Discover the benefits of slow art and the slow movement with bestselling author and TED speaker, Carl Honoré. Explore how slowness can rehumanise us in a culture that values speed above everything else and how museums are finding ways to create slow environments for visitors.
Today on the podcast, I’m delighted to be talking to bestselling author, broadcaster, two-time TED speaker and voice of the Slow Movement, Carl Honoré.
In our chat, Carl Honoré, author of “In Praise of Slow,” shares his insights on the benefits of slowing down in every aspect of life.
Our conversation centres around the slow movement, and how slowness can ‘rehumanise’ us in a culture that values speed above everything else.
We also discuss the slow art movement, its place in the wider slow movement, and how museums and other cultural institutions can be more welcoming for visitors who want to take a slower approach to art.
Main talking points:
- Carl Honoré’s book “In Praise of Slow” and the impact it had on society and the slow movement
- How the slow movement is not just about slowing down for its own sake, but about reclaiming our humanity in a culture that treats us like machines.
- How the slow movement fits into the larger cultural conversation about resisting the pressures of a culture that values speed and productivity above all else
- How the pandemic has affected our relationship with time and speed, and whether it has led to a greater appreciation for slowness.
- How slow art can be an antidote to the fast-paced culture we live in
- How museums are finding ways to create slow environments and programmes to invite people to engage deeply with art.
- How blockbuster exhibitions (such as the Vermeer exhibition in the Rijksmuseum)and wall labels can help or hinder us in the experience we might have in a museum.
- The importance of building the muscle to observe, contemplate, and look deeply at art, especially in children
- Four ways we can all incorporate the principles of slow more fully into our own lives
Claire Bown: Hello and welcome to the Art Engager Podcast with me, Claire Bown. I’m here to share techniques and tools to help you engage with your audience and bring art objects and ideas to. So let’s dive into this week’s show.
Hello and welcome back to the Art Engager Podcast. I’m your host Claire Bown of Thinking Museum, and this is episode 93. So I have a very special guest today on the show. In case you don’t know, Slow Art Day is coming up on the 15th of April, 2023. Slow Art Day is an annual event where participants worldwide are invited to look at and discuss art slowly. You can find out more about Slow Art Day in episode 46. And so in honour of this special event, I’m so happy to be talking to bestselling author, broadcaster two-time Ted Speaker and voice of the Slow Movement, Carl Honore. Now before I speak to Carl, as always, if you’d like to support the show, you can do so by treating me to a cup of tea on buymeacoffee.com/clairebown
I’ll put a link in the shownotes and you can help this podcast reach more people by posting about it on your own social media accounts, and by sharing, liking, and commenting on my feeds too. Do recommend the Art Engager to all your friends. Thanks for the support. It helps to keep this show going.
So let me introduce my guest this week. Carl Honoré is a bestselling author, broadcaster speaker, and advocate for the slow movement. He began his career as a journalist covering Europe and South America for publications such as The Economist and the Miami Herald. Carl’s first book In Praise of Slow, came out in 2004.
This bestselling book explores the benefits of taking a slower approach to life, arguing that the super speedy pace of modern life is damaging to our health. Relationships and the environment. This book popularized the concept of the slow movement. It challenged assumptions about productivity and had a lasting impact on the way people see modern life.
Now In Praise of Slow had a huge impact on me when I read it at the time, and it went on to significantly impact my first programme, incorporating slow looking in the museum in Ooh, 2011. Now I’ve since reread it many times. It’s been translated into 36 languages and it has inspired many people, including me to rethink their relationship with time, work, leisure, and technology.
Carl’s most recent and fourth book, Bolder advocates against ageism and Carl has appeared. Appeared on various TV shows. Presented a series on BBC Radio four called The Slow Coach. Carl lives in South London in the uk. Now in our chat today, Carl shares his insights on the benefits of slowing down in every aspect of life.
Our conversation centres around the slow movement and how this can rehumanise us in a culture that values speed above everything. We talk about the inspiration behind the book and how Carl decided that slow was going to be his thing. We discuss how In Praise of Slow continues to be widely read and discussed almost 20 years later, and how its ideas have influenced.
A wide range of fields and industries. We talk about how Karl’s work fits into a larger cultural conversation about resisting the pressures of a culture that values speed and productivity above all else, and what connections Karl sees between his ideas and those presented in books like Oliver Berkman’s 4,000 Weeks and Jenny O’Dell’s, how to Do Nothing.
We also talk about. Own relationship with Slow has changed over the past 20 years and what new insights or perspectives he has gained over time. Then we go on to discuss the slow art movement and how it fits into the broader slow movement and how he’s involved with it. We talk about art being an antidote to our fast paced culture and three ways that art can play into.
