We began our nine-day 2022 Slow Art Day volunteer team retreat by visiting the site of the first test of Slow Art Day: MoMA in New York.
In 2009, Phyl organized four people to visit MoMA and look slowly at five artworks. 13 years and thousands of events later, they returned again with a group of four, but this time it was the dedicated Slow Art Day volunteer team with dresses to match the art.
While looking slowly together in various museums, we decided to use our slow looking algorithm that can be used by small groups anytime all over the world.
Phyl first tried this in 2012 when they took three young brothers to their first art museum with a mother sure they would bounce off the walls and not look — she was shocked when they all slowed down and spent time with the art.
Here’s how it works:
- Assign a “selector” in each gallery
Choose someone who will select an artwork to look at slowly.
- Then everyone looks around for a few minutes
While that’s happening, the selector picks their piece.
- Look slowly at the chosen piece
Spend 5 – 10 minutes looking together at the artwork.
- Talk about it
Ask: what did you see? Then don’t try to moderate. People will have a lot to say. Let them say it. In fact, this is a wonderful moment. You will get closer to each other as you learn how each other sees and thinks.
- Move to the next gallery, choose the next selector, and repeat
That’s it. Really simple. Nothing else required.
Further, if you do this as a group – and if you are dressed up like we were – then you’ll likely draw a crowd whenever you slow down to look at a piece of art intensively. That’s certainly what happened to us. No matter what we looked at, it became a temporary “Starry Night” or “Mona Lisa” with big crowds assembling to figure out why everyone is looking (note: this is a great way to get visitors to pay more attention to less well-known art).
At MoMA, Johanna was the selector for the first gallery we visited. She skipped “Starry Night” and chose Edvard Munch’s “The Storm” (1893). Everyone knows Munch’s “The Scream.” Fewer know “The Storm” and we were glad to bring more attention to this terrific painting.
In our discussion after the slow look, we of course learned more about this artwork and more about each other. Johanna and Jessica Jane are very good close lookers. Meanwhile, Phyl is most sensitive to color, while Ashley’s eye for design picks up composition and texture.
We finished this first session feeling more connected to each other, and to the art.
We then moved to the next gallery, where Jessica Jane was the selector. And so it went as we slowly looked our way through MoMA, the Met, the Whitney, The Barnes Foundation (in Philadelphia), the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens.
Special thanks to the educators who hosted us along the way, including:
- Bill Perthes, Director of Adult Education at The Barnes Foundation
- Linnea West, Manager of Adult Public Programs, Philadelphia Museum of Art
- Greg Stuart, Coordinator of Adult Public Programs, Philadelphia Museum of Art
- Lisa Dombrow, play activist, educator, and volunteer at MoMA and AMNH (and original ‘slow looker’)
We can’t wait for our Summer 2023 Slow Art Day retreat somewhere in the world (if you want us to come visit you and your institution, then let us know!).
– Phyl, Ashley, Jessica Jane, and Johanna