A cinematic approach to slow art with Nadin Mai

We just spoke with Slow Art Day 2013 host Nadin Mai, who came to the idea of slow art from the world of film and the research she has been doing on the origins and influences of what’s called “slow cinema.”

“Slow cinema,” or, as some prefer, “contemplative cinema” is characterized by long takes in which events are given time to unfold, often in real time. Slow films are minimalist – the frames are simple and straightforward and the narrative focuses on only a handful of characters or even just one, keeping the viewer’s attention on a specific action unfolding in front of his or her eyes.

Nadin is a doctoral candidate at the University of Stirling in Film Studies. Her research focuses on how slow cinema filmmakers draw from art forms that preceded the invention of photography, specifically, painting. She shared with us some of the major points of her research.

1. Focus on “reading” visual elements
Since there is little dialogue, the viewer is dependent entirely on his or her eyes more than anything else and has to “read” the visual elements of the films in the way that one does with paintings or even literature.

2. Landscape painting
The rural settings of many of these extended scenes, become vehicles for contemplation, like a landscape painting.

3. Perspective
Finally, like paintings, slow films tend to use medium to long distance shots, taking in more context than close-ups, which photography popularized.

Nadin describes slow looking as a luxury, that “actually seeing something is rare these days. Everything passes by quickly, and unless we say ‘Stop!’, it’ll go on like this.” She finds slow cinema rewarding and wants to bring the same slow mentality to the viewing of art and is hoping to use her experience with Slow Art Day to draw even more connections between slow films and paintings for her research.

Nadin’s Slow Art Day event will take place in The McManus Art Gallery & Museum in Dundee, Scotland. She chose The McManus for its well rounded collection of different types of art, including artifacts from Dundee’s history. She is interested in including some of these artifacts and hopes to trigger a slow viewing of ‘everyday’ objects as well as artwork.

If you are going to be in Dundee, Scotland in April, be sure to sign up to go to The McManus and join Nadin in experiencing a slow cinema-inspired Slow Art Day.

– Naomi Kuo, Slow Art Day intern

Is this the future of museum art education? A discussion with Laurel Fehrenbach

We recently caught up with Laurel Fehrenbach, public programs coordinator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, to discuss “Is This Art?”, a museum initiative with several programs that slows visitors down and asks them to focus on only one or two pieces of modern or contemporary art.

We discussed in-depth one of the “Is this Art?” programs, the “Open Discussion” series, which starts by asking people to quietly look at a single piece of art. There is no introduction or curatorial discussion. Then after a while – about 5 minutes – Laurel starts a dialogue with a few questions, like “what are your first impressions?” or “what do you see?”  Throughout the 45 to 60 minutes sessions, Laurel is more of a participant than a moderator.

Laurel has found what we have found in our Slow Art Day events around the world – i.e. that this simple experience of asking people to slow down and look has a big impact. “People don’t often get the opportunity to unplug from their smartphones and cell phones and sit in front of artwork for 10 minutes or an hour. But when they do, the experience is transformative, refreshing and thought provoking.” We agree.

Laurel, who is passionate about helping people see the art without guided experts, is still experimenting with different ways of running the program.

We shared with her the design for Slow Art Day events, particularly the decision to invite people to look slowly on their own without any guide from the museum, though some Slow Art Day events do have a curator or educator come along in a way similar to what Laurel  does. She’s considering bringing Slow Art Day back to the Smithsonian American Art Museum next April (the museum had participated in earlier years) and, in the meantime, is looking to connect with more people like us and others.

We are really happy to see this innovative initiative at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and look forward to continuing a conversation with Laurel as her program evolves. And, like Laurel, we are interested in identifying more museums doing similar programming. In fact, part of our mission at Slow Art Day is to support and inspire these kinds of events.

If you know of a museum or gallery pursuing programming we should know about, please comment here on this blog post or contact us.

And if you are in the DC area next week, stop by and look slowly at some art with Laurel and other participants at the next Open Discussion event, Tuesday, December 4, from 12pm – 1pm.

– Naomi Kuo, Slow Art Day intern, with Dana-Marie Lemmer, Slow Art Day Coordinator

Beethoven and Picasso – and the Contemporary Art of Looking?

As the year winds down, Professor Katy Siegel reflects in Frieze on recent changes in the way art is being made and studied. Interestingly, she suggests it’s like the way music was made in the 17th and 18th centuries – and unlike the way it’s made today. And all of this, in my opinion, has something to do with Beethoven, Picasso and the new art of looking. Let me explain.

In Siegel’s article, she discusses how contemporary art is more becoming more specific and local, and how room is being made for more idiosyncratic and independent artists. I agree and think it’s a important shift.

She then draws a parallel to moments in music history – saying that what’s happening in the art world today reminds her of the 17th and 18th century when music was made locally and to be performed for specific, local audiences. She contrasts that scene to today’s where the same Beethoven symphonies are performed by orchestras all over the world. The implication is clear: classical music in the early 21st century is bland and homogeneous.

