Recently, a fellow artist sent me an article about a well known British sculptor who decided to make work that could be absorbed in just a few minutes. She decided to do this as she had observed that many if not most people pause for very little time in front of any art work.
In 2001 two prominent scientists in the field os empirical esthetics, Jeffrey and Lisa Smith, studied visitors at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, recording the time they spent viewing six different artworks. The results? 17 seconds per artwork.
While I admire this woman for making this choice and changing her work, It is not my choice. My work is created slowly. I layer the paint on my canvases and the development takes time and intention. The large pieces take months to complete. Even the smaller works, are an investment in time.
Why? Because, my hope is that people will spend time with them and be rewarded with new insights. I think people derive the most benefit from art when their emotions and intellect are impacted from the visual stimulation.
I am thrilled when someone spends even 5 minutes or so ( at a reception for instance) engaging with the work. I always find their comments insightful ( I realize I used insight twice there but really what other word is there?)
However most people glance. They may stand a minute but mostly they barely pause to look.
I was thinking about this just the other day. I do not paint for the vast majority of people.
I paint for the few who can slow down.
I am also aware of the fact that I want people who buy my work to enjoy the paintings for many years, finding new places to rest their gaze in differing lights and over time.
I decidedly do not want the work to be like a one line joke, completely understood in a brief instant.
Well I am not alone in this desire for slow appreciation of art. In fact there is such a thing as a “Slow Art Day” celebrated yearly. Beginning in 2015 the official “Slow Art Day” was held on April 11 at many museums. This year the celebration was held on April 15.
On these days museum-goers are encouraged to spend more time contemplating selective artworks. The Tate Museum of Art in London has printed a Guide to Slow Art and I am pasting the section on “tips” below. (You can find the full article here ).
I hope you take a few minutes to immerse yourself in an art work soon. In the process, you will make discoveries about the work you are enjoying and maybe about yourself.
A FEW TIPS
Make yourself comfortable. Find a place, bench, stool or space on the floor that gives you a good view of the work. Feel free to stand or move around the artwork, to explore different perspectives.
Don't worry if nothing comes to mind at first. Be patient. Try focusing your attention on a particular detail. Try to forget any expectations, as well as anything you 'know' about the artwork. Keep an open mind. If you are still struggling, consider one of the following themes as an entry point: texture, colour, shape, symbols, story, perspective.
Trust in your own authority and intuition. Pay attention to your first impressions. Don’t underestimate the reason why you were drawn to the work in the first place.
Let your eyes wander. Your mind will try and make connections between elements of the work. These connections might be intended by the artist, or unique to you. It doesn’t matter, both are valid. See things from a fresh perspective. Make the familiar strange. Try and spot the details hiding in plain view.
Be aware of your surroundings. Don’t try too hard to shut out what is going on around you. Don’t be put off by those squeaky shoes or the sound of visitors chatting, this is part of the fun of slow looking.
How do you feel? Pay attention to how your mind and body respond. This might be in a subtle way. Does the art help you feel calm, does it irritate you, excite you? Does it trigger any memories?
Share your findings. How do you feel about this artwork now you have studied it in detail? Try and summarise your thoughts. This could be in your head, with your friends, or with the strangers looking at the artwork with you.
Look again. Try a different artwork, the same artwork, straight away, after a coffee break, on a different day. How does it look in other conditions: on a rainy day, on a bad hair day, on your birthday?
Lastly, here is one of my paintings that reveals itself s-l-o-w-l-y.
It is called Sanctuary/ Into Color and Light