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Looking at life like a work of art with Marina Gross Hoy




Today I’m delighted to be talking to Marina Gross Hoy about how to look, and in particular, how to look at your daily life as if you were looking at a work of art.

Marina Gross Hoy is a museum studies PhD candidate and a writer. Her doctoral research at the University of Quebec in Montreal focusing on how museums develop digital projects to create engaging experiences for visitors.

She has a Master’s in Museology from the École du Louvre, and she has previously worked on the education team at Agence France-Museums, the French agency that supported the creation of the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

Marinas writing, which is wonderful, explores how looking at daily life with the same gaze we use with art in a museum can open us up to wonder, wholehearted living, and empowerment.

Now in today’s episode, Marina shares how one evening in 2020, she realised that she would look more closely into a painting of a sunset than looking at the one right in front of her.

And this led her to experimenting with what it would mean to look at her life like a work of art, using what she started calling ‘the museum gaze’.

In today’s episode, Marina shares the main characteristics of ‘the museum gaze’ and how it works in practice. We discuss how observing life with the same gaze we use with art in a museum works in practice and the numerous benefits we can glean from a regular practice of looking at life in this way.


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Claire Bown 03:21
Hi, Marina. Welcome to The Art engager podcast.

Marina Gross Hoy 03:24
Thank you. It’s such a pleasure to be here and to get to talk to you.

Claire Bown 03:28
Oh, I’m delighted we could find the time to chat. I think we have a lot in common. And I look forward to hearing all about it. But could you start by telling us what it is that you do and how you can’t be doing what you’re doing?

Marina Gross Hoy 03:42
Yes, so I’m currently finishing up a PhD in museum studies at the University of Quebec in Montreal. And what I’m studying is what happens when museum teams work with tech companies to create digital interpretation tools for visitors. And I’m really hoping that by looking at the perspective of experts in tech, that I can learn about the intersections of museum interpretation and the visitor experience with digital maturity and digital imagination within museum teams. So that’s where I spend a lot of my intellectual energies right now. But how I got there was quite a long path. I started.. I’m actually from the States, but I moved to Paris do a master’s in Museum Studies at the Ecole de Louvre. And I discovered that I have this passion for qualitative research in museums. And there I was studying, really, museum interpretation, what happens when visitors are in front of an object, and how museums can facilitate meaningful experiences there, so it’s really studying that. And after I finished, I got a job at the Agence France Museum, which is the Parisian agency that was helping the development of the Louvre Abu Dhabi before it opened.

Marina Gross Hoy 05:02
So that was a really exciting time where I got to learn about museums in both France and the Emirates, and then to work with a lot of education professionals for museums in Paris. So that was really exciting as this American starting her professional career in Paris. But after that, yeah, it was really just seeing different cultural approaches to museums and visitors, it really opened my eyes to what the field can be when different perspectives are coming together. And then I left Paris to come back to North America to start my PhD in Montreal. And then I had a job as a project manager for a tech company. And it was a company that that makes augmented reality experiences in collaboration with museums, for visitor experiences. And that was another opportunity for me to, I worked with over 10 museums across North America, to create experiences using digital tools for their visitors, and to see the different approaches of different museum teams to this question of what happens when a visitor encounters an object. It was so interesting to see how they approached interpretation, but also the digital side of things. And to see what happened when the you know, curators, museum educators, were having conversations with our programmers and our specialists. And it was almost like different languages coming together with different backgrounds and professional experiences.

Marina Gross Hoy 06:35
And so that’s what really sparked this idea for my PhD research is what can we learn about museum interpretation, from all of these different perspectives working together, and different ideas for what interpretation, you know, looking at an object and what the potential for digital tools to facilitate that or not, can be.

Claire Bown 06:55
Amazing. So just a wealth of experience there already and travels as well living in France having been brought up in the US now living in Canada, and so many links with the subject of this podcast about, we’re all about engagement, how people engage with objects with art, how people engage with the museum space, with museum educators with each other. So lots and lots of links there. But our paths crossed quite recently, and I came across your work through your writing and your Instagram page. And I was fascinated by some of the things you were writing about how to learn to look, and in particular, looking at life as you would do, like a work of art. So can you tell us a little bit more about that?