We talk about slow experiences in museums and how museums are finding ways to create slow environments and create programmes to invite people to deeply engage with art. We talk about blockbuster exhibitions and labels and how they can help or hinder us in the experience we might have in a museum. And we talk about the importance of building the muscle to observe, contemplate, and look deeply at art, especially in children.
Finally, we discussed the general thread that run through Carl’s work and what he’s working on for the future. He shares four ways that we can all incorporate the principles of slow more fully into our own lives. There’s a lot to discover in our chat. We cover a range of topics from the benefits of slowing down to the role of art in creating a slower culture.
I hope you enjoy it as much as I. Here it is.
Hi Carl. Welcome to the Art Engager Podcast.
Carl Honoré: Thank you, Claire. I’m thrilled to be here.
Claire Bown: So can you, for the benefit of our listeners all over the world, can you just explain where you are right now?
Carl Honoré: Right now I’m sitting in my home in South London.
Claire Bown: That’s a perfect way to start. Yeah. We also talked a little bit about the weather.
I’m glad to hear the sun is shining in South London this morning. But perhaps you could start us off by giving us a short summary of what you do.
Carl Honoré: Sure. Well, I’m a, an author speaker and broadcaster, and my two main themes, which do overlap are. That in a world addicted to speed slowness is a superpower.
And I guess in a world enthralled to youth aging can also be a superpower.
Claire Bown: I love the way that you brought those in together. We’re gonna be talking about the idea of slow. We’re gonna be talking about your most recent work around positive aging. I’m gonna start right back at the beginning. Huge fans on this podcast of Slow.
We talk a lot about slow looking, slow arts. And I really want to talk first about your book from 2004. I can’t believe it’s almost 20 years, to be honest. But yeah, you wrote your first book In Praise of Slow, and I think this book really had a lasting impact. You know, it definitely popularized this, the idea of the slow movement and it also challenged some ideas about the way we see modern life.
I think the book is still widely read. I reread it and I’ve reread it a few times since it first came out. So perhaps you could start by explaining why you wrote the book and how you decided that slow was going to be your thing.
Carl Honoré: Well, I’ve discovered over the years that. All of my books start from a personal existential crisis of some kind, and that is very much the case with In Praise of Slow.
So if we rewind the clock now, yeah. 20 years. I was just stuck in Fast forward, so every moment of my day was a race against the clock, and I realized that I’d just forgotten. Completely how to slow down when I started reading bedtime stories to my son. And so I’d go into his room at the end of the day and speed read Snow White.
So I’d be like these skipping lines paragraphs. I became an expert at what I call the multiple page turn technique, but it just never works, right? My son would always catch me out and he’d say, daddy, why are there only three dwarves in the story?
You know, what happened to grumpy and, and this really lamentable state of affairs went on for some time until I caught myself flirting with buying a book I’d heard about called The One Minute Bedtime Story. So Snow White in 60 Seconds. And I remember thinking, hallelujah, what a great idea. I need that book now.
Amazon Drone Delivery. But then the second thought came over me. It was like a light bulb over the head moment. I suddenly thought, what are you doing? Are you really in such a hurry? You’re prepared to fob off your little boy with a sound bite instead of a story at the end of the day. And it was, It’s like an out-of-body experience, something I could see myself in sharp relief.
And when I saw there was, it was just ugly. It was unedifying, it was, it was, it was just wrong. I was, I was racing through my life instead of actually living it. And that’s when I realized that I had, I had lost my compass. I just lost my way and that I needed to slow down. So I, as a journalist at the time, I wanted to understand not only my own addiction to speed, but the bigger picture.
So I traveled around the world to investigate this cult of speed and hurrying, and it came back with good news, which is that then, and even more so now, wherever you go these days, more and more people are doing the unthinkable. They’re actually slowing down on every walk of life and they’re discovering that contrary to what conventional wisdom always tells us, which is that if you slow down, you’re boring, lazy, unproductive, unhappy, you’re roadkill, that the opposite turns out to be true. That by slowing down judiciously at the right moments, people find that they eat better, raise their children better, make love better, think better, work better, that they live better at, and this, and I guess in some ways, In Praise of Slow as you said in the introduction, became the handbook, if you like, for the slow movement, because when I first started kicking the idea around, nobody really talked about a slow movement.
I guess there was slow food and slow cities and a couple of disparate movements and initiatives floating around in the ether. But I guess what I proposed at the time of that book was maybe there’s an overarching larger theme here, which is the idea of slow, that could apply to every field of human endeavor.
And so I guess in that book, I was really asking a question, could there be such a thing as a slow movement? And spoiler alert. Turns out there was or there is. There certainly is now. And you talk about the book being relevant today. I mean, we are sitting here at the beginning of April, 2023 and couple of days ago In Praise of Slow sold to a Slovakian publisher. So it’ll be coming out on Slovakian, which will be language 36. So you know, 19 years after publication, people are translating it into new languages and reading it again. And I think the dial has moved. The tectonic plates have shifted, especially I think since the pandemic and the very idea of slowing down is much more at the centre of our culture and our conversation than it was four years ago, five years ago even.
