HOW DID SLOW ART DAY START?
In 2008 Phyl 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.
SLOW ART DAY IN NUMBERS
Over 1,500 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
Last year, in 2021, many more events were held outside, due to the pandemic, and several focused on nature. The majority of events were virtual due to the ongoing pandemic. There were a lot of events that focused on physical or mental wellbeing. Not all the events showcased paintings – photography, sculpture and objects were also used. And some events focused on some uniques techniques such as: bike riding, colour meditation, drive-by window display and tea as the subject whilst also enjoying it to drink at the same time!
SLOW ART DAY IN STORIES
Here are some highlights from 2021. This was the second year of the pandemic and many museums were physically closed on Slow Art Day 2021 – this meant on the plus side that they could host virtual events with participants from all over the world. These stories are taken from the Slow Art Day 2021 report.
For their fourth Slow Art Day, MASS MoCA (Museum of Contemporary Art), in North Adams, Massachusetts, produced a self-guided leaflet for in-person visitors and organised a virtual event for participants at home. The Slow Art Day Self-Guided Itinerary challenged in-person visitors to take an unhurried look at MASS MoCA’s exhibitions. Before starting their tour, visitors were invited to try a “forest bath” outside the museum. Below are the guidelines from the leaflet:
“Start your slow experience by putting your phone away; plan on going back through the museum after this tour to take photos. Settle into being at the museum by taking in a few deep breaths. As you do so, observe any tensions in your body and release them. Put on hold any distracting thoughts like ‘I have to see everything!’ or ‘What is this place?’ Next, take a few moments to engage in a forest bath to increase relaxation and awareness.
First, take 3–4 deep breaths in/out.
Stand noticing your feet touching the ground.
Look up to enjoy the sky; feel the light on your face.
Walk around slowly and take notice of the ground.
Notice the trees above, then the trees in the distance.
Notice and feel sunlight streaming through the trees and take in the smell.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art held four separate Zoom sessions focused on slow looking, writing, making, and mindfulness. For the slow writing session, participants were guided in a communal writing exploration of portraits in the museum’s exhibition Painting Identity. Participants were asked to imagine and write about the subjects’ identity.
For their second Slow Art Day, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art in Washington, D.C., organised a virtual slow looking workshop specifically for art educators focused on the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849). The aim of the session was to share slow looking ideas and skills that can be applied as teaching methods. They started the exercise with a relaxation and mindfulness eye-palming exercise. This was followed by 10 minutes of observation of Hokusai’s Thunder God’ for 10 minutes without prior knowledge of the work and any distractions (including mobile phones). They then wrote their responses to the following prompts before having a discussion.
Describe: What did you see?
Analyse: Why do you think the artist made certain decisions in this artwork?
Interpret: What is the message, story, or theme of this artwork?
Inquire: What would you like to know about this artwork?
To celebrate Slow Art Day 2021 when museums were locked down in England, artist Jo Essen, based in Birmingham, UK, organised a slow looking bike ride to Sarehole Mill.
The historical mill, today a museum and bakery, is well-known for its connection with J. R. R. Tolkien, author of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. He once lived across the road from the Mill, and it inspired his writings about Middle-earth.
So, while many other large museums ran virtual (or in-person events), and while a number of smaller museums and galleries also ran Slow Art Day sessions, 2021 also included Jo Essen and her family looking slowly at nature and architecture. Hope you can take some inspiration from some of these ideas from Slow Art Day 2021 and incorporate into Slow Art Day 2022. Slow looking can take place anywhere – you don’t have to do it in a gallery, you can do it on your own or with friends, it can take what form you like. Try looking at nature, architecture, or outdoor sculptures.
SLOW ART DAY VALUES
In 2021, The Washington Post wrote an article about Slow Art Day in which they shared the idea that Slow Art Day and the act of slow looking are ‘radically inclusive experiences’ where participants include themselves.
For years, art and the museums that house the art have been exclusive. Places where you need to know something about the art before you look at it.
Slow Art Day and I think differently.
Art is for everyone and by slowing down, looking carefully, allowing questions to form and thoughts to bubble up, the more interesting an artwork becomes.
You don’t need to read books about art to understand it, you just need to give it more time. And when you give art more time, connections will start to form and these will be personal to you and you only.
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. My aim 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.
So now you know what Slow Art Day is and how to take part. Go and look at the Slow Art Day website and find an event near you or choose one of the virtual offerings and connect with a museum anywhere in the world.
THE SLOW LOOKING CLUB
And don’t forget my FREE new Facebook group The Slow Looking Club created especially for podcast listeners. It’s a place for conversation and discussion about engaging with art, objects and life slowly. I’ll share resources, ideas and tips for anyone interested in looking at art – whether it’s for your personal enjoyment or your practice as a cultural educator. And we’ll have regular slow looking moments together too!