Updated: Jun 13, 2022
Would you gulp a fine wine or savor it slowly? Try enjoying art in the same way as you would a fine wine especially on April 14 for international Slow Art Day. You may have heard of the slow food movement, and this is the equivalent of appreciating art unhurriedly, without rushing the viewing. Sadly, the average time a viewer spends in front of a museum art work has been clocked at an embarrassing seventeen seconds. That includes reading the label.
Slow Art Day includes 177 host museums encouraging a more meditative approach to art with a meet-up of attendees afterwards. Slow art combats the “visual fast food” we are bombarded with through visual images so prevalent in media, especially social, web and network TV.
I’ve included four paintings to get you started. Don’t look now, but the captions are at the end of the blog.
I encourage viewers to visit a museum, or at the very least a museum website. Start off by skipping the label. Don’t read it. Just look at the art. Suspend your judgement about what the art might or might not mean. This is harder than it sounds as we are taught to identify and categorize. Avoid internal dialogue about whether you think it is good or bad. Like or don’t like.
In a museum pick only a few art works, four or five. Don’t take a photo. Don’t get the audio guide or app. Now look. Forget trying to learn about who made it, why is it important, what year was it made, and instead just be with the art, and really experience it.
Focus on the colors, composition, lighting, form, figures or patterns. Look at the art up close, from across the room, or off center. Try to observe without criticism. What do you see? Description and observation of art are fundamental to understand meaning and context.
Some aspects for consideration:
What draws you to this art work?
Composition – how is the work organized, how are the figures (if any) arranged.
Rhythm – where does your eye go?
Space – is there perspective depicted or is the space flattened? Describe the space between figures and how that functions in the work.
Light – are there shadows? Is there a source of light or is light even across the picture?
Color – look at the colors. Where are colors placed in the art work? How does color work in the composition?
1. Umberto Boccioni, The Street Pavers, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1914. Boccioni was part of the Italian Futurist movement exalting the modern worker and industrial technology. The workers appear anonymous in a colorful display of cubist-like forms wielding their pickaxes. Digital image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Open Access Policy, CCO 1.0.
2. Caravaggio, The Denial of St. Peter, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1610. Peter is accused of being a follower of Jesus, which he denies for the third time. Caravaggio’s dramatic use of light and dark characterize his work. He zooms in on the figures, condensing the narrative scene to the most essential elements. Digital image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Open Access Policy, CCO 1.0.
3. Amedeo Modigliani, Jeanne Hébuterne, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1919. Jeanne was Amedeo’s mistress and was pregnant at the time he painted her portrait. He was a contemporary of Picasso and worked mainly in France, also as a sculptor. Digital image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Open Access Policy, CCO 1.0.
4. Taddeo di Bartolo, San Gimignano Enthroned with Stories of his Life and Miracles, detail, San Gimignano, Pinacoteca, 1401. The saint is depicted as a fourth century bishop. He holds a model of the city San Gimignano while giving a blessing.