Claire Bown: Yeah. What do you see as the most significant changes or developments that have occurred since its publication, obviously it’s nearly 20 years. Do you think people are more on board with the idea of being slow? Do they feel the benefits or see the benefits?
Carl Honoré: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, from my own vantage point, when I first published that book, I felt like a lone voice in the wilderness a little bit, you know?
A profit wandering in from the desert, and, and, and I don’t feel like that way now. I mean, I mean, because of the work I did then and still do now. I’m near the centre of this wheel at the hub, and so people tell me, I, I hear what’s going on and it’s just extraordinary to me. I mean, every day I open up my inbox and there’ll be a new university programme built around slow or a company doing something.
You know, there’s just so many things happening in every activity, in every walk of life, and it’s much more permissible than it was now to slow down and to to be out loud and proud about it. In fact I was just thinking and remembering. Now as we spool back through the years, that was the word that really struck me when people reacted to the book when it first came out, was they said to me, thank you for giving me permission to slow down.
And I remember thinking at the time, what an extraordinary idea that people would feel the need for permission to slow their lives down, to live them better, but they would need it from somebody that they’d never met before. And then of course, over time I realized that that is exactly what people do need because we live in a society marinated in the cult of speed.
It’s just we’re constantly pelted with the same message, which is that faster is better, and that slowing down is a form of failure. And so it’s very hard mean we’re social animals. We’re affected by what the people around us do, say, think, and how they behave. So if everyone else is putting up a faster than now vibe, it’s hard for us.
Even if we can feel in our bones that slowing down would be good for us, even if we’re yearning to put on the brakes, we still don’t do it because the, the taboo against slowness runs so deep. It is so synonymous with bad things that people need permission and that’s the first step. But I think now, Looking back over the span of these last two decades, the the permission is there and it’s not just coming from me in my book.
Now, people are finding it everywhere. You can’t pick up a newspaper these days or look at a website, news website and not find a, a country or a nation running an experiment in the four day workweek, right? This is so many things happening, right at a really seismic level, that point in the same direction, which is moving away from the idea that faster is always the best policy.
Claire Bown: Yeah. And I’m thinking back to when I read your book and it stays in my mind with another book, which was called Fast Food Nation, which came out I think a couple of years after your book. But those two books of that era really stuck in my mind and thinking about it recently, thinking about all the things that have happened in the last few years.
And also I’ve read some books recently I read Jenny Odell’s, How To Do Nothing. I’ve read Oliver Berkman’s 4,000 Weeks, you know, all these books that are giving us an alternative, a reaction against this grind culture that we’ve been a part of, this obsession with productivity.
So, yeah. How do you see your, your work fitting into this larger conversation about resisting these pressures of culture that really values this speed above everything else?
Carl Honoré: Well, I, I think it’s very revealing that most of those books will cite In Praise of Slow, usually somewhere if not in the, on, in the text itself, somewhere in the bibliography because they’re, you know, I feel like when In Praise of Slow came out, there wasn’t any book that was quite like it.
I mean, at all that I can think of. And yet now there’s a whole library of books that you’ve just mentioned, a couple of them there that are all spinning off the idea of slowing down or reinventing and reimagining our relationship with time. I mean, I think of speed and hurry as dehumanising, and that slowing down slowness rehumanise us, and that’s been a big underlying theme across all of our cultures I think in the last few years, particularly, we’re seeing it even more acutely now with the sudden rise of artificial intelligence, that there’s a real feeling that modern life and its obsessions and idiosyncrasies and pressures. And, and obsessions. There’s something dehumanising about it there. There’s very little space left for the small, the intimate, the messy, the slow, the human.
The culture has become so driven by that Silicon Valley aesthetic of frictionlessness, right? We’re going to remove friction from every interaction. Everything must be smooth and fast and scalable and globalised. So therefore, it’s the same. We rub out the wrinkles that set one human being apart from another, like one product apart from another so they can move more quickly across borders.
And, and I think we’ve lost a lot of humanity in that equation. And, slowness I think is a very useful and powerful lens for rethink. What we want from our lives and what we want from wor the world and what we want from science and how it’s gonna reshape the way we move through the world and so on.
So I, I feel like in phrase, as slow as, and people often talk of it as a founding text for the slow movement or for a lot of these other books that have come since and are still coming out or these days at a rate of knots telling us how to think about time and use time in a more human and humane way.
