Episode 94 of the Art Engager features another special guest, Phyl Terry, Founder of Slow Art Day.
Slow Art Day is an annual event that encourages participants worldwide to look at and discuss art slowly. Over 1,500 museums and galleries on every continent, including Antarctica’s McMurdo Station, have participated in Slow Art Day.
I first got in touch with Phyl back in 2013 when I heard about Slow Art Day. We chatted together over Skype to talk about how I could help out.
Today, we resume our conversation 10 years later on Zoom to explore how to spend more time with art and why slow looking benefits us all.
Phyl talks about how Slow Art Day originated and the hour long experience he had with a painting that blew him away.
We explore about how Slow Art Day has evolved over the years and some of the unique and memorable events that have taken place over that time.
We chat about how organisations can participate in hosting their own Slow Art Day events and how individuals can take part even when there are no events near them.
Phyl shares how Slow Art Day is radically inclusive, promoting the idea that anyone can engage with art without the need for prior artistic knowledge, through the act of slow looking and reflecting. Radical inclusivity is all about fostering a more accessible and inclusive art experience for all.
Finally, Phyl shares their thoughts on the future of Slow Art Day and how it might evolve as a movement in the coming years. The conversation is filled with insights and reflections on the importance of slowing down and spending more time with art. Don’t miss this one!
Episode 46 What is Slow Art Day
Download my free Slow Art Guide
Hello and welcome back to the Arts Engager Podcast. I’m your host Claire Bown of Thinking Museum, and this is episode 94. So I have another very special guest for you today on the show. In case you don’t know, Slow Art Day is coming up on 15th of April, 2023. Slow Art Day is an annual event where participants worldwide are invited to look at and discuss art slowly.
If you want to find out more about Slow Art Day, go see Episode 46. But today I’m delighted to be speaking to the founder of Slow Art Day, Phyl Terry. Now before we get into our chat, last week I had another wonderful chat with bestselling author, broadcaster two time Ted Speaker and Voice of the Slow Movement, Carl Honore.
We covered so many topics from his first book In Praise of Slow to his latest one, Bolder. We talked about the benefits of slowing down and the role of art, of slow art in creating a slow culture. So do go and listen to that episode if you haven’t already. It’s Episode 93. And 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 show notes 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 does help to keep this show growing and going.
So let me introduce my guest this week, Phyl Terry is the founder of Slow Art Day, and they’ve spent two decades helping people learn how to look at and love art. Phyl first launched the Slow Art Day program in the heart of the great financial crisis knowing that slowing down would help ease anxiety as well as create the conditions for what Phyl calls ‘radical inclusivity’.
Radical inclusivity means slow art day does not seek to tell people what to see or how to interpret art. Rather, it seeks to create a global movement, a movement where museums and galleries help visitors include themselves in the art experience. And this is simply through the acts of looking slowly and then reflecting on what they’ve seen.
Now, the Washington Post captured this spirit of Slow art Day in a featured article, it said ‘the slow art movement isn’t just about staring endlessly at paintings, it’s also about accessibility’.
Today more than 1500 museums and galleries on every continent that includes the McMurdo Station in Antarctica have participated in Slow Art Day.
And when Phyl isn’t slowly looking at art, they run collaborative gain. A private community of senior executives in the digital world centered on the art of asking for help.
They also write books, including Customer Included and Never Search Alone, delivers keynotes and talks at Harvard Business School. Apple Microsoft, google and many others, and in addition, they also run two other pro bono programs, the Reading Odyssey and the Warren Buffet Reading Group.
Now, I first got in touch with Phyl back in 2013 when I heard about Slow Art Day. Today we resume our conversation 10 years later and we chat about the importance of slowing down and spending more time with art. Phyl talks about how Slow Art Day started and the hour long experience he first had with a painting that started it. We talk about how Slow Art Day has evolved over the years, and we mentioned many unique events that have taken place over that time.
So many to mention from all over the world. Importantly, we talk about how you can take part, either as an organization hosting an event on Slow Art Day, or as a participant, even when there are no events near to.
