Our digital age has taught us to consume content quickly rather than thoughtfully. Even fine art. People can go to a museum, spend hours looking at hundreds of works, rushing through all the galleries, and walk out exhausted, not really having seen anything. I am ashamed to say that this has sometimes been my approach. I’m traveling, I pay a $15 admission fee to the local art museum, and I have three hours to explore; to get the most out of my money, I figure, I want to see as much as possible within that time frame. Where permitted, I snap photos of the pieces I want to spend more time with later when I get home—but then they’re just pixels. I miss out on experiencing their materiality.
The same principle is often at play with buffets too: we pay a set price for access to a variety of foods, so naturally, we want to sample a little bit of everything, overstuffing ourselves so we can feel like we took full advantage of the “unlimited” perk. But as my wise mother says: You’re not paying to feel stuffed; you’re paying to feel satisfied. Go ahead and survey the spread, maybe try a spoonful of whichever dishes look enticing, but then go back for those few that you want a heartier helping of. That’s when you can really savor what you’re eating.
My mom’s advice translates well, I think, to museum going.
In 2008 art-world outsider Phil Terry discovered how nourishing, how energizing, it can be to actually spend time with a work of art for more than the standard eight seconds. In 2009 he officially launched Slow Art Day, a global, annual event whose mission is to help people discover the joy of looking at and loving art. It’s set for April 8 this year—a week from Saturday. The concept is simple: Go to a museum or gallery, look at five different works of art for ten minutes each, and discuss the experience with other participants. One hundred seventy venues (and counting) have signed up as hosts this year. One, the Rubin Museum, has published three tips for those who think, “What do I do while I’m looking?” Also check out the Artsy editorial “How Long Do You Need to Look at a Work of Art to Get It?”
Another resource is the Visual Literacy website of the Toledo Museum of Art. It outlines a six-step process for engaging with art called the Art of Seeing Art™: look, observe, see, describe, analyze, interpret. It elucidates the difference between looking and seeing (likening it to the difference between skimming and reading a text) and provides a vocabulary for discussion, covering the elements of art and the principles of design. I recommend this website to anyone who has ever said (or been told), “I don’t know what I’m supposed to be looking for.” Continue reading “Slow Art Day: April 8, 2017”