So, yeah, I guess in some ways it feels. I got there first in a weird sort of way. And, yeah, I’ve written four books now. Four books for adults. I’ve just written my first children’s book actually. It’s The Journey which is about slow travel but the four adult books. I sort of, I sort of wonder as a writer, if you maybe get, you’re lucky if to get one book that has had the impact In Praise of Slow has.
I mean, it’s. Like I say, it’s like now, it’s as of this week now, the 36 languages, and it just, it just, you know, it’s on university syllabuses from the business school to medical colleges to arts foundation degree, you know, it just, so, it just seems to get into every nook and cranny of the way people challenge the status quo. You know, it’s a useful lever, slow with a capital S. So yeah, it’s, it’s kind of weird and overwhelming and kind of gratifying to have written that book, I suppose, in that sense.
Claire Bown: Yeah, absolutely. And do you think your own relationship with slowness has changed in the past 20 years?
Carl Honoré: I wouldn’t say it’s changed. It’s evolved. I’d say it’s deepened. I mean, one of my real fears of when I sat down to write In Praise of Slow was that I would come up with a book that made sense on paper, was coherent as an idea and an argument, and that worked for some people, but didn’t do anything for me.
Because, because I was kind of, in a way, I look back now and I realized just writing it as a form of extended therapy, right? I, I was a card carrying Roadrunner. The virus of hurry was coursing through my veins. I needed to slow down. And so I, I wrote that book to slow myself down and it worked. You know, I came out the other end an altered figure, right? I mean, and I look now and think about how I live my life in how I approach each moment, and I do do it in a slow way. So a lot of people look at my life from the outside and will say, well, hang on. That doesn’t look very slow at all. Right? You know, you do lots of things, you’re very active.
But what really matters is what I feel. And I used to feel in the bad old days, in my, you know, before and after my, before, I used to feel rushed. I genuinely felt rushed all the time. I mean, I had such a neuro. Unhealthy relationship with the clock. I was always looking at the time and thinking, well, they’ve got two minutes left.
What can I do with this? Or what did I do with the last five minutes? Was that productive enough? And it just was a vortex of superficiality and tail chasing. And I was, I genuinely headless chicken and now I’m not. Right. I mean, I get a lot done. I have a lot of fun. But I genuinely do not feel rushed anymore.
I mean, it’s quite, it’s quite a feat really, when you think what I was like before, and it, and in some ways, it’s not just about me. Well, in many ways, it’s not just about me, right? Because I, I stand here as Exhibit A, right? I have proof that a type A. Fully signed up, member of the Cult of Speed can turn it around 180 degrees and be someone who still lives in, thrives in and loves the modern world.
Right. And I’ve got an iPhone. I’m on social media. I travel, I play fast sports like ice hockey. I love speed, but I don’t feel rushed anymore. Right. And there’s a kind of gentle magic in that. I think that’s, cuz that’s what Slow is all about. It’s not. Becoming a Dalai Lama and meditating nine hours a day.
I mean, that’s one version of slow. Another version of slow is to toss the iPhone and live in a bothy and grow organic carrots, and that’s wonderful for some people. That’s not going to be a workable, viable way of being for most people, right? The way for it is to take slow as a, as a kind of mindset if you like, you know, a way of arriving at each moment and thinking to yourself.
How can I not get through this moment as fast as possible? And squeeze as much into it as possible. But how can I make the most of this moment?
How can I fire up all my senses and get the most out of this next hour? Rather than thinking, how can I squeeze as much as possible in Right. Just kind of flipping that switch. And how that’s utterly revolutionary in for all of us in every moment.
Claire Bown: Yeah. And I think that brings me really nicely onto slow art.
You mentioned slow art briefly in, In Praise of Slow, you talk about the perspective of artists creating art more slowly, but also people making art to slow down. And I think in, in recent years, particularly in the last 10 years since I’ve been working in this area slow looking has come a lot more into the foreground, you know, creating deeper, more meaningful museum programmes as an antidote to the kind of the highlights tour, the rushed experience of the museum.
So can you tell us a little bit about the, the slow art movement and how it fits into the, the wider slow movement? How are you involved?
Carl Honoré: Well, there are many people playing around with slow in the art space. And really it’s thinking about art as a lever that we can pull, a way of a lens we can bring to the world that helps us slow down.
So I think of art playing into slow in three ways. One is how we make it. So the actual act of making art, I think if you make it properly with the slow spirit, can be very slowing, right?
Because it’s about all those things that aren’t frictionless, right? The making of art has is all about friction. It’s all about collisions and small mistakes, and then pivoting and going down in a rabbit hole and hitting a dead end, and then coming back and that to me, there’s a majesty and a magic and a music in all of that.