We touch on the impact of the Covid 19 pandemic on Slow Art Day and how the initiative continues to evolve and grow year on year as awareness increases awareness for the benefits of slow looking. And we see that museums have started finally to incorporate more slow looking into their programming.
Finally, Phyl discusses what the future might look like for Slow Art Day and how it might evolve as a movement over the next 10, 20, or even 40 years. I want to leave the introduction there for now as Phyl says so much during our chat. It was such a pleasure having Phyl on this show to talk about Slow Art Day.
Claire Bown: Hi Phyl, and welcome to the Art Enager podcast.
Phyl Terry: Wonderful to be here. Claire, such a fan of yours.
Claire Bown: Oh, well, likewise, Phyl. I’m delighted that I could get you on the podcast just ahead of Slow Art Day, which we’ll dive into in a minute. But for now, can you tell our listeners where you are right now and perhaps share a little bit about your background and your work?
Phyl Terry: Sure. I’m in Brooklyn, New York, so United States. And as you know, the founder of Slow Art Day. I’ve spent about two decades helping people learn how to look at and love art by slowing down. And I see slowing down as an act of radical inclusivity, which we can talk about. Yeah. So, you know, so Slow Art Day, just to say, you know, we’ve had 1500 museums and galleries on every continent, Claire, including Antarctica, the McMurdo Station.
Claire Bown: Amazing.
Phyl Terry: Crazy. But when I’m not slowly looking at art or running Slow Art Day, I run a company called Collaborative Gain, which is a private community of senior executives in the digital world centered on the art of asking for help. I teach executives how to ask for help and really learn from each other, and I see asking for help as a, as a really powerful and important habit. I also write books including customers included, which is about customer experience.
I ran a customer experience firm for 15 years and really focused on design and experience questions, which is what led me into Slow Art Day initially. And a recent book called Never Search Alone which is a completely new way to look for a job. And it’s quite relevant to anyone in the art world, in the museum world, who’s thinking about either get, getting a promotion or a next step in their career.
I also, I give a lot of talks and keynotes at big companies like Apple and Microsoft and Google and startups and so forth. I also run an adult curiosity program called the Reading Odyssey, where we run, in collaboration with scholars, reading groups online, and also the Warren Buffet Reading Group, which is an introductory program for high school students aimed at making business more accessible, especially for girls of colour.
So that’s a little bit about me.
Claire Bown: You do so much, Phyl. I’d say you are perpetually curious. I’d love to focus on Slow Art Day for this episode. Slow Art Day is this year on April the 15th. It’s always a Saturday in April every year.
And this episode will be coming out just a couple of days before this year’s event. So could you tell us how it started?
Phyl Terry: Sure. So in the heart of the great financial crisis, right back in2008, the Jewish museum in New York had this wonderful exhibit called ‘Action Abstraction’, and it was really focused on the post-war art movement in New York.
Right. So you had Jackson, you know, Pollock, and you had Gorki and you had, you know Hans Hoffman and I went on a Saturday in part ,because I’ve come to believe that, among many, many wonderful things about art and learning to look at art, it helps to ease anxiety. So, sort of this intense moment, I go to this exhibit, it’s a Saturday.
Now, this is a secret for your listeners to know. If they’re in New York on a Saturday, you go to the Jewish Museum, it is Shabbat, but it’s open. And because it’s Shabbat, there’s no commerce, so it’s free. And because it’s Shabbat, nobody thinks it’s open, so no one’s there.
Right. So I had the entire museum to myself. And I spontaneously decided to sit in front of Hans Hoffman’s 1943 piece of art called Fantasia, this wonderful painting, and I decided to look at it for an hour. Now, I don’t come from the art world, and I just imagined I was in my living room and you know, Hoffman in front of me, Pollock over to the left, Gorky nearby.
Lee Krasner, who’s a favorite of mine, all this wonderful art. And it blew me away. Like looking at a single piece of art for an hour, 30 minutes in, Claire, 30 minutes in, I realized that I had missed that there was a significant amount of black in the painting. like what? How did I not see that? You know, there was so much as I slowly looked. I always tell people, your first slow looking experience is a little bit tough. You know, you’re gonna wanna grab your phone, you’re gonna wanna multitask, look around, you know, cause we’re in this frenzied society, but something magical happens around minute one or two and you just get absorbed into the experience and time warps.
