Rippling Recognitions

Slow Art Day has asked its 2013-14 college interns to write short summaries of their own experiences looking slowly at artworks of their choosing. Jennifer Latshaw, Slow Art Day intern from De Paul University, writes here about her experience seeing the unexpected.

Looking at art slowly is not my typical way of visiting a museum. Like many others, I tend to quickly stroll through any special exhibits that are currently on display and then visit some old favorites without spending much time with any single work. As a result, when I visited the Art Institute of Chicago to complete my slow looking assignment, I decided to find a famous work that I had never really focused on before. While the impressionist collection is a highlight of the museum and a section I’ve visited many times before, I guessed that I could find a painting there that had only gotten the quick treatment from me before.

I chose one of the most popular and well-known paintings in the collection – Monet’s Water Lily Pond, 1917-1922. Of course, I’ve seen this painting before – so have many millions of people. It is such a familiar painting that I wondered if slow looking would reveal anything new.

I started the exercise by standing a few feet away from the painting in the gallery. Then after a few minutes I moved farther away. Eventually, I then got closer again. Not surprisingly, I saw different things depending on my distance from the painting. Up close the painting appeared to simply be smudges of color with no rhyme or reason to where they were placed. I noticed how it was thick in some places and sparse in others. I had not really noticed or thought about the thickness of the paint. Moving farther away from the painting, the larger image came into view. At my farthest from the canvas, I sat on a bench across the room and considered the entire painting at once. From this distance, the lilies appeared to be sitting on top of the lake with dramatic brush strokes of contrasting colors to the rest of the painting suggesting movement or reflection to give depth and dimension to the entire image.

Claude Monet, Water Lily Pond, 1917-22

Claude Monet, Water Lily Pond, 1917-22
(Image Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago)

Varying distance also allowed me to really reflect on the way the colors interact in the image. Up close I could see not just the relative thickness of the paints but also the individual pinks, reds, yellows, and purples. When viewed from farther away they came together to make greens and browns. I had never really taken the time before to see how colors change depending on perspective. It’s one thing to learn that in color theory class. It’s another thing to really experience it from a session of slow looking.

My original goal was to look for five minutes and then jot down some notes about the experience. Once I really started to look, however, I could not get enough of the painting. During the first minute or two, I glanced at my watch every 10 or seconds to see how long I had been looking. But after that, I found myself caring less about the time and caring more about seeing new things in the painting. And before I knew it, I had been absorbed in looking at Monet’s Water Lily Pond for 30 minutes.

One unexpected and surprising benefit was that slow looking is relaxing. By focusing on one painting I was able to stop multi-tasking and really pay attention. Everything else that would regularly consume my thoughts was gone and I was left only with Monet, his beautiful water lilies, and the ability to see so much more than I ever realized was there.

– Jennifer Latshaw, De Paul University

Claude Monet’s Water Lily Pond among other great works are available to view at the Art Institute of Chicago.  The Art Institute of Chicago is not currently a 2014 Slow Art Day venue.  Sign up to host here!

Looking Slowly, Again

Slow Art Day has asked its 2013 college interns to write short summaries of their own experiences looking slowly at artworks of their choosing. Sylvia Faichney, Slow Art Day intern from the Art Institute of Chicago, writes here about her experience seeing the unexpected.

I’ve learned that through my practices of looking slowly that even after looking at a piece one, two, or even three times slowly I still may not have seen all that it has to show me.

Despite believing that looking slowly over several visits can yield ever more insights, I had the surprising recent experience of going to my favorite museum and looking at one of my favorite pieces of art and finding that there were significant elements that I had previously completely missed.

(Images Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago)

Let me explain.

Living in the city of Chicago I have access to multiple galleries and museums. The Art Institute of Chicago, however, is one of my favorites. I’ve visited multiple times and I have it almost memorized. I know it so well that I know what’s around every corner. Or so I thought before I did this slow looking exercise for Slow Art Day.

I chose to look slowly again at Gerhard Richter’s Ice 1, 2, 3, 