That’s about the making of art. Then there’s the consuming of art. I spoke earlier about how a fast forward culture, roadrunner culture is, is dehumanising. I think that art rehumanise us because it slows us down. Art invites you to, to pause, to contemplate, to look hard, to stare, to think, to stop and stare to see the big picture, to join the dots, to fire up your senses. Do all those things that get crowded out when it’s all about rushing from A to B as fast as possible. So art used the word antidote to, to the speed culture. That’s the word I often use for art as well. I think it’s, I mean, it’s there for all of us, right? We all have an artistic sensibility.
We all have an instinct as human beings to create in some form or other. So I, I think there are many ways that we can tackle and take down the speedaholic industrial complex. But I think art is one of the most powerful allies we have in that battle. And so I think, and you do see museums, I think becoming more and more attuned to what art can do, trying to find ways to move away from the fast food approach to serving up art to people, you know, to creating more slow environments, slow programmes. Well, slow art day is, is one example, of course, as a standout example where we invite people just simply to go and, and engage deeply and meaningfully and slowly with one work of art, maybe or two works instead of rushing through and trying to see everything in the museum or the space in one go.
So I feel like art can, art can save us, right? And, and I’m thrilled that more and more these initiatives are
Claire Bown: Yeah.
Carl Honoré: Happening.
Claire Bown: And I think well definitely I’ve been working in this area. I remember when 2010, 2011, first, you know, trying to introduce some of these concepts into museums. It was quite radical, even 10, 11, 12 years ago.
Carl Honoré: Mm-hmm.
Claire Bown: I created a, a museum programme that asked kids as young as six to spend 10, 15 minutes with an object or an artwork. And teachers were not convinced that their kids could do it. Adults weren’t convinced that they could spend that amount of time with an artwork. So what’s been really lovely for me to see is how much more mainstream this has become.
How much more a part of the way we visit museums as this has become, and that it’s not something that is perhaps just once a year or just perhaps certain museum programme, a one-off programme that they might do that. This is much more about an alternative way to visit museums. So how do you think that museums and other cultural institutions can be more welcoming for visitors who want to take a slower approach to art?
Carl Honoré: Well, I think one is to have many more programmes like the the ones you’re putting out there to, because I think not just for children, I think for adults it, when those muscles that we’re born with that allow us to look hard, to think, to be fully in the moment, those muscles for many of us have atrophied.
And so it’s not enough just to say to people slowing down, being with an object for 10 or 15 minutes, contemplating, observing, seeing all the nuances, building a relationship with an object over a a period of time will be good for you. That’s not enough. We’ve lost the, the instinct, the reflex to do that.
So I think we need, certainly for the beginning. We need structures, we need programmes. We need someone like you to sit there and say, okay, let’s just sit in this room here together. Here’s one object. And I’m gonna walk you through some tips and hacks to do that. And then those muscles will come back, especially for children because they’re hardwired to look, right?
I mean, that’s how children interact, that’s how throughout human histories, children have spent time with objects, you know, we’re tactile beings of the physical world, feeling things, and learning about the world and their place in it through a deep dive with physical objects around them.
And so, The first step I think, is to create more and more of these programmes to get those muscles fired up again. And then once the muscles are going and we’ve, and more and more of us have relearned, the lost art of looking, really looking, then it gets easier because then people can go on their own steam to museums and, and bring that spirit with them.
But I think at the same time, museums, galleries could rethink the fabric and the layout. So I was very lucky recently to be at a private view of the Vermeer exhibition in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. And it was a three hour event and an hour and a half in almost everybody else left.
So it meant that I was almost there alone with these some of the greatest paintings in the Western canon, which was just an incredibly lucky moment. But what it made me realize was the way they had laid out the exhibition invited slowness because many of the paintings were alone in one room.
So you had one painting in one room, and then there was no one else there. So that’s of course, brings its own. Opens up more possibilities to slow down because I think when we’re around other people who, someone else walks up to a painting or sculpture and looks at it for 30, well maybe 12 seconds and walks off, we get infected by their hurry and they start to think, well, why do I keep myself here looking for longer?
You don’t have that when there’s no one else around. So I think one thing that. Exhibition spaces could think about two things. One would be to have fewer works per square foot. Right. You know, have some works or someplace where you just have one object in one room. I think that would be immensely powerful.
And then, and this is tricky because you, of course, you want, on one side, you want as many people going through and being exposed to art as possible, but you also want, I think to have fewer people there so that the experience that the people who go is more rounded and intense and textured and nuanced and deep.
Right? So there’s gotta be a sweet spot in there. I mean, we’ve all been to those blockbuster exhibitions where you’re just on an assembly line of visitors. I know that there’s economic reasons to have all those people, but maybe there’s a way to, maybe there’s some sweet spots that could be hit, you know, less is more.
Right. Finding the right number of people. And then maybe extending hours so that you you have certain times a day when it’s a free for all and anyone can come in and then you have an hour in the evening for slow looking where you, every evening you only let a certain number of people in and only have a certain number of works available, and people are just funneled towards a slow experience with a small number of works.