And you start to see and think and experience these little explosions in your brain, right? And so at the end of that experience, I literally leapt up and said, ‘Hey, Most people don’t know this’. Most people spend, the statistics are somewhere between seven and 17, maybe 25 seconds, looking at any individual piece of art.
And half of that time is at the label and so, and no wonder people are exhausted when they go to an art museum. They go look at a hundred pieces of art for 15 seconds, which is just a, a quick recipe to blind yourself.
And, and by the way, the majority of people don’t go to art museums.
And I really thought, you know, not only is this a new way for people who already go to art museums to look, but it might be an act of radical inclusivity that makes the art museum more accessible for people who don’t go, right. And I decided, listen, we are gonna just make clear, you don’t need to know a thing.
You don’t need to have read any books, taken any art history classes, listen to any lectures, to look at art. It’s a fundamental human experience. And once you start slow looking, you might be inspired to go learn more, which is great, right?
And that’s what we’re hoping to challenge with Slow Art Day
Claire Bown: Absolutely agree with the sentiment behind Slow Art Day, which is why I reached out to you 10 years ago, which I can’t believe it’s been that amount of time. When I first contacted you and said, how can I get involved and help spread the word? Because at the time I was kind of on my own slow looking journey. I just created a program at a museum which encouraged slow looking for school children as young as six. And I wanted to spread the word, but I also found that slow looking really wasn’t that commonplace. It really wasn’t happening in a lot of places. It really wasn’t being encouraged. And in fact, even some of the school teachers coming to the museum for that program were quite sceptical about ‘How are you gonna get my students to look at a work of art for that amount of time?’ listening to you talk, I’m really curious as to why you suddenly decided to sit down for an hour with that painting, because as you say, an hour is incredibly long time for someone, anyone really, anyone looking at art?
So, do you remember why you chose an hour? Was it a challenge to yourself?
Phyl Terry: I think it was both. Like, ‘Hey, this is my living room. Let me just sit back and, and look for a long while’. But also I had previously read something where an art critic had referenced this notion of seven or 10 or 15 seconds, right.
And I thought, well, what if I flipped that upside down and, and spent a longer time?
And by the way, you know, with, with the Slow Art Day movement, you know, at first I thought, well, I’ll recommend people go look for an hour. And I thought, okay, that might be hard, you know, so we suggest 10 minutes, right?
But, anything past a minute or two really starts to change the experience and creates a new relationship with the art.
And Claire to the point of young people. So in the early days of, Slow Art Day, I went out to San Francisco and I had a friend who had three young boys.
They were like four, six, and eight. And I said, listen, let’s go to an art museum. She said, ‘Phyl, these are three boys. They’ve never been to an art museum. They’re gonna bounce around the walls. It’s not gonna work’. I said, ‘trust me, trust me’. And we went to the De Young in San Francisco, and I said, here’s what we’re gonna do. In each room I’m gonna pick one of the kids, and I’m gonna say, ‘ you choose the piece of art that we’ll all look at slowly together for a few minutes. And they did. And we looked for, you know, three or four minutes, whatever it was. And I said, ‘okay, what’d you see?’ I didn’t try to lecture at them or whatever. There’s a lot of great prompts, but the best one is, What’d you see? And it was great. Each room, a different kid picked and they loved it. And in the final room. We were just walking through leaving the museum and it was modern, color abstraction stuff.
And there’s a totally white canvas and that was all it was, right? But the four year old looked at that for a moment, and turned to me and said, ‘What is that? Are they trying to question what is art?’
I was like, what? What? You know, like people study for years to get that insight, you know, so in the early days of Slow Art Day, we did a program at El Barrio Museum Del Barrio in Harlem, and we worked with a community program.
We brought in, you know, 15 Hispanic and African American youths, who, also by the way, had not been to a museum maybe once with school, but you know, had never really done it on their own. And we did a, a slow looking experience and they couldn’t love it more. Right.