Marina Gross Hoy 07:45
Yeah, it’s been such a pleasure to, to connect with you and talk about this, because we both, I think, see the potential of looking closely at the everyday as much as with a work of art in a museum. And so what happened with me is, I had a moment at the beginning of the pandemic, summer 2020, where I was actually it was evening and I was taking out this big bag of diapers, for my toddler son, to the bin outside of our small apartment. And I looked up, and there was this huge panoramic sunset, stretching across the sky. Clouds look like mountains, colours that were changing. And the thought that came to me was, this would be so beautiful if this were a painting.

Marina Gross Hoy 08:30
And I realised, oh, I would spend more attention, looking at a painting than I was spending with the details of my daily life. And that felt so sad to me. And it really highlighted the disconnect. I felt with my lived experience. It was the height of the pandemic, there was so much fear. Our son’s daycare was closed and my PhD programme was on pause so that I could care for him full time. And just it was a really challenging time for me. I felt like there wasn’t a lot of room for me in my own life. And like, I wasn’t connected to the life I was living, I was living someone else’s life. And that just felt so sad.

But also, I was really tired and didn’t have any flexibility. And so I couldn’t make a project out of it or really change anything. But I realised I had agency over how I looked at my life. I couldn’t make big changes yet, but I could shift how I was paying attention to it. So that really started this this question for me. And what does that mean: to look at my life with the same careful attention I would use with art in a museum?

Claire Bown 09:36
So interesting and immediately rings bells about some of the things I’ve written about in the past, having a daily slow, slow looking practice, which can help us as educators if we’re, we know how to look ourselves, if we are on a daily basis, slowing down, noticing details, being more intentional about the way we look at things, then that surely will help us when we come into the museum and we’re in front of artworks, and we’re with groups of people as well. So, could you tell me sort of, how does it work in practice? I know you talk about ‘the museum gaze’, perhaps you could explain that to our listeners.

Marina Gross Hoy 10:18
Yes. So that’s what I started calling it to myself, ‘the museum gaze’. And it just, it was talking about that careful attention that we use. When we’re in a museum, our eyes are open, and we’re ready for an experience. So I started playing with that. So it’s about I guess it’s two years now at this point. And what that starts with is opening, opening yourself to the experience, because when you go to a museum, you go to a museum, but you’ve gone into a new space, and you don’t just find yourself there. So there’s this expectation that you’re in a place where experience can happen. And that might be that some, you’re really thinking it might be really boring, or it might be that your eyes are primed and looking for things that will just completely wow, you. But there’s some expectation that something some sort of experience could happen. So that’s true, when we’re looking at our daily lives. You know, looking at the dishes or the grocery store, there’s a slight opening ourselves of ourselves up to the possibility that something interesting or new, can be a nice familiar everyday things.

Marina Gross Hoy 11:24
And then there’s also the quality of attention we pay. And this is where a lot of your work that you talk about on your podcast, in your work about slow looking, comes into play. So it’s giving yourself over to the moment, giving it your full attention, slowing down committing to take a moment with what’s in front of you. And by doing so by giving it your full attention, you also open yourself again, to being surprised by what you’re looking at, to, to open yourself that there might be something that will be revealed in something that you’ve looked at a million times. And so this leaves a way that you can look at familiar things in new ways.

Marina Gross Hoy 12:13
Oh, yeah. So another way to engage with this experience, like if you’re in a museum, and there’s a painting that you’re looking at, a great entry point can be looking at the visual elements, so paying attention to the colours that you see what palettes are there? What, are they energetic colours? Are they calm colours? You can look at the light. Where’s the light coming from around you? What, is it moving? Is it making shadows? Is it reflecting off of surfaces? Can you feel the warmth on your skin. You can also look at composition, you can look at movement lines, all sorts of visual elements that you would use with art, you can also use looking around you at daily life.