I mean, I’m sort of just speaking off the top of my head here, but I, you know, people who run those institutions, they get, they know that they’re there. They’re there because they. Art and they understand its power and they know that its power is opened up by slowness. So this can happen. Right? This can happen. There are ways to make it slower and
Claire Bown: Absolutely. And I think bringing in that ver mere exhibition as an example is a really good example of a blockbuster exhibition that actually got quite a few things right and did encourage that slowness. Vermeer being a wonderful example in slow looking anyway, his paintings just exhibit that feeling of stillness and slowness.
Carl Honoré: Mm-hmm.
Claire Bown: But you could feel that in that exhibition. And I went as a normal museum visitor and I was quite concerned about how busy it might be and how much looking I would actually be able to do. But as you say, the way that that exhibition was laid out, the thoughtful approach that the exhibition designers and the curators had taken to that exhibition actually helped that to become a less speedy mm-hmm.
Stressful, fast experience. It could have been the opposite, and I’ve certainly been in quite a few blockbuster exhibitions that have been very different. So yeah, there are things that we can do to, to help visitors to slow down. Even just looking at the space itself, as you say, having fewer artworks to look at.
There’s I dunno if you’ve been to the Manchester Art Gallery, but they have a whole space, a whole gallery, which just has one or two paintings in it. And then they position armchairs and sofas in front of them so that you can spend the time to sit down and really get to know these artworks.
So there are initiatives out there and it will be lovely to see more of these in, in museums going forward aswell
Carl Honoré: we were talking there about the Vermeer exhibition. One thing that really struck me, that I think also fits into this same groove was that there was very little text by each painting, and that I can see the argument that could be a double-edged sword, so people who don’t know that much background of Vermeer could find themselves adrift. But the flip side, I think the upside is that it means, you’re forced to unpack the work yourself, right? So it’s inviting you to use your antenna, to use your common sense, to open up to the work to make it sense, rather than going for the low hanging fruit, which is someone else’s interpretation, which you read, think, look at the work quickly and think, yeah, I can see that.
And then move on. Right? The Vermeer, just because there was so little text you had to do some of the heavy lifting yourself and Yeah. And that brings its own joys, doesn’t it? Because you’ve done the lifting, you get to the other side, you think, wow, I, I understood that painting on my own terms.
Right. And, but it took time, but you didn’t have the distraction. And the, the easy giveaway of a long text. So there’s something else to think about there as
well, I think.
Claire Bown: Yeah, yeah, definitely. Because if you’ve not got the label there, then you are forced to, to spend the time with the artwork itself rather reading the text about it, which as you say, is just one perspective. It, you know, and there are so many other perspectives to take into account. So yeah. Lots of great ideas there. I want to move on a little bit. I wanted to mention your book, the Slow Fix, which kind of came in between In Praise of Slow and Before your most recent work you talk about taking a slower. Approach to problem solving, you know, as opposed to sort of rushing to quick fixes. So how do you think that this concept of slow can be applied to other areas of our life? We’ve talked about art, we’ve talked about museums, but if we go beyond that, so what are the benefits of taking a slower, more thoughtful approach to solving problems?
Carl Honoré: I think we live in a quick fix culture where we’re always looking for a speedy solution, right? We don’t want to sit with a problem because this is how you solve problems, really, is to sit with them in the same way as you sit with the work of art to unfurl and unfold it and get to the core, get to the heart of the matter.
We’re always looking to take out the symptoms rather than the root cause with problems. And, and a slow way of approaching it is to is to take down the hurry, to, to invest the time and attention, to understand the problem from all angles, and then to be playful a little bit, you know, to take your time to play around with the possibility of different solutions and then, and then to test them out.
So there’s that. All of that takes time. But of course, It saves time in the long run. This is the, the glorious, delicious paradox of slow in every walk of life, especially problem solving, is that it, it actually often ends up being faster than the fast approach, right? Because what always happens with a quick fix is that we, we get it out the door now we think, yeah, we’ve dealt with that. And then a little later, the quick fix blows up in our face and we’ve gotta spend a whole much more time and money putting it. The second time or the third time. The slow fix approach is to invest that time and attention and energy and resources at the start. To get the right solution the first time.
You know, so you, you take a little bit more time up front, you slow things down and then you save yourself a whole lot of hassle later on. So I guess some of the elements of the slow fix would be, well simply just taking the time to, to let your mind wander to see the problem as a work of art. You would see a work of art, to see it from every angle, to go away from it and come back, you know, so that you see it with fresh eyes, a different perspective to bring other people into the equation to help you see things. You know, the, the power of the crowd crowdsourcing or teamwork and collaboration, you know, helping us rotate the world so we see it and its problems from different angles. Also just, I mentioned the word play there as well, I think to have a playful approach.