I agree and I’ll add this – while a good Beethoven symphony may bring in the audience in the short term, the lack of local, varied and contemporary classical music may be hurting the audience in the long term. It just simply becomes boring no matter how good Beethoven is (and he’s undeniably excellent).

Siegel’s article makes me think how art audiences, like their musical counterparts, are bombard by the same globe-crossing blockbuster exhibits of the same art and artists – Picasso, for example. So, Picasso, whose art I very much love, becomes our art world analog to Beethoven.

These same or similar art exhibits mean that audiences in many major metropolitan areas are looking in the same way at the same art – and while a good blockbuster exhibit may bring in people today, this bland approach may be hurting the development of the art audience in the long term. 

But, there’s a problem. While the same blockbuster Picasso exhibit over and over again may become bland – it not only brings in many people today (and museums need exhibits which bring in large audiences), but it’s easy to look at. People have learned how to look at Picasso. It’s one of the reasons his exhibits are so popular. And, they do not know how to look at much of contemporary art. In fact, contemporary art is hard to look at.

Enter Slow Art Day. We’ve discussed elsewhere how our art of looking actually helps people see contemporary art. It’s hard to believe unless you see it or experience it – but slow looking – i.e. 10 to 15 minutes per piece – makes it possible for anyone of any level of sophistication to see new art.

See, for example, this Slow Art Day 2012 report from Ashland, Oregon, where the participants looked at three works by contemporary, technology-inspired mixed media artist, Jenny Vogel. “Participants told [the host] they were challenged by her selections but the experience of slowly gazing at them made a difference. It really helped them to see multiple dimensions of Vogel’s work…” And this group included a participant who had never once been to a museum, much less looked at challenging contemporary art.

Slow Art Day helps people see contemporary art. That’s important but there’s more to the connection with contemporary art.

I’ve always thought that Slow Art Day – in its underlying form – shared some tenets with contemporary art. And I didn’t think it necessarily had to do either with helping people see new art or with making art slowly – though both are certainly important part. No, I’ve always thought the connection to be more fundamental – and Siegel’s article helps me to clarify how.

While contemporary artists are making art locally and for specific audiences and locations, we are making possible a contemporary art of looking – one that is also local and idiosyncratic.

There is nothing more local than an individual staring slowly at an artwork for 10 or 15 minutes. While we are a global movement, we are indelibly local. The hosts chose the venue and the art – we dictate none of that. And, whatever they are looking at, it’s happening right there in the moment in Salem, Cape Town, LA, London, Leeds and Hong Kong.

Slow Art Day and contemporary artists together give art audiences an art and an experience more varied, more local, and more contemporary. It’s the contemporary art…of looking.

– Phil Terry, Slow Art Day Founder with Naomi Kuo, Slow Art Day intern

An Invitation to a Conversation

If two works of art could talk to each other, what would they say? The Fisher Landau Center for Arts in Long Island City explores this idea in their current show called “Visual Conversations.” In it, free-standing sculpture is placed next to works hung on walls to create conversations between each pair of artworks.

The show intentionally invites viewers to draw their own connections and to think about how the meaning of each piece is affected by the one next to it. Active and creative viewer participation seems to be key to the experience of this exhibition.

Joe Fusaro writes in Art:21 about how he’s using this exhibit with his art students.

He’s asking them to think about questions like “Can works of art ‘speak’ to the viewer or have ‘conversations’ with other works?” and then to create their own works of art that talk back to one of the paired pieces they saw in the show.

At Slow Art Day, we are all about encouraging museum goers to look slowly, experience and “talk back” to the art. If you get a chance, visit the Landau Center for this exhibit’s last week or check back online to see if Joe Fusaro shares what his students created in conversation with this show.

– Naomi Kuo, Slow Art Day Intern; edited by Phil Terry, Slow Art Day Founder

Whose eyes do you see with?

Big Red & Shiny’s Benjamin R. Sloat interviews three Taiwanese artists, Chen Chieh-Jen, Yao Jui-Chung, and Chien-Chi Chang, and discusses the challenges of cultural misinterpretation.

Marcel Duchamp said the viewer participates in the artistic process – “the artist sets in motion a creative process that the spectators must complete.” This philosophy of including the ‘consumer’ or viewer of art in the art-making is central to our philosophy here at Slow Art Day.

But, what if the art comes from a different culture? How then do we think about the role of the viewer? Are there some pitfalls that one should seek to avoid, especially in viewing art from another culture? Read here to see what these Taiwanese artists have to say about their own work and a foreign viewership.

– Naomi Kuo, Slow Art Day Intern; edited by Phil Terry, Slow Art Day Founder

Towards a Better Understanding of Art

Ever felt lost when looking at a work of contemporary art? Will Gompertz, BBC arts editor and former Tate gallery director, addresses this common phenomenon in his article in The Huffington Post.

He offers some solace and explanation for the confusion: “…I don’t think the real issue is about judging whether or not a brand-new piece of contemporary art is good or bad–time will undertake that job on our behalf. It is more a question of understanding where and why it fits into the modern art story.”

