The average visitor to the Metropolitan Museum of Art spends just seventeen seconds looking at a work of art (Empirical Studies of the Arts, 2001). The Met is home to some of the most famous paintings, sculptures, and historical artifacts in the world – works of art that have shaped the history of art and human culture – and yet, we find it difficult to spend even a third of a minute with a single piece. So what should we do? Slow it down.
Image Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Slow Art Day emerged to change the way in which the typical person experiences art. An international event, Slow Art Day invites participants to explore and appreciate art by not just looking at it, but experiencing it. Held annually in the spring, this year’s Slow Art Day is this upcoming weekend: Saturday, April 9th.
Many people attend museums or galleries as a social event, cruising through exhibitions with friends or family, spending only a few moments at each work of art. Slow Art Day does not diminish the value of experiencing art with others; however, it emphasizes the personal discoveries made when taking an extended moment to internalize a work of art. When you actually spend time with art – reviewing the details, feeling the emotions it evokes, analyzing the ideas it sparks – you realize that it has a great deal to offer. Every work of art has the ability to teach us something.
Quality over Quantity
When most people attend a museum, they try to see as much as possible, taking in hundreds of works in a short amount of time. In the end, most are exhausted and take little away from the visit. Slow Art Day hopes to achieve the opposite outcome: using art to energize participants, inspiring new ideas, and creating connections Taking place at museums and galleries across the world, participants are encouraged to spend at least ten minutes looking at five individual works of art. While the process of looking at art is intended to be completed independently, the event is designed to have participants meet up with others later in the day to discuss their experience.
Image Source: MoMA
The idea for Slow Art Day began in the summer of 2008, when founder Phil Terry visited the Action/Abstraction exhibition at The Jewish Museum in New York. He spent the first hour only viewing Fantasia (1943) by Hans Hofmann, where he studied the details of the painting, analyzed the ideas behind it, and formed connections to other works. A drip in the painting made him think of Convergence (1952) by Jackson Pollock, which also hangs in The Jewish Museum. Intrigued by this similarity, Terry recalled that Lee Krasner, the wife of Pollock, had studied under Hofmann, prompting Terry to ponder the relationship, if any, there was between Hofmann’s and Pollock’s drip techniques. Although a simple thought to make, this insight excited Terry to see what other ideas he could form by looking at art more closely.
Hans Hofmann, Fantasia (1943). Image Source: arthistory.about.com.
Jackson Pollock, Convergence (1952). Image Source: WikiArt.
Prior to this experience, Terry did not have a deep interest or knowledge in art, as he had previously approached art as many do: casually glancing at an artwork while moving from one piece to the next. However, Terry’s experience at The Jewish Museum struck a chord within him, and he wanted others to have similar, meaningful experiences with art as he did.
The following year, in August 2009, Terry invited three others to partake in the experience, spending hours at the Museum of Modern Art where they each only looked at a few works. Two months later, Terry organized for sixteen museums and galleries in North America and Europe to host similar events, participating in the beta test. Six months following this test run, fifty-five venues participated in the official launch. Since 2010, Slow Art Day has consistently grown each year, with 205 venues participating in 2015.
Image Source: Minneapolis Institute of Art.
How it Works
Slow Art is run entirely by volunteers, who select a gallery or museum to host the event. Participants can sign up online, meet at the venue, view the art, and then meet with other participants afterwards to discuss their findings, questions, and observations. The experience can be challenging for some, as analyzing one work for an extended period of time is unfamiliar activity to many people. However, once you adjust to the process of analyzing a work of art in depth, a new breadth of knowledge and curiosity opens up.