Slow Looking Meditations with the National Gallery

During the spring 2020 Covid19 lockdown, the National Gallery in London began releasing 5-minute long art meditation videos on YouTube in order to promote mental wellbeing among the public.

5-minute Meditation: Bonington’s ‘An Estuary in Northern France’, The National Gallery, YouTube

Written by Christina Bradstreet, Courses and Events Programmer at the National Gallery, the meditation videos were produced at home by members of the gallery’s digital team and promoted across social media platforms.

So far, the slow looking video-series has included meditations on:

Turner’s ‘Rain, Steam, and Speed’

Redon’s ‘Ophelia among the Flowers

Rosa Bonheur’s ‘The Horse Fair’

Bonington’s ‘An Estuary in Northern France’

Zurbarán’s ‘A Cup of Water and a Rose’

A true slow looking pioneer, Bradstreet is a powerful advocate at the National Gallery for slow programming throughout the year. When we asked her how she first became aware of the power of slow looking, she recalled how she felt as she walked home after attending her first mindfulness class:

“I felt acutely aware of the crunch of my footsteps on the gravel, the air on my skin, the bird song – and I thought, “wow! maybe mindfulness can really help us to savour the sensory details of paintings.”

Christina Bradstreet

Her positive experience inspired her to design a range of events at the gallery, such as finding wonder in familiar paintings like Van Gogh’s ‘The Sunflowers’, mindful looking, drawing sessions, and, during the lockdown, the above meditation videos.

National Gallery visitors enjoying a slow looking activity (pre-lockdown).
Picture courtesy of the National Gallery.

The first two slow looking videos have been an enormous success, with an average of 16,000 hits each on Youtube, and a total of 260k hits and counting across the gallery’s social media platforms.

Viewers have also given strongly positive feedback:

“Well done. Please do more.”  

*Delightful*”

“Fabulous meditation! Thank you so much for these slow looks.” 

“Soul touching and relaxing with a new breath of freshness.”

“I’ve seen this painting many times but I never saw the hare, or the people at the side of the river [in Turner’s ‘Rain, Steam, and Speed’]. Thank you so much!” 

Participant Quotes

Bradstreet also shared with us some thoughts on the design of these 5-minute videos:

Rather than simply offering a slow looking experience, I’m interested in choosing meditation techniques that connect with the paintings content or how it was painted, so that the art and the meditation enhance one another. For example, in the video on Rosa Bonheur’s The Horse Fair, I explore the theme of the commotion of the busy horse fair as a metaphor for the busy mind, and think about how we might stay mindful when the world is chaotic around us. Clearly, these themes can be taken much further in a longer meditation. However, we have kept these short, partly because many of our audience will be beginners at meditation, and partly because we don’t want to add to online fatigue!

Christina Bradstreet

The National Gallery has truly captured the essence of slow looking within these meditation videos, and I have loved incorporating the short art meditations into my own workday as a way to relax. I recommend that you do the same.

I and the whole Slow Art Day HQ team hope that these videos inspire more slow looking around the world. We can’t wait to see what Christina Bradstreet and the National Gallery in the UK design for Slow Art Day 2021.

– Johanna

Slow looking with the Frye Art Museum

For their third Slow Art Day the Frye Art Museum, Seattle, WA, shared slow-panning videos of two artworks from the Museum’s Founding Collection:

  • Friedrich August von Kaulbach (German, 1850-1920), ‘Rosario Guerrero,’ ca. 1908
  • In the manner of Edouard Manet, ‘Landscape with Figures,’ not dated.

Friedrich August von Kaulbach (German, 1850-1920), Rosario Guerrero, ca. 1908.
Oil on canvas, 49 1/2 x 37 3/8 in. Founding Collection, Gift of Charles and Emma Frye, 1952.082
In the manner of Edouard Manet, ‘Landscape with Figures,’ n.d.
Oil on canvas, 18 x 15 in. Founding Collection, Gift of Charles and Emma Frye, 1952.109

Slow looking prompts were included in the video descriptions and on the Frye Slow Art Day website. After viewing the artworks, participants were encouraged to share their thoughts by commenting on the posts.

The event was promoted via social media posts and stories on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Compared to other posts by the Museum, the Slow Art Day event had a higher than average reach on Facebook and more engagement across all social media platforms.

Feedback from participants was also positive and showed that the Slow Art Day ethos was passed on. One viewer even wanted to use the exercise in their teaching:

“Thank you! You gave me an assignment for my students to do in our new online art class.”