To anything is helpful, right? We so many things that we achieve and learn and enjoy as human beings come through play, right? We’re, we’re, we’re animals of, of, of, of play and solving problems is very much a part of that. That’s why if you look at the gaming world, right, which is all about play, it’s all about solving problems, and it’s because it’s marshaling and tapping that deep human instinct for play as a glorious act on its own terms for its own sake, but also sometimes as a very useful tool for interacting with the world and solving problems. And of course play again is one of those things that’s slow. You can’t, you can’t speed up play, you can’t say to a child or, or an adult, play faster, right?
Or have fun faster. It doesn’t work like that. Play only becomes play when we back off, slow down and letit spool at its own rhythm and its own tempo. So yeah. So those are some of the ways of thinking about problem solving with a, a slow lens. Nice.
Claire Bown: Yeah. And I’m looking at your most recent work, and I’m thinking about all the connections between your books and for me, the concept of time, is a factor that comes up time and time again.
And how you adopt perhaps a more intentional a mindful approach to life. You know, in, In Praise of Slow, you’re telling us that we need to slow down to, to appreciate the richness of life. And in your most recent book, Bolder, you are encouraging us to embrace aging and to make the most of the time that we have.
So yeah. How do these two books fit together?
Yeah, it’s funny, when I first sat down to write Bolder, I didn’t think of many connections with slow. And then of course, as I began digging deeper it, I realized that there were some overlaps. And there’s a, a big Venn diagram in my working thinking life that you’ve identified there.
And I think time is the centre circle, right? Where all these things intersect. So when you think about aging one of the things that happens, To most of us as we get older is that we slow down physically. Right. We don’t have the, I mean, even elite athletes by the time they’re in their thirties, don’t have the explosive speed than they did in their early twenties.
Right? So we, we physically, we tend to slow down. And in a world that prizes and worships speed, that’s slowing down looks like a form of failure, looks like a punishment or a disease even. Right? So that I think, explains part of the cult of youth is that we just abhor any kind of slowness. And so if we’re having to slow down a little bit in some ways in later life, that looks like a form of failure to us.
Right. But of course the flip side of the discussion about slow is that slowing down if you do it right, brings a whole banquet of riches, right. To our understanding and our engagement with the world. And that’s something that you do notice as well across all socioeconomic groups and cultures, is that as people get into the second half of life, we tend to get better being in the moment at focusing on one thing at a time we get often a little bit more patient. Our social acumen and social smarts improve. We get better at forging deeper relationships with people. All these things are tied up with slowing down, right? These are all benefits of slowing. There are things that are, are there for all of us at all ages but there’s a little superpower angle as you get into the second half of your life, right? That that’s just the way we tilt as human beings, that that’s the way we evolve. We tend to get better at some of those things that are slow. So, you know, you think of the Silicon Valley mantra, move fast and break things right?
And that can be useful to have some people in a company that have that spirit. But you also need to have some people who will tend to be older, more experienced people. Who can say, hang on a minute here, is it worth moving fast at this moment? And is this something really that we should be breaking?
Right? You need that mix of people, right? So I guess my take on aging now is completely different from what it was before. I mean, I, I was definitely a signed up member to the Cult of Youth, and now I’m not, now, now I see aging as a Well, it’s a privilege, isn’t it?
And the alternative is pretty grim. But, but also I see so many of the benefits now, which I don’t think I was open to before. Too tied up with the idea that aging was somehow a downward spiral in every way, when in fact, it’s just not, there’s some, I mean, we do lose some things as we grow older, but the truth is that many things stay the same and some even get better.
And, and once you sort of open yourself up to that more nuanced view of the great, graceful arc of life, right? I’ll tell you what my favorite metaphor for aging now is gaming, and I’m not I’ve mentioned gaming twice. I’m not actually a gamer at all, but, but the, but I think of aging now as a, as a, as a series of levels.
So in a game, you go from level to level. So I’m 55 years old now, so that means I’m at level 55. So during this level, I will make the most of being in level 55, I’ll go out and get all the treasure you can get here. I will gather the most amazing swords. I don’t know, the morning start, whatever it is, you know?
No, I’ll get, I’ll ferret out. And, and, and, and enjoy every single adventure in level 55 and sometimes during level 55, I will look back and think, man, back in level 29, I did this and that was a lot of fun, but I won’t want to go back to level 29 cuz I’ve made it all the way to level 55. And actually what I’m looking forward to is level 56.
I’m thinking what’s waiting for me in level 56? What will be the different kind of treasure? I will unearth there what new adventures are lying in wait and that, I think that’s the spirit I think I wanted to have for myself and suggest for other people to think about aging as, as an adventure, right?