Marina Gross Hoy 12:53
And so besides just the visual because we are embodied beings, we can also think about our bodies in a space. How are we relating to the space we’re looking at? Are we looking up looking down? What posture are we in. And another fun way to play with our bodies is to respond to what we’re seeing through movement. And this is something that some museums are starting to work on – offering programmes that encourage you, for example, to mimic a statue or a figure in a painting. So responding to what we’re seeing with our bodies. And that can be something that you try in your daily life, I walk in forests a lot in my life right now. And often there aren’t very many people around. So that’s a an opportunity for me to practice maybe making a shape of a tree, or walking in interesting ways. It’s a really fun way to really engage with your full body, with what you’re with, what you’re experiencing.

Marina Gross Hoy 13:51
And at the same time, while we’re paying attention to our bodies, that can also be a time to look inwards, and see if, see how we’re feeling, seeing if any emotions are presenting themselves. Even if our bodies I know when I feel anxiety, I feel it in a certain place in my body or fear or sadness or joy. So gazing inwards as well to see what’s going on in our internal environments.

Marina Gross Hoy 14:16
And another great entry point to think about paying attention to our lives is to pay attention to narratives. So like with the work of art you would think about, you might create stories about what you’re seeing, about what’s depicted, what’s, what’s going on there, how it’s depicted, maybe any judgments you have about what you’re seeing. And so that can be an interesting way to look at our own experience to look at what stories we’re telling ourselves about ourselves in that experience. And see if there are other ways we could frame the thoughts we’re having like if your mind is really racing, and you can’t really calm down and you’re maybe judging yourself for not being able to be calm in this moment of slow looking and contemplation, another way to reframe that same moment is to say, ‘Oh, I’m taking a moment for myself, good job’, or ‘it’s hard to have these judgmental thoughts’. And that can be an invitation to go into self compassion and mindfulness in the midst of a racing thoughts and discomfort. So these are just tools. Oh, yeah, yeah.

Claire Bown 15:21
Yeah, thank you for sharing this, I couldn’t help thinking, when you were talking, you’re going through all those different characteristics that there’s a kind of almost like an arc of the process from that kind of opening up and slowing down through kind of tools that we can use to help us sort of look at the different visual elements we can see around us. And then more going inwards as we’re thinking about our senses, and becoming aware of the internal dialogue, the monologue that’s going on in our head, and reframing that as well. So yes, she painted a lovely picture of a real arc there, of being able to sort of look in this particular way.

Marina Gross Hoy 16:04
Mm hmm. Yeah. And it really how you mentioned it’s looking out, but also looking in, yeah, both our senses, but also our mental states and emotions, that makes it such a rich practice, in our personal lives.

Claire Bown 16:17
And so would you recommend that listeners practice this on a regular basis? Are there any sort of recommendations to gain the maximum benefits from this?

Marina Gross Hoy 16:27
Oh I think you said it. That’s exactly it – that it’s a regular practice. And it doesn’t have to be a big deal. It can be a big walk, or it’s dedicated just to this. But it can also be practising in the midst of stressful moments, boring moments, just to practice that gentle shift in attention. And by doing that, over and over. That’s where the benefits come from, because you’re training your eye, to be on alert, to be primed to see interesting and new and beautiful things in everyday life. And you really do start to notice it, I would say noticing wonder, is something that happens regularly for me now, that experience of being surprised by something beautiful, or profound. Just last night, I was getting a glass of water, and there was this battery operated candle in our kitchen that was on a timer. And it was just… I was floored. It was the most beautiful thing to see the light of this candle going through a vase of flowers, and the shadows and the lights dancing on the ceiling. And it was just amazing. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. But I had the eyes for it now, because I practice looking for wonder. And I think also, it’s really made a big impact in my self compassion practice, and my mindfulness practice, because as we talked about that gaze inward is something I’m also practising regularly checking in saying, ‘How am I doing? What do I need right now? Is there any way I could find a taste of that where I am right now?’ So practising taking care of myself, and checking in with what’s really going on, which can be so easy to miss sometimes when we’re so busy, or we have demands on us. So it’s definitely a form of very powerful self care.