And people ask me, what kind of art or what kind of person is it?
Every kind of art and every kind of person.
Claire Bown: Absolutely. Absolutely. As I always say, this is something that anyone can do and you can do it anywhere at any time. You don’t need to have any specific tools. And starting with that question, as you say, what do you see? So much can come from that, and it’s also an invitation that It invites everyone.
Yeah. You know, everyone can start talking about things that they see and notice. So it’s starting from this, I like to call it a level playing field. Yeah. Which means that everyone feels included and everyone can get involved with the conversation. Yeah. And you mentioned radical inclusivity at the beginning.
Would you like to talk a little bit about that?
Phyl Terry: Look, you know, art museums certainly in the United States, and in Europe and, and around the world. But in the United States, to the extent to which people go to art museums, it tends to be older and white.
And particularly youth of color, they don’t go, they don’t feel like it’s a place for them. So some museums have done things like rock concerts or rap concerts or stuff just to bring people into the museum, which I think is fine.
The only challenge is it doesn’t really mean that you’re interacting with the art. Like you’re not learning how to be with the art, but you’re learning to walk into the door, which I think is really important.
And so, you know I don’t want to build a paternalistic program that tells people how to see.
In fact, I wanna get out of the way of their experience. I want them to build their own relationship and decide what it means for them and what they wanna do with that and, and, and so on.
And so we, we’ve actually built that into slow art day at every level. So we also don’t tell the museums how to design their Slow Art Day events, quite the other way around, we want them to bring their interests, their expertise, their creativity to the fore, and then we just wanna shine a spotlight on that so other curators and educators can learn across the community. So we don’t wanna tell the museums what to do, and we don’t want the museums to tell the visitors what to do. We want this to, to really be something where people can own it from the bottom up.
And by the way, that is in some ways it’s harder to create, right, because we kind of live in a world where people want a prescription, here’s what you do, like really line it out. And there’s value to that. And we just wanted to create kind of the environment, the context and support the creativity.
And, you know, the first four years of Slow Art Day, very few museums embraced it officially, so we did a bunch of ‘guerilla’ looking events all over the world, just through my network and friends and stuff. And people would go and just set up sort of these flash mobs or what I like to refer to as ‘illegal looking’, you know, like not sanctioned by the museum.
But somewhere around 2013…
So one of our volunteers was actually a curator at a museum in the southern United States. And she’s like, let, let’s get the museums to really take this on. And, you know, there was a recognition by then that, that this fast-paced, multi-tasking world was problematic and that we needed to do something different.
And so, we pivoted to say, okay, we’ve kind of established this idea, now let’s have museums officially own it and design it. And that’s really worked. And we’ve now got about 1500 museums who’ve done it.
And now our job at Slow Art Day is, what we do, we have a team of volunteers. It’s all volunteer. There’s no budget here at all. By the way. It’s all volunteer time, including me. All we do all year long is write up reports from all the various museums and galleries that ran their slow art day events in April. We publish them on our blog and then we published ’em in our annual report, which I like to call sort of the Bible of the slow looking movement.
We got four of these annual reports now, and it’s great. Each year they catalog 75 or a hundred different events from all over the world, you know, from forest bathing as you mentioned from a couple of years ago when we were talking earlier, right, to what the National Museum in Sweden is doing. They’re doing their first Slow Art Day this year, and they’ve got this amazing program that they came up with themselves, right.
Which is great. And now we just published about what they’re doing on the blog and that will help other, other educators and curators learn. So for this, that’s what radical inclusivity is. It’s non paternalistic. It’s like, ‘Hey, we are not going to tell you what to do.
We’re gonna just help support you, create what you wanna create’. And in the case of the visitor or the participant looking at the art create the relationship. Slow looking helps you create your own relationship with the art, right? Which is what we wanna have happen. And then you decide what you wanna do with that.
And the golden moment is when visitors, especially people who are not normally included in the museum experience, discover they have a relationship to art and become motivated themselves to learn more or do more. You know, that’s amazing, that’s what we’re hoping to achieve.
