group of teenagers to see how long they can spend discussing an abstract painting.
I firmly believe that given the opportunity to slow down, people have a more in-depth experience within the museum itself. Anyone can develop the ability to look at art – we just have to slow down and use our eyes.

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