On Saturday, April 27th, the morning I am to attend ‘Slow Art Day’ at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, a colleague of mine made this timely posting to Facebook:
“Learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.” – Leonardo da Vinci
Stephen Johnson, PEM’S Slow Art Day organizer and group facilitator extraordinaire, mentions this idea later that day—that everything is connected. Slow Art Day participants got a chance to see this first hand.
For those of you (like me) not familiar with Slow Art Day, it’s nationally-recognized by an increasing number of museums and galleries across the world—from Italy to Germany to Poland to Connecticut to Salem. A day where art lovers and newbies alike get the chance to slow down their masterpiece viewing. To really notice what’s there, to see how things are connected, and to make observations they wouldn’t normally make—often due to the average viewing time for a piece of art: an appalling 8 – 17 seconds.
In 2008, New Yorker and Slow Art Day founder Phil Terry began experimenting, wondering what would happen if people changed their art viewing habits. He began the first test himself, inviting other people to join him for additional testing. Response was favorable, as he knew it would be, and after the third test, Slow Art Day was born. It’s clear the event is catching on, since more than 272 galleries and museums participated this year.
How it works: register on the Slow Art Day website for one of the gallery venues (or on your local gallery site). Then, attend your chosen gallery on Slow Art Day and view at least five works of art slowly for five to ten minutes each. Afterward, you have the opportunity to gather together, have lunch, and discuss your impressions and experiences.
Upon arriving at PEM, we are given a list of the works of art Steve has chosen, along with some tips on how to look at art slowly. Some of these tips include: “stand a few feet away and look at the object first as a whole,” and then, “step forward and begin to notice the work itself.” We are advised to “sit down,” to let our eye “rove around the object,” noticing anything that stands out. We are to think about color, shapes, darks, and lights. To make it personal. Steve also chooses a theme—“Passages”—a perspective he says we can use for viewing…or we can ignore it all together.
The ten selected works of art vary from each other greatly and hail from all parts of the world. They include:
Breakfast Still Life with a Roast and a Basket of Cheese, by Dutch master, Pieter Claesz: a truly amazing and photographic-like painting that increases in detail the longer you view it;
Moon Bed, crafted by artist Sing Sing Kung: a seductively-rounded, ivory-inlaid, and intricately-carved wooden bed, opulent in detail and material;
Island Bride, by Maine artist Brian White: a whimsical and fascinating ‘bride gown’ creation of epoxy, wire, and seashells that I can almost envision wearing; and, of course,
the hugely popular exhibition, Soundsuits¸ by fashion designer and performance artist, Nick Cave. The three suits on display are wildly decorative and are made from found objects, (including purses, fabric, porcelain birds, sequins, feathers, and beads), stretching the limits of the imagination to new borders.
What did I learn?
For me, the whole experience is enlightening. Unfortunately, it also tells me I’m probably one of those viewers with “17-second syndrome,” as my husband dubs it. As much as I love art, it’s a real effort for me to slow down, but it becomes easier as the day proceeds.
Steve then leads our group of nine or ten in a lively discussion that lasts nearly an hour and includes comments and observations that spark our imagination and our anticipation for future Slow Art Days at PEM.
Slow Art Day’s goal is simple: “to focus on the art and the art of seeing.” Steve says he is a big advocate for having people slow down in general, and that technology has made our society too fast-paced. He’s not opposed to technology; he feels we all just need a break from time to time. When I ask what Steve’s mission is for Slow Art Day at PEM, he says he wants to provide a safe place to slow down, view art, and share with each other.
“When you get a chance to slow a whole museum down,” he says, “well…it’s tremendously transforming.”
Robbin Lynn Crandall is a Food & Travel Web Copywriter, Certified Social Media Consultant, and Freelance Writer at Crandall Copywriting. She works with small- to mid-sized business owners to improve their marketing strategy and social media presence, along with a slew of marketing materials. A self-proclaimed foodie and lover of All Things Italian, she loves living in New England and snow, and never more than when someone else is shoveling it. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.