So what you won’t find on Slow Art Day is we don’t publish ourselves. A lot of like critical writing about the act of slow looking. Other people do that, which is great, and Claire, you’re a leader in that, which is great. We, we try to essentially be the container for all of that creativity, but not try to be, you know, the, the one authoritative voice, if
Claire Bown: Yeah, I love that. And then you have a focus for everybody’s slow looking as well, which is all we all know is in April every year. And we can all come together and celebrate it around the world. So as you said, as a host, you can sign up via the website. And you can design your own type of slow looking events.
They can be self-guided or they can be, you know, a whole day of events. I know you were talking about the National Museum in Sweden, friends of this podcast, but also FOMU in Antwerp, the Photography museum, I see they’ve got a full day of events as well, or, or you can have one guided event. It’s really open, isn’t it?
Phyl Terry: It’s completely open. We’re not telling you. We want you to just register with us so that we can follow up and write a report. It takes our volunteer team about five hours to write each of these individual reports that we publish throughout the year, and then collate and compile into the annual report. We’re shining in the spotlight on you.
So if you’re doing any kind of slow looking event on Slow Art Day, please let us know and we’ll shine a spotlight on you and, and tell the world about it.
Claire Bown: absolutely. And as a, as a participant, so in the past, I mean, I love taking part in Slow art day activities.
I run my own events, but I also love taking part in other people’s events. So if people register, then participants, individuals can find you more easily. Yeah. So it’s the umbrella under which all these events are grouped, isn’t it, on the website? So, yeah, it is.
Phyl Terry: And, and although we do tell hosts, obviously do your own marketing, you know, cuz you’ve got your own audience and so reach out to them.
But, you know, if people come to our site, we tell them how to, you know, look through and find events in their area.
And if you have listeners in cities where there are no official slow art day events, I have a simple suggestion for them.
Get a group of friends, it doesn’t have to be a big group. A group of four worksperfectly. Go to any museum or gallery, sculpture, garden. You can even do this in a park, by the way, and just look at nature, you know.
But let’s say you go to a museum or gallery and do a version of what I described earlier. So go to four different rooms in the gallery or museum, and in each room, a different person selects the piece that you’ll all look at for 10 minutes. Look at it together for 10 minutes. Silently and look at it and then have a conversation together about it.
And first of all, the slow looking will blow your mind, but then the conversation is amazing. Each person sees something different, and it helps to really build and deepen relationships and community. It’s such a wonderful exercise. I want all of your listeners who aren’t in cities with Slow Art Day activities to go try this anytime of the year.
It is such a wonder. It’s so cool to look together and then talk about it together and say, so let’s say you, Claire and I are looking together at, at, at, you know, at a piece of art. And, and then after 10 minutes we, okay, what’d you see, Claire? And what’d you see, Phyl?
Well, you are gonna see things that I didn’t see. Yeah. And that’s gonna be like, wow, I get to see through your eyes for a moment, and then you get to see through my eyes. And that also, by the way, Is an act of radical inclusivity, not only in the sense that we’re including each of our experiences, but we’re also really learning through doing and listening and seeing how each of us sees the world in different ways.
Claire Bown: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, it’s perspective taking, isn’t it? Seeing how you might see something is completely different to how I might see it. And I’ve been writing about this recently. I’m, I’m writing my book at the moment about the approach that I’ve been developing over the last 10, 11, 12 years.
And I was talking about creating this collaborative culture and slow looking is one of the ways you create that, you know, by sharing what you’ve seen together, building on each other’s interpretation, saying, oh, I hadn’t looked at it quite like that before. And it creates this. Community together. And as you say, it’s such a fun and joyous experience.
And I remember the first ever Slow Art day event I did. We went and had lunch afterwards. And what’s not to like, Art followed by chatting and lunch together. It’s brilliant.
Phyl Terry: There is a museum in the Basque country of Spain that does a full day of slow looking, of cooking, of dancing, of singing, you know, of eating.
It’s called Ur Mara. And they have videos online too, of their, of their singing and cooking and dancing and playing. And it’s intergenerational.