Participant Quote

At Slow Art Day HQ we loved the Frye’s art choices. The panning in ‘Landscape with Figures‘, which integrated movement in different directions, was especially innovative. We also extend special thanks to Caroline Byrd, Education Coordinator, for sharing details about the Frye’s event with us.

We look forward to what the Frye Art Museum comes up with for Slow Art Day 2021.

– Johanna and Ashley

Art Gallery of Ontario Hosts 6th Slow Art Day

For their sixth Slow Art Day The Art Gallery of Ontario, Canada, invited the public to look slowly at five artworks, accompanied by prompts, via their Instagram Story:

  • Canaletto, ‘The Bacino di San Marco, from the Piazzetta‘, c. 1735.
  • Barbara Hepworth, ‘Two Figures’, 1943.
  • Claude Monet, ‘Charing Cross Bridge, brouillard‘, 1902.
  • Claes Oldenburg, ‘Ice Cream Soda with Cookie‘, 1963.
  • Daphne Odjig, ‘Odjig Family: Father, Grandmother, Stanley, Daphne, Donald, Winnie, Xmas, Dec 25th‘, 1986.

Re-Live the Experience

Below are some excerpts from the original prompts from the Instagram Stories. Why not take a moment to look at each painting to learn a little about the artists and re-live the Art Gallery of Ontario slow art experience?

Canaletto

Figurative paintings like Canaletto’s The Bacino di San Marco, from the Piazzetta are good starting points for close looking. Notice the groups of figures, the gondolas waiting for passengers, the person looking over the balcony down at the square. By looking more slowly, you may get a sense of what a typical day in Venice looked like in the 18th century. They probably didn’t have dolphins around then either….

Canaletto, The Bacino di San Marco, from the Piazzetta, c. 1735. Oil on canvas, Unframed: 48.8 × 81.8 cm. Gift of the Ludwig Mond Estate, 1926. © Art Gallery of Ontario, 829.

Hepworth

Hepworth practiced direct carving, which means the artist tried to respect the nature of the material, working to bring out its particular characteristics. What do the vertical forms and the dynamics between them suggest? It’s easy to imagine the forms standing in for humans. What conversation might they be having?

Barbara Hepworth, Two Figures, 1943. Redwood, strings, 61.2 x 31.4 x 21 cm. Gift of Sam and Ayala Zacks, 1970. © Bowness, 71/88

Monet

Imagine you could walk into this painting. What would it feel like? What would it smell like? Monet was particularly interested by the effects of fog. He painted over 37 versions of this scene, trying to capture the changes in light and ambience. Have you ever done something over and over again? How does repetition change your experience? Malcolm Gladwell, a Canadian author, famously estimates that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill. And hey, there is no shortage of time right now…

Claude Monet. Charing Cross Bridge, brouillard, 1902. Oil on canvas, 73 × 92 cm. Gift of Ethel and Milton Harris, 1990. © Art Gallery of Ontario 90/161

Oldenburg

Claes Oldenburg sketched food and merchandise displayed in shops in the lower east side of New York and created a series of exhibitions related to the theme of a store between 1963-1967. Nothing was irrelevant, everything could be art. There is definitely a focus on foodie culture lately, especially with more time to be in the kitchen. What is your comfort food? If you were an artist, what kind of food would you immortalize in sculpture?

Claes Oldenburg, Ice Cream Soda with Cookie, 1963. Alkyd paint on plaster and glass, stainless steel, chinaware, paper, painted tray, 29.2 x 34.9 x 26 cm. Gift of the Sydney Lawrence Wax Family Trust, 2011. © Claes Oldenburg 2011/272

Odjig

Odjig, Canadian First Nations artist from the Odawa-Potawatomi nation, uses a graphic style to portray her immediate family during her childhood in Wikwemikong. This artwork shares her first artistic influences – her family. In particular, her grandfather taught her to paint and draw. On sketching excursions, he taught her the stories of her ancestors and the use of the curvilinear design. What better way to depict family connections. How would you represent your family?

Daphne Odjig, Odjig Family: Father, Grandmother, Stanley, Daphne, Donald, Winnie, Xmas, Dec 25th, 1986. Acrylic on canvas, 121.9 x 101.6 cm. Purchase with assistance from Greg Latremoille and the Estate of Mary Ash, 2016 © Estate of Daphne Odjig, 2016/39.