That you’re moving through these different chapters, these different levels, and each one brings its own smorgasboard of, of shimmering possibilities, right? If you embrace it as a process of opening doors instead of closing them, then everything stretches out before. To the Verizon.
Oh. So it is a lovely analogy, thinking about it as different levels that we might achieve or go through as we, as we go through life and think about what, what’s the next level that I can achieve?
Some great tips there on really thinking about, you know, how to, to, to embrace positive aging. Is there. Yeah. Are there kind of any new projects or initiatives that you’re excited about? What’s, what’s next for you in terms of your writing and speaking on the slow movement and positive aging? Is there anything new that you’re working on that you’re excited about?
Carl Honoré: Uh, Yeah. Gosh, there’s so many things that are happening at the moment. I mean, I’m very excited about art as it happens. So the Tempo Di Arte, the slow art thing in Spain is really going from strength to strength. So I’m digging deeper into that. I’m doing some work which could turn into a TV series looking at our attitudes to aging and longevity and so on.
So that could be very exciting. And I’m also playing around with writing a new book. I’m tempted to write a book about rituals and why we’ve always had them, and why they’re important, and why they’re powerful and why we need them now in this time of upheaval and uncertainty why and disunity, why we need them now more than ever. And there’s something about rituals I realize too that’s all about repetition and time and, and fixing us in time and space and slowness so although I didn’t go into the rituals thing thinking at all, this is another thing to do with slower time, I’m now, as I dig into the search, I’m realizing that it’s, it’s just gonna fit into my Venn diagram of time, contemplating time. So, Yeah. Those are some of the things that I’m, I’m toying around with at the moment.
Claire Bown: Brilliant. I can see exactly how that would fit into your existing body of work.
Mm-hmm. And extend it even further. So I’d love to see that come out in the future. So finally, would you offer any advice to anyone listening about incorporating more slowness into their lives, regardless of their age or their circumstances? Yeah. Yeah, definitely.
Carl Honoré: Yeah, I’ve got some quick tips for slowing down.
The first one is just simply is do less, right? We are chronically trying to do way too much, so I, I would recommend that everybody look at what they’re trying to squeeze into their calendar every day for the next week and just pick the least important thing and drop it. Just simply drop it. Like we are always trying to squeeze things into our daily routines that are not that important, right? There’s almost always something that can go, so just let it drop. It reminds me of that quote from Warren Buffet, the legendary investor who said, once the difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say no to almost everything, right?
So my, my book is called, and Praise of Slow could very easily be called In praise of No. So get that no vibe out there going, you know, streamline, focus on what’s really important. Do, less. Do one thing at a time, right? Multitasking is a myth. It doesn’t work. Monotask one thing at a time, wherever possible.
Second tip, turn off your phone. A really simple thing. You use the off button. Carve out moments when you’re not moving at the speed of software and you’re not distracted by TikTok and you are just in the physical world. Moving at a human pace. A third tip is to incorporate some kind of slow ritual.
There are rituals coming back in and that’ll be different from everybody, right? It could be, I don’t know, knitting or reading poetry or sketching something. Doing something art, crafty. Yeah. Something that just vaccinates you against the virus of hurry and just build that into your day. Doesn’t have to be four hours, it can be five minutes.
You know, just something that will slow things down. Work as a break on you and, and then a final thought. Get out into nature, right? Being in green space, we know is the ultimate soothing pill, right? For taking down stress, slowing us down. So, and you don’t have to go way into the wilderness and walk in a for, I mean, that’s great if you can, but even just being in a park, right?
Or if you’re in a city, go sit under a tree. Just being around green. Slows us down in a really good way. So there, there are some starting tips for, for everybody to reconnect with our inner tortoise.
Claire Bown: Absolutely. Some great tips there. Thank you so much Carl for coming on the podcast, for sharing your wisdom, for talking about In Praise of Slow and the Slow Movement and your recent work with positive aging.
It’s been an absolute pleasure to talk to you.
Carl Honoré: It has been pleasure chatting with you, Claire. Thank you very much.
Claire Bown: So a huge thank you to Carl for being on the podcast today. I hope you enjoyed our chat. Go to the show notes to find out more about Carl’s work and do follow Carl on social media. And before you go next week, I have another special guest for you. So make sure you follow the show to be the first to hear about who I’m talking.
And if you wanna get more slow looking into your life and make it a regular practice, join us in the Slow Looking Club. We have regular themes and slow looking get togethers. It’s absolutely free. And I’ve put a link in the show notes so you can come and join us. Now that’s. Sit for this week. Thank you for listening.
I’ll see you next time. Bye. Thank you for listening to the Art Engager podcast with me, Claire Baum. You can find more art engagement resources by visiting my website, thinking museum.com, and you can also find me on Instagram at Thinking Museum, where I regularly share tips and tools on how to bring art to life and engage your audience.
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