It’s a wonderful, it’s one of the best Slow Art days in the world, in this rural part of, of the Basque country of Spain.
Claire Bown: Brilliant. I’m gonna link to that in the show notes for sure. And that, that brings me to my next question are there any events that have stood out over the years?
There must be ones that kind of linger in your memory as a wonderful event.
Phyl Terry: I’ll just say this, that we, a lot of major museums like the Tate. And so forth, you know, are involved, but also regional and local museums and gallery, like an individual artist can do it in their studio if they want. It’s completely open this way. You know, mass moca and Massachusetts has done a lot of great stuff with Slow Art Day. The Ruben Museum of Art in New York, which really works with a lot of Buddhist art, of course. Australia’s big in Slow Art Day.
There is a town along the historic Route 66 in Illinois that has 15 galleries and museums participating in Slow Art Day
Claire Bown: okay. I know this one. Is it Bloomington? It is. It’s
Phyl Terry: Bloomington. Are you connecting to them?
Claire Bown: No, I saw it online.
I, I was just looking on Twitter and I saw, I was like, oh, there’s a lot of action going on in Bloomington for Slow Art Day. Yeah. And then I looked it up on the Slow Art Day website and saw yes, there’s all these organisations taking part and
Phyl Terry: they’re giving a whole big party at the end. I love it.
They’re turning it into a citywide event. Right. Which, which we hope to see more and more all over the world.
You know, when I started Slow Art Day, I really wanted this to be in person in the museum. I wanted to create a real space experience with Real Art. We were very, very strict about this. That was one of the only rules – it’s gotta be in person. And of course, COVID 19 blew that up. And so the, you know, the moment the lockdowns happened, we, we pulled together a webinar of museums all over the world to teach them how to use Zoom.
And you, they were all freaked out and they didn’t know what to do. So we showed them how to use Zoom and talked about how to run Zoom based, slow looking events. And you know, and by the way, it was also just wonderful community because you know, a lot of these educators and curators, you know, some of them were losing their jobs.
Or having to lay off people on their staffs. Right. So it was, it was such a hard time. And, and so we brought people together and said let’s support each other and here’s some ideas. And, you know, a number of museums, the National Museum for Women in the Arts in, in Washington is a long time leader of the Slow Art Day movement in the us And they did some wonderful slow looking.
The Katona Museum of Art, which is a small museum in a county just north of New York City called Westchester. And they did this wonderful, wonderful session. But the cool thing about doing online, so looking is you know, you can really magnify and look at, you know, really move into a piece of art together in some interesting ways.
And actually Bloomington did something really radical, Pamela Eaton, who was the first slow art day gallery in Bloomington, she did a slow looking drive-by window, so she put art in the window of her gallery and invited people to drive slowly by and look at the art or walk, but you know, like you had to maintain social distances. We humans are amazingly creative. You know, you give us restrictions, we’re gonna find interesting ways to go.
I’ll just mention one other museum by the way, that’s been a really, a real leader, which is the Khanenko Museum in the Ukraine, in Kyiv. And they’ve been hosting for a while.
They hosted last year, you know, within the first month or two of the war. And they did it virtually because of the danger. Bringing people together in this museum, in the middle of Kyiv. But that was really deeply moving. You know, that just blew everyone away. I mean, there’s so much joy in the slow art day world. But there’s also, like any human activity, there’s grief and sorrow.
There’s a museum in Florida called the, the Frost Art Museum, which is on the campus. It’s an academic art museum on the campus of Florida International University. And they, they have now been doing Slow Art Day for 10 years, you know, straight
they’ve done it really consistently, and I found out why this year. Their first slow art day was planned by a then docent and longtime museum supporter named Elena Vanero. And she was really dedicated to art education, provided great support to Miriam Machado, who was and remains director of education.
And in 2013, Vanero led the planning of, of the Frost Museum’s inaugural Slow Art Day. She did a great job. Everything was set. And then in the early morning of April 27th, 2013, which was that year Slow Art Day, Machado, the Director of Education Museum, received a terrible phone call. Vanero had just suffered a massive heart attack and passed away that morning, and the whole museum was in shock and deeply sad.