We agree with Gompertz that evaluating the quality of the art is not the issue and that learning about art history is important. However, we would offer a different approach. In Slow Art Day events around the world, art novices and experts alike seem to overcome confusion simply by looking for 10 minutes. Interestingly, no matter how provocative, unusual, minimalist, or indescribable the work is, Slow Art Day participants report having a good, not confusing, experience.

We hypothesize that 10 minutes of looking creates an experience where the viewer sees and feels things not immediately apparent. We believe these participants go through a process of personal discovery that, based on their feedback, seems to create a sense of joy and excitement.

We have more work to do to fully understand what works about Slow Art Day but it does seem to us that participants get excited  because they discover they actually have something to say about the art – and because they have created a connection that is emotional, intellectual, visual or spatial.

Yes, art history is important and many of the organizers of Slow Art Day are art historians or students pursuing that degree. But, the thousands of participants every year are not experts. Indeed, they are likely to be the kind of person that does not like contemporary art – unless and until they spend 10 minutes looking at a single piece.

– Naomi Kuo, Slow Art Day Intern; edited by Phil Terry

“Slow Looking” for all Media

Helen Stoilas writes in The Art Newspaper how more and more museums are focusing on performance, particularly dance, in their programming to revitalize the experience of their visitors.

Stoilas quotes PS1 associate curator Jenny Schlenzka on the significance of this trend: “We’re living in times when the object is less important. The museum is a place where these changes are being negotiated. The ephemeral is becoming much more important.”

What do you think about this trend? How do the principles of slow looking relate to art that is time-based or performed live? We would love to hear your thoughts.

– Naomi Kuo, Slow Art Day Intern

Carpe Diem, Slow Art Day Style

October 20, 2017: UPDATE – we have heard from the Susan Inglett Gallery in New York that this report from Tyler Green back in 2012 was wrong. Robyn O’Neil’s large scale work, HELL, was NOT destroyed.

Happily, HELL is on display at the Susan Inglett Gallery and can be viewed online here: http://secca.org/calendar-detail.php?EventOccId=824398142.

Always like to hear some *good* art news.

Anyone in New York should go visit the Susan Inglett Gallery and view this and other work slowly. It’s well worth it.

Thanks –


—————————————————————————————————-ORIGINAL POST from 2012

My sympathies go out to the people affected by Hurricane Sandy who are still picking up the pieces of what’s left after the storm. Many things were lost, not the least of which include artists’ studios and archival material.

Tyler Green reflects in Modern Art Notes on the situation of artist Robyn O’Neil, whose latest large scale work, HELL, was destroyed by the hurricane. It survives only as a JPEG image now — lamentable, but better than nothing.

Green points out that lost art is common in art history for a number of reasons, be it war, weather or fire. The physical presence of a work of art is actually quite fleeting, giving us all the more reason to look at art slowly and really value our time with it.

Read Green’s article in Modern Art Notes for more on O’Neil’s work and digital preservation.

– Naomi Kuo, Slow Art Day Intern

Taking a Slow Look at a Museum

When you are looking at art in a gallery or museum do you pay attention to the building or the installation set-up?

Harry Cooper, curator of modern and contemporary art at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, writes in ArtForum about his experience of the Clyfford Still Museum, a museum built specifically to house the artwork of Clyfford Still, a first generation Abstract Expressionist. Still’s will required that his works only be shown in such a museum and so most of his work had been sealed off from the public for over 30 years.

In the article, Cooper takes us on a slow tour of the museum space and considers how the exterior, the layout, and even the wall texture, compliment the paintings on display. He also makes observations about the relationships between pieces that the installation and separation of different rooms create for the viewer.

Read Cooper’s article and visit the Clyfford Still Museum in Denver to experience the amazing architecture and paintings in person.

– Naomi Kuo, Slow Art Day Intern

Painting v. Photography: A Fight for the Mind’s Eye

Do our brains naturally prefer literal photographs over abstract art? Does that set up a fight for our attention?

As we saw with the Munch blog post last week, painters have been in conversation with photography since the invention of the camera. Some have taken photography into their art practice, while others have worked to create new forms of art that transcend the literal and challenge how we see.

Gerhard Richter, one of the most influential artists in the last half of a century, has been a key contributor to this ongoing dialogue.

Since the 1980’s, Richter has made series of small scale works in which he smears paint over photographs. One of these paintings, Evening (14.9.98), was recently featured in our Slow Art Day Tumblr. The tactility of the paint and the collision of surface and representation make them perfect pieces to look at slowly.

Jim Quilty of The Daily Star wrote a review of Richter’s show earlier this year at the Beirut Art Center that displayed many of these so-called “overpainted photographs.” Quilty suggests that the contrast between the abstract paint and the literal photography set up a kind of fight for the mind’s eye – one that abstract elements can easily lose.  “…the works offer a master class in the eye’s prejudice toward figurative interpretation. The more photo there is, the greater the brain’s demand that the work be representational.”

Browse the Beirut show and read Quilty’s review to enter into this lively conversation between photography and painting. Best of all, visit Richter’s website to see for yourself his whole collection of overpainted photographs.

– Naomi Kuo, Slow Art Day Intern