Marina Gross Hoy 18:15
And it’s also really powerful. Because we live in a world right now, where our attention is a commodity, it’s worth money to different companies, it can be used as a tool to influence us to even control us in certain levels. So it’s a very powerful act to be intentional with how we pay attention. So by practising in little ways, being aware of where we’re paying attention, and how, and deciding if that’s what we want to do, and shifting that. That is an act of power that can eventually.. yes, it starts in our own lives, but it can spread out to our communities and even our societies to how we look at that and how we want to engage in our lives in big ways, as well.

Claire Bown 19:01
Oh, yeah, some some wonderful benefits. And I’m not arguing with any of those I was nodding along but you know, just thinking about the seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary having that feeling of wonder and or, and that will translate into your practice as well into your work with groups you’ll be able to, it will be contagious, that sort of curiosity that you have for looking and detail at objects and artworks will rub off on your group. So not only is this a practice that will benefit you personally, as you said, it will spread out and benefit the people that you’re working with and the groups that you’re connecting with as well.

Marina Gross Hoy 19:39
Hmm, definitely. When, as you said it’s contagious. So when you’re even in museums, I’ve noticed I’m looking at them differently. I’m looking at the art differently, but also, the light fixtures in the museum’s or the machines that monitor monitor humidity. And when you’re bringing that level of curiosity to every aspect of the museum visit as a visitor or as someone leading a group, it’s just contagious. It’s something people are hungry for that. And they’ll be excited to, to be inspired to do that in new ways. Absolutely, yeah. And helps our creativity as well feeds new ideas constantly by being open to that curiosity.

Claire Bown 20:21
So perhaps you would be very kind to share an exercise that perhaps our listeners could do?

Marina Gross Hoy 20:29
Yes, definitely. And I would, you know, I would say that you have so many resources already, for incorporating routines for slow looking into daily life, that especially you have a whole podcast episode dedicated to that. So I’m going to offer something that complements all of the tools that you’ve already offered listeners, which is to as you open it, open yourself to this type of pay attention to go in with two questions. And the first question is, ‘what do I need right now? ‘So as you’re slowing down, you’re paying attention outward, to start looking inward and think, ‘What do I need?’ And it might be something big, it might be, I need a new job, or I need deeper community around me. And it might be really small it might be I need a glass of water, I need to stretch. Either way. That’s, that’s great. That’s, that’s really good to be aware of that. And as you sit with that, ask yourself a second question, which is, ‘Where can I find that right here?’

Marina Gross Hoy 21:34
So probably you won’t find a new job or the answer to something that you need in this moment. But maybe you can find a glimpse of that. So if you need community, maybe what you can look for in that moment is connection. So maybe you can, you can feel the the ground underneath you being solid, you can see two trees wrapped around each other. You can feel the wind against you connecting. So there, there are ways to find glimpses of what you need, even if it’s a big thing in the moment. And this is so powerful, because it’s a way of integrating what taking care of ourselves in the moment and not deferring our okayness until we can get these big things, but to practice taking care of ourselves, being aware of what we need in the moment. And it’s just, it’s thrilling. It’s really fun, too, because I’m waiting surprised by what I find when I do this. It’s not what I expect it will be and it always feels good. It’s it’s a creative, creative practice too as new things come to you. It’s a delight. It’s a delight.

Claire Bown 22:41
Oh, thank you for sharing that. I’m sure that our listeners will have a go and will share with us what insights and inspiration they got from trying out that exercise. So thank you for exploring with us today what art, what an artwork, what art can teach us about looking at our daily life. Could you share with us how listeners can find you how they can reach out to you? Where are you on the web?

Marina Gross Hoy 23:14
Yes, I have a website which is my home on the web, which is All one word. And then also I write about these ideas on my newsletter, which is called the museum gaze. And that can be found at And as we met on Instagram that’s also placed where I hang out, and I’m @Marinagrosshoy.

Claire Bown 23:39
Brilliant. And I love your newsletter. I recommend it to everyone who’s listening as well do sign up to museum guys newsletter. I’ll put the links to everything in the show notes. But thank you so much for chatting with me today and for sharing your passion and your ideas. It’s been a lovely chat.

Marina Gross Hoy 23:57
Yes. Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure to talk with you.

Claire Bown 24:01
Thanks, Marina. Bye. Bye.


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!