Monday, 12 May 2014




Happy Museum Monday everyone! My post today will be turning back the calendar a little, as I'm going to chat about an event that happened in April. However, I think we can still run with the idea this month and into the future. So, without further ado, let's chat about Slow Art Day - which was April 12, this year!

Slow Art Day
"Slow Art Day" logo

Now this phenomenon has apparently been going on for a few years - with beta testing starting in 2009 - but I personally had never heard of it (shameful!) until I noticed it all over my Twitter feed this spring. SO - what is it? Well, according to ....

"One day each year – April 11 in 2015 – people all over the world visit local museums and galleries to look at art slowly. Participants look at five works of art for 10 minutes each and then meet together over lunch to talk about their experience. That’s it. Simple by design, the goal is to focus on the art and the art of seeing."

Slow Art Day at Glenbow Museum
Slow Art Day, April 2014 at the Glenbow in Calgary, AB
Check out the full article here.

BUT - How does all the Slow Art Day magic happen?

"Volunteers, as individuals or as museum staff, register to host a group at a local museum or gallery. The host selects both the location and the art to view.  The global Slow Art Day team (also made up of volunteers) provides the tools and support for hosts to run their own events."

(Further details can be found on the Slow Art Day homepage, linked to above)

Brilliant! Such a simple idea, but something so many of us museum/gallery goers completely neglect to do (myself included) - actually look at an artwork/artifact. I'm talking really stand there and take it in - no docent explanation, no text panel reading, no label reading, no mobile apps - just you and your eyeballs getting up close and personal with a work of art/artifact.

Slow Art Day
Slow Art Day in Tuscany 2014

Don't get me wrong, all that helpful contextual information - whether digital, text, or in person - is indeed important (at least I think it is) and can also help really bring a work/artifact alive or make you consider it in a way you never would have before. Especially if you don't know much about a particular work/object to begin with. I just think we (and I am definitely including myself here) just need more of a balance between the amount of time we spend actually taking an artwork/artifact in and considering it for ourselves vs. heading straight for the factual information/curator interpretation. In other words, perhaps we need to first ask ourselves "What do I think about this? What do I think this is?" before we head straight to the label.

Bernini's Apollo and Daphne
Here is a work I recall captivating me the moment I saw it.
Close up of Bernini's "Apollo and Daphne"
Borghese Gallery, Rome, Italy.

Often we hear people say "well, I just don't get this work/composition/object," and proceed to pass on by it. I think Slow Art Day is a great way to remind us that, it's not about "getting it." Really, one may philosophically argue, what is there to "get"? Everyone has the right to their own interpretation, regardless of the background information/contextual information that already exists. We can choose to do with all of that what we will, but we should never be too afraid to look at something and formulate our own ideas.

Eric Swenson
Another work which struck me more recently by Eric Swenson, "Untitled" (2004).

And of course, as with all my posts, I am curious to know what you think! How do you approach the works/objects you find in a museum or gallery? Have there been any particular instances where you found yourself really looking at a work/object? Or, perhaps, you don't buy into the Slow Art idea at all (and do tell!)? I am also interested to know how the institutions that sign up for Slow Art Day go about picking the artworks they include in the event.

This doesn't just have to be limited to the visual arts either. I know I have definitely had to train myself to become a better listener when it comes to music - both classical and especially contemporary compositions. I remember struggling with this one - "The Unanswered Question" by Charles Ives - initially during my undergraduate music studies, but really growing to love it once I actually forced myself to sit and just listen to it, rather than constantly trying to figure out "what's the point?" or "why am I not listening to Beethoven currently?"



  1. Super interesting! I completely love this idea, and agree - it is hard, both on a personal and on a museum publics level, to encourage a pause in the institutional space to contemplate an artworks for an extended period of time. This is especially true with the massive quantity of object on display in the massive museums and galleries. This is something I have definitely tried to actively do myself, but still struggle with. That is, to consider my own ideas and triggers based on the artwork, rather than as promoted by the curator. And yet, I wonder to what extent this perpetuates the idea of art being intrinsically valuable, especially when considered in relation to the use of tombstone labels by traditional art museums. To what extent is it inclusive, exclusive, or just enabling individual interpretation? Just some initial comments that only skim the surface of my thoughts.

    1. I'm glad you brought up the concept of thinking about art as intrinsically valuable - or not- Nicole. Great point! I was definitely thinking along those lines as I was writing my post (I just couldn't fit it all in!). I wonder what strategies we can use for events like Slow Art Day to encourage people to "let the art speak for itself," as it were, but not in an exclusive "you get it or you don't" fashion. I think this all depends on how the institution decides to approach the display of its collection. After all, it can be very overwhelming sometimes to see a stark white gallery with large, unfamiliar pieces of art (whatever kind of art/object it may be) and very little context placed within it. Sometimes we just don't know what to do with that! So I wonder how can we make this an inviting environment which is open to individual interpretations rather than an intimidating environment whose message/interpretation is only accessible by experts or those who "get it". The same could be said for the opposite - galleries so overridden with contextual information that the viewer doesn't know where to look or just does not have the attention span to read every detail in order to "properly understand" the object.

  2. I recently read an article that stated art galleries have a tendency to encourage “grazing” rather than active engagement with art works. The Slow Art Day seems like an interesting way to encourage a different sort of engagement and offer a different avenue to engage with objects in an institution seems like a good idea. I especially like that they give people the opportunity to discuss the works of art.

    However, I share Nicole’s concern about perpetuating the idea that art is intrinsically valuable (which I do not believe). Although not always the case, there is sometimes something to “get” or in some way understand – that is, there is more then “aesthetic value” in art/artifacts. Many works are imbedded with social or historical information, making them challenging to “appreciate” and interpret without pre-existing knowledge.

    Do any participants provide contextual information prior to asking people to spend 10 minutes looking or “seeing”? Or is the idea of the day that people should spend time looking without any introduction? On the website for the slow art day, they encourage taking the time to slowly look at the work, but I cannot find anything stating they do not provide labels or any contextual information (maybe I missed this somewhere?). Is the absence of information implied because people are being asked to “see”? Can we not encourage taking time and, also, being given information in order to provide context? Are those goals somehow mutually exclusive?

    1. Thanks for your comment also Robin! I second your question of whether or not Slow Art Day participants are provided with any contextual information at all. I'm going to guess not, but that's just based off my own understanding. I, like you by the sounds of it, am definitely a proponent of trying to discover the "happy medium" between simply observing a work/object to gather information/form an interpretation vs. doing a little contextual background reading to aid in my interpretation as well. Based on the way I personally learn, I find I get more out of the experience when I can look at an object but also have something contextual to refer to (be it a text panel, label, artist bio, etc.). Then I can determine whether I agree or disagree with any curatorial opinion/theoretical understanding, etc. provided with the work in question, or how my own interpretation fits into (or doesn't) the context provided. So, I suppose to long-windedly answer your question (which is a great one, by the way) - No, I don't think "seeing" and being informed are mutually exclusive. In fact, I think it's very important the we do both together whenever possible.

  3. I also wonder what types of objects are selected to be looked at and how such objects could communicate something about hierarchies of taste which are still present in a museum. Are visitors asked to slowly look at paintings (let's say more traditional objects to be found in museums) or at other objects (for example, a dress or a pair of shoes)? This is more of a rhetorical question/thought that I had while I was readings all the great post and the fascinating comments above!