Speeding up to slow

Just last week I read an article about how over-used the word ‘busy’ has become to describe how we are to anyone who might ask. Should you be the type of person to use it frequently, it simply points to the fact you are not managing your time correctly. Whilst there is always room for improvement I always think a better question might be “are you making time to consider how you feel?” The reality is, as we know, every one is in such a constant state of rushing and with attention spans akin to a bolt of lightening, that we rarely stop to consider anything. We just ‘do’, constantly seeking the next experience.

“do-its” by Rose Finn-Kelcey. Electronic LED display sign with green fast scrolling two word phrases in green 2002. Owned by The Collective.

The Slow Art movement is not new and always strikes me as rather counter-intuitive to what the big museums and art galleries actually desire in numbers. If everyone slowed down to absorb more of each art work for a lengthened period of time how would queues be managed? How would art institutions raise the funds they need through entrance fees (where applicable) as fewer people might be admitted per day? Having spent an hour queueing to get in to the Georges Pompidou Centre in Paris recently just to get through security, followed by a further queue to get a ticket, and then another to leave your bag, the very idea of ‘slow appreciation’ was hampered by the fact we had no time left to make the most of the great art works in front of us. It felt like a visitor production line and with little seating it was not conducive to slow appreciation. In fact the whole experience made me want to speed through the gallery rooms and make a rapid escape from the fifth floor.

But one experience should not put a shadow on other visits where standing in front of an artwork and observing the brush strokes and lines that make up the work set your heart racing in appreciation. Or watching attentive groups of visitors being guided round by experts who help to share all the things you might have missed. Is it a ‘style of looking‘ reserved for the more elite that requires the ability to listen and to pay attention to the minutia (or the obvious) of what is being pointed out?

Or is “Slow Art” simply ‘a way of describing the modern experience of art itself. ….. which rewards lingering, “slow” attention and thought.’

In 2001 a study by two scientists in empirical aesthetics examined visitors to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, measuring time spent by 150 visitors looking at seven art works. The mean time recorded was 27.2 seconds per art work. In all likelihood this has not changed very much or even decreased, with Arden Reed quoting a much lower figure for US museum-goers in his more recent book.

But does it matter to the average museum-goer if what they get from those 27.2 seconds (or less) is the reward they seek? If it creates a moment in time where visual gratification combines with evoking the right emotion and understanding for the viewer, surely it doesn’t matter to the non-expert how long they spend in front of each art work? However, offering the opportunity to see it through the lens of an expert should always be a consideration should you wish to learn and understand with a more critical and knowledgable eye.  Do people visit galleries to receive visual pleasure or heightened appreciation for a world seen so differently to their own?.  Or do they visit art galleries to gain knowledge and think differently?

In his book ‘Slow Art‘ Arden Reed argues that 250 years ago there was no slow art – because ‘life was just slow in general’ whilst in today’s modern experience “Slow Art can give us the kind of consolation that everyone is looking for.” The artworks “need us to bring them to life with our attention…” or rather our slow appreciation.

But if we suppose that today’s art experience might be based more on instant gratification and a quest for continuous new experiences, perhaps the 27.2 seconds is sufficient and what’s required is more art and more innovative experiences with art? Does it need to be slow to appreciate it?  It certainly needs to be slow-er to learn more about the artist and understand the detail and circumstance.

The concept of Slow Art has been an unacknowledged concept for The Collective ever since it was first set up. But not in the sense of an hour spent per art work in a gallery, but in six months spent living with an art work.  Isn’t this slow art in the extreme

It is not the first time I have mentioned the appreciation that comes with living with art.  You see it in morning light.  You see it at night, or when a visitor asks you about it on a weekend afternoon.  You see it through a range of different emotions, through the peaks and troughs of your daily life and through the different seasons. You may have participated in its purchase, or selected it during an exchange. You may have visited the artist’s studio and understood a wealth of knowledge that brings a fresh perspective.  You may have disliked it, but found it grew on you with time.  Either way you get to immerse yourself in a way that makes the current concept of ‘slow art’ seem more akin to a flash in the pan.  And just when the works have started to become invisible through familiarity, we have an exchange that sees a whole new landscape spread across our homes. Is this the Collective way of endorsing Reed’s words when he says “artworks need us to bring them to life with our attention…. But it is also good for the observer”.  In our case a Collective good.  

If the impact of ‘slow art’ is cumulative, as Reed suggests, living with art can only help teach us more about ‘how to look‘ and ‘how to be generous with other objects’ . Ultimately it will help teach us how to enjoy individual works more fully and satisfy what we are really seeking by looking at art in the first place. Pleasure, insight and knowledge.

  Thanks 

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