And in commemoration of Elena Venero’s commitment to the museum, her family created an endowment to fund Slow Art Day in perpetuity there. Wow. As well as other educational programs that reach out to kids and others who don’t feel included in the, in the museum environment. I just learned this story like last week and we just wrote about it on, on. So arte just feel like so thankful to Helena Valero and her family. You know, there’s so that’s incredible. Beautiful stories like this. I, you know, I, I keep saying that one year I am, I’m gonna quit my job and just travel the world and go to every museum that’s been part of so hard day try to meet everyone.
Claire Bown: Phyl you know, I can see a book in this, you know, with all these stories. I mean, the human stories that are involved and, and even that story we were just talking about, the Frost Museum of Art is, it’s so. Touching. It shows the power of art in bringing people together. The fact that an endowment has been set up so that this event can continue year after year in Helena’s memory is amazing.
It’s really wonderful. And is testament to the power of this event as well.
Phyl Terry: Thank you. Well, Claire, you know, I, as you know, I do like to write. So I take that seriously and we should talk about that. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you think a book should look like as and, and I can’t wait for your book.
Can’t wait to see your book. And I think it’s gonna be a really important contribution and help more museums and galleries and educators and curators really, I think embrace the, these concepts. You’ve been a great leader. And I really appreciate all the support you’ve given to Slow Art Day over the years.
Claire Bown: It’s in my blood. I’d say, you know, I couldn’t change the way I work now even if I wanted to. It’s just me. It’s just part of what I do, and I’m so passionate about this and even after all these years, still love talking about it.
Phyl Terry: What is your story if you might?
Do you have a sort of foundational story?
Yeah, so I don’t
Claire Bown: remember where I first heard the word slow looking, but I do know that at the time I was doing some research for the museum I was working at, and I was trying to talk to teachers about what they wanted out of a museum program.
And one of the teachers did mention slow looking there. She said, you know, students want to be engaged with an object. They want to look at it slowly. And I was thinking, oh, what is this slow looking? Maybe there’s something to it. And that led me to, you know, thinking about books I’d read like In Praise of Slow by Carl Honore.
But even going back to John Berger, you know, really way back in the early seventies. And doing more and more research.
I mean, I read ways of seeing a long time ago, maybe that played some role in my decision that day, right? Yeah,
yeah, exactly. So there’s all these kind of influences, but I can’t remember the exact moment.
But for me, the key moment was when I discovered thinking routines. So as a museum educator my, my question was always, how can I give people the tools to look for longer? How can I give a kind of a flexible framework that bends and twists, you know, according to what they need. And when I found the thinking routines and then combined them with the still looking, that’s when it all started to slot together for me.
So yeah, I would say about 2011. So, you know, you’d already started slow, aren’t they, by then? And I was kind of in infancy researching all,
Phyl Terry: We were flailing around trying to make this thing work.
Claire Bown: Yeah, but at the time, you know, there weren’t any books about it. It was still very unheard of. And as I said, off air, you know, I suggested some slow looking events to a museum and they thought it was hilarious.
They really didn’t see that there would be any, any take up for that. People would be interested in participating. And here we are, here we’re, you know, 10 years later
Phyl Terry: I mean, first of all, I don’t come from the art world, so I didn’t have that sort of credibility.
And the big museums here what they were doing at the time, Claire, was ‘selfie day’ Right, yeah. Where people like young people would come in and take a selfie of themselves with a little bit of art in the background. Yeah. I’m like, wait, why don’t we turn that around and, you know, focus on the art.
But like you, yeah, they laughed at me and at the time it was exit through the gift shop, we wanna move people through as quickly as possible and you know, get them to buy stuff at the end. And I said, look, I understand the economic situation that you’re in.
I understand that, but there’s gotta be at least an alternative to that. And, you know, and yeah. So I finally decided, okay, we have to do this as outside. We have to create this.
And eventually, now of course, many museums have embraced it and, and have even figured out that it’s a great donor cultivation tool and a great board of director cultivation tool and a great advisory board cultivation tool.