In addition to the Instagram event, a post of Monet’s ‘Charing Cross Bridge‘ was also shared to the museum’s Facebook account which was liked 400+ times, and shared by 170 viewers. It was accompanied by general guidelines for slow looking, such as:

  • Get comfortable…
  • Take your time. Look at the texture, colour, shape, symbols, story, and perspective.
  • Pay attention to how your mind and body respond.”

We are delighted to see museums like The Art Gallery of Ontario rise to the challenge of involving people in slow looking in their own homes. When we started Slow Art Day 10 years ago, we primarily wanted museums to use the web in the service of sending more people into real spaces. Due to Covid19 lockdown restrictions this year, however, most museums had no choice but to rely on virtual platforms, and it is wonderful to see events such as this one still producing amazing engagement with art.

We hope to see yet another wonderful event for Slow Art Day at The Art Gallery of Ontario next year.

– Johanna

Gardiner Museum Hosts Sense-ational Slow Art Day

For their first Slow Art Day, The Gardiner Museum in Toronto, Canada, hosted an immersive virtual event with a multi-sensory focus.

On April 4, four photos of Linda Swanson’s TEMPLUM OF A PRECIOUS THING OF NO VALUE, A SHAPELESS THING OF MANY SHAPES, 2020, were shared to social media in intervals. An event outline was also available as a downloadable PDF, which can be viewed in full here. Because their session was so well designed, we have included more detail in the excerpted prompts below.

Participants were encouraged to spend 5-10 minutes with each photo, and consider the accompanying prompts and questions:

View of Linda Swanson’s TEMPLUM OF A PRECIOUS THING OF NO VALUE, A SHAPELESS THING OF MANY SHAPES, 2020, Clay, water, metal, nylon, wood.
Part of the RAW Exhibition at The Gardiner Museum. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid.

Imagine yourself seated on the bench next to the installation. Take in the full picture. Let your eyes move slowly around the image as you absorb what you’re seeing.

  • Focus on each individual element of the work. What kinds of lines and shapes do you notice?
  • Consider the areas of light and shadow. How does the lighting influence the mood or feel of the installation?
  • What do you think you’ll see as you move closer? What textures and patterns might appear?
View of Linda Swanson’s TEMPLUM OF A PRECIOUS THING OF NO VALUE, A SHAPELESS THING OF MANY SHAPES, 2020. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid.

Once again, take in the full picture. Let your eyes move slowly around the image as you grasp this new perspective and information.

  • What do you notice now that you may not have perceived in the first image? Does this change your impression or understanding of the work?
  • Shift your attention to the cables. What kinds of shapes and forms do you notice in the negative space around and between the cables?
  • Consider the weight of the water contained in each membrane. Close your eyes and imagine that your arms are the cables holding them above the ground. What do you experience?
View of Linda Swanson’s TEMPLUM OF A PRECIOUS THING OF NO VALUE, A SHAPELESS THING OF MANY SHAPES, 2020. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid.

Again, take in the full picture. Let your eyes move slowly around the image as you register the new details.

  • How does this perspective add to or change your interpretation of the artwork up to this point?
  • Close your eyes and picture yourself gently pressing a finger against the nylon membrane. Feel the weight of the water shifting. Does it remind you of a sensation you’ve experienced before?
  • Narrow in on the water droplets that are gathered on the membrane. Imagine poking them with your finger. How would the water feel running down your hand?
View of Linda Swanson’s TEMPLUM OF A PRECIOUS THING OF NO VALUE, A SHAPELESS THING OF MANY SHAPES, 2020. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid.

For the last time, let your eyes move slowly around the image as you take it in.

  • What would it feel like to run your fingers through the clay? To pick up a handful.
  • Close your eyes and imagine the smell of the clay, both dry and wet. What does it smell like? Is it earthy? Musty? Chalky?
  • Now consider the work as its own ecosystem or world. How would you describe it to a friend? How would you articulate its look, feel, and smell?

This was such a well-designed slow looking session that we hope more people who are reading this on the Slow Art Day website will take the time to go through this event themselves.

The Gardiner Museum is one of many museums that had to quickly re-think how to keep the public engaged with art during the Covid19 pandemic. By using photos and descriptive prompts of the installation from their special exhibition RAW, they successfully produced an imaginative multi-sensory experience – even with the added element of being virtual.

At Slow Art Day HQ, we absolutely love how immersive this event was. It reminded us how powerfully our minds can conjure up the real-life experiences of textures, shapes, weight, and scents.

We very much hope that The Gardiner Museum will continue hosting Slow Art Day events – and in their actual museum space in 2021.

– Johanna

Note: The listed prompts were selected from the original, full list of prompts provided by The Gardiner Museum.




Slow Looking with Bisa Butler’s Stunning Portraits

For the second Slow Art Day hosted by the Katonah Museum of Art (KMA), the museum focused on its Bisa Butler: Portraits exhibit. Renowned for her use of fabric and traditional quilting techniques, Butler reimagines historical black figures and culture in her art, often taking classic photos and turning them into vibrant, multi-colored textiles.

On April 4, 2020, detailed images from one of Butler’s amazing quilts titled ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ were shared to Facebook and Instagram.

Bisa Butler, ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,’ 2019, Cotton, wool and chiffon, quilted and appliquéd, 50 x 129 in. (127 x 327.6 cm). Private collection, promised gift on long-term loan to Minneapolis Institute of Art.

We show the full image first (above), but the museum did not include it in their initial posts. Instead, they posted four close-up images (below), captioned with short prompts to encourage deep reflection. Participants were then invited to an in-depth Zoom discussion, led by Marijane, a KMA docent, to explore the whole exhibit and slowly look at some of Butler’s amazing work.

Detail 1: Bisa Butler, ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,’ 2019.
Detail 2: Bisa Butler, ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,’ 2019.
Detail 3: Bisa Butler, ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,’ 2019.
Detail 4: Bisa Butler, ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,’ 2019.

Butler’s stunning textiles are often based on important black and white photographs – the one above of four women sitting on the steps of Atlanta College in 1900.

This particular work engages with complex ideasranging from change, power and freedom, to historical symbols of wealth culturethrough Butler’s carefully curated patterns and colors. Of course, the title of this work borrows from the title of Nobel-Prize winning poet and writer Maya Angelou’s debut memoir in 1969.

The event was very well received across social media and Zoom. Many participants followed up the event with positive feedback such as:

Thanks for the incredible up close views!

Such a wonderful tour.  Thanks so much for making my day.

This was AMAZING!!  Thank you so much for hosting slow art day and for hosting it virtually!!!!

PARTICIPANT QUOTES

At Slow Art Day HQ, we also love Butler’s art and her powerful textiles. These are amazing to slowly look at online and we can only imagine what they are like to see hanging on the museum’s walls. The museum is currently closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but when the KMA re-opens, we recommend you go if you are near northern Westchester County, New York.

Finally, we note that over 80% of artists from collections across 18 major U.S. museums are still both male and white according to a 2019 survey by PLoS ONE; we are grateful that the KMA is helping to change that.

– Johanna and Ashley

Jigsaws and Meditative Drawing with the Georgia Museum of Art

For their 5th Slow Art Day, the Georgia Museum of Art in Athens, Georgia, combined two meditative art techniques by artist Anna Bogatin Ott: Slow Looking and Slow Drawing.

Slow Looking

For the slow looking activity, participants were invited to look closely at the painting Aurora by Anna Bogatin Ott, and were guided by prompts via a PDF file, such as:

  • “How do the repetitive marks guide your gaze around the painting?”
  • “Imagine the painting so far away it becomes a speck, then zoom in so close that it’s touching your nose.”
Anna Bogatin Ott (American, b. Ukraine 1970), Aurora (River Wanderings 7714), 2014 – 15. Acrylic on canvas, 48 x 48 inches (122 x 122 centimeters). Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia; Gift of the artist, GMOA 2017.34.

Since Ott’s art is inspired by nature, participants were also encouraged to reflect on similarities between the colors of the painting and nature.

“I engage all my senses, dissolve into surrounding sounds, become immersed in the nature’s logic of being, and then, from memory, I recreate my experiences in drawings and paintings.”

Anna Bogatin Ott

Slow Drawing

For the slow drawing part of the event, participants were encouraged to draw horizontal lines while trying to stay in touch with their physical sensations focusing attention on the sound of their breath, the feel of the texture of the paper, and the visual effect of negative and positive space between the lines. The activity became a mindful way of remaining present through a multi-sensory art experience.

Slow Drawing Instructions (PDF) for Slow Art Day, 2020, by The Georgia Museum of Art.

Pre-event Virtual Jigsaw Puzzle

Leading up to the main event, the museum shared a virtual interactive jigsaw puzzle of their featured painting to their Facebook page. Several participants completed the jigsaw, and the post reached 647 readers.