It’s amazing for that. Right? So the smart museums are doing public events, but they’re also doing like that kind of behind the scenes. It really builds relationships with people.
Claire Bown: The joy comes from the personal discovery. And any information you may find, maybe that’s on that label, maybe it’s from the curator, that’s extra, you know, that’s a bonus that, that would lead you in down further or different parts that you may go. But it’s the personal discovery that is, is the, the joy in this.
And as you found, you notice things after 10 minutes, after one minute, after 30 that you didn’t see before. So it’s the extended looking that really helps us to, to find out more.
Phyl Terry: You know, in the business world, I teach a lot of behavioral economics and you know, we, we are all aware that we have so-called blind spots, right?
But the problem with blind spots is that you literally, you know, you can understand the concept, but you can’t see them in action for yourself.
But if you’re looking at a piece of art for 10 minutes, 30 minutes, whatever, you can have the experience of seeing through blind spots and that, I think that’s a powerful, powerful experience for people.
Now I still think it’s primarily about self-discovery and the joy of art. I don’t wanna try to make it into something else with a business kind of whatever. But I, but I wanted to add that because I think that’s part the power of this is, is it’s one of the very few ways that you can really experience seeing through your own blocks, you know, and, and realizing, geez, if that’s happened here, that’s happening everywhere in my life.
Right? You know and there’s obviously, there’s also much written about perception, we can’t literally see everything. We would be completely overwhelmed. Like the mind has to cut stuff off, but then we need to have tools and techniques for opening. Yeah, absolutely.
Unexpected things. Yeah. Yeah.
Claire Bown: I want to ask you as a final question, we could talk all day, but I’m aware I’ve taken up a loss of your morning already, but I love talking to you. I know. We could literally just sit here all day talking slow art day. So look
Phyl Terry: ahead in person, Claire. That’s crazy.
Claire Bown: We gotta, we got,
you’ve gotta come over.
Yeah. So what’s, what’s in the future for Slow Art Day? What are you looking forward to? What would you, you know, What’s your vision for the future, for Slow Art Day, for the movement?
Phyl Terry: So, you know, we’ve decided a couple of things. Number one, our audience at Slow Art Day is primarily the educators and curators who we’re looking to support and help learn from each other in terms of slow looking, right? So we wanna just keep getting better at that. So obviously we’re gonna keep producing the annual report. That’s been a, that’s been a big win.
What we’re looking to do now is, and it’s happening, which is really cool. We’re seeing more and more museums like in integrate, regular, slow looking into their programming. Monthly, weekly, Slow Art Sundays, whatever. So we wanna see more and more of that, encourage more and more of that.
We are looking, you know, in case any of your listeners, we are looking to rebuild our website. We’re looking for any designers out there who wanna volunteer their time, you know, so that we can, what we have right now. So we have a growing catalog. All of these reports and we have the annual reports, but we wanna do some different things with that.
Makes it easier for the curator, educator to search and find inspiration for designing anything they wanna design in that’s slow looking, not just their official slow art event.
And then eventually we’ll see how this grows, but eventually we might turn to a you know, participant or consumer oriented thing.
But, but for now, we’re sort of behind the scenes supporting the educators and curators who are directly relating to their audiences and visitors and participants and you mentioned a book and maybe there is a book in the future here. I’d love to hear more of your thoughts about what that, what that focus might be, especially.
We’ve tried not to be the ones that come up with the tools like, like you have done. Right? We wanna be sort of the container or the context that supports the broader movement.
And where, the majority people in the United States do not go to art museums.
They don’t go. They don’t look at art at all. Right. So we wanna maybe play a role in changing that, not just here, but all over the world. Yeah.
Claire Bown: Fantastic. Yes, and I’m part of this revolution for whenever it happens. I’m definitely here for it. Woo. Yay. Thank you, Phyl, so much for coming on the podcast. Happy Slow Art Day. I’m so looking forward to celebrating it and seeing what everybody gets up to around the world.
Phyl Terry: Lovely. Thank you, Claire.