Virtual jigsaw of Anna Bogatin Ott’s Aurora, available: www.jigsawplanet.com. Courtsey of The Georgia Museum of Art. Screenshot by Johanna.

Without being formally promoted, their event was a social media success with over 2000 Instagram impressions and 185 Facebook interactions.

The Slow Art Day HQ team has loved participating in these mindful activities. They made us feel centered and at peace, which is a big part of what Slow Art Day is all about.

We look forward to seeing more of The Georgia Museum of Art’s immersive events – hopefully for Slow Art Day 2021.

-Johanna and Ashley

Slow Art Day makes you happy

We hope you’re as excited for Slow Art Day 2018 (just three months away!) as we are! One of this year’s hosts, Karolina Fabelova of Kunstzeichnen in Germany, certainly is – check out the great video she made all about Slow Art Day!

Inaugural podcast with Prof. Arden Reed

Listen to the inaugural Slow Art Day live podcast recorded Tuesday, June 13, 2017 with Slow Art Day hosts around the world and our special guest Professor Arden Reed discussing his forthcoming book, Slow Art: The Experience of Looking, Sacred Images to James Turrell.
You can download the podcast or listen to it below.

View Dr. Reed’s slides simultaneously while listening to the podcast by downloading his powerpoint here.

About Professor Reed
Professor Arden Reed is the Arthur and Fanny Dole Professor of English at Pomona College. Recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Clark Art Institute, he writes on the visual arts and literature, including Manet, Flaubert and the Emergence of Modernism and the prize-winning Romantic Weather: the Climates of Coleridge and Baudelaire.

He was one of Jacques Derrida’s first American graduate students. Trained in comparative literature, Reed authored a prize-winning study of Coleridge and Baudelaire (mentioned above). His career as a scholar of literature was interrupted in 1984, when he experienced a conversion. An encounter with Max Beckmann’s triptych The Actors at the Fogg Museum pivoted Reed’s field of study to the visual arts. His Manet book mentioned above has been translated into French and Spanish.

His forthcoming book 
Professor Reed’s latest book Slow Art: The Experience of Looking, Sacred Images to James Turrell (University of California Press, to be published late June 2017) is about attending to visual images in a culture of distraction, specifically extending the six to 10 seconds that Americans, on average, spend looking at individual works on museums walls and why that matters.

The research and writing of his latest book was supported by a Guggenheim Fellowship, and residencies at the Rockefeller Foundation Study Center at Bellagio, the Clark Art Institute, and the American Academy in Rome. Reed has given presentations on slow art, among other venues, at the Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, King’s College Cambridge University, the Chicago Humanities Festival, and the École normale supérieure in Paris.

Buy and read his book
Professor Reed’s newest book is a foundational book for the slow art movement and we highly recommend that all Slow Art Day hosts read it.

Listeners to the podcast can receive a 30% discount to the book if they order from the University of California press. To get the discount, order online via www.ucpress.edu. Just enter code 16V6526 at checkout.

Inaugural Slow Art Day webinar with special guest Dr. Arden Reed

Slow Art Day is hosting a webinar on Tuesday, June 13 at 11 AM EST for the slow art community and other interested participants featuring special guest Arden Reed.

Dr. Reed is a professor of English and Art History at Pomona College. His latest book Slow Art: The Experience of Looking, Sacred Images to James Turrell (University of California Press, French translation Editions Hermann) is about attending to visual images in a culture of distraction, specifically extending the six to 10 seconds that Americans, on average, spend looking at individual works on museums walls and why that matters.

Dr. Reed will discuss his new book (which will be published on the date of the webinar – June 13) and answer questions from participants.

More info and registration here: bit.ly/2p5TSvr

First Slow Art Day in Hamburg, Germany

Slow Art Day 2017, Kunsthalle Hamburg, Friederike Redlbacher

Host Friederike Redlbacher of Kunsthalle Hamburg, Germany writes of their Slow Art Day 2017 experience:

“We looked at three different works of art by Lorrain, Chagall and Böcklin. To connect deeper with the artwork and ourselves I guided the group with reflective questions like ‘What in the artwork is drawing your attention?’ or ‘How did this situation came about and how could it develop?’. This encouraged the participants to deeply engage with what they saw. After a silent period of looking we shared our thoughts and perceptions. Listening to what the others saw, opened a whole new perspective to the artwork but also to the way of looking at art. To look slowly and engage oneself with the art is a truly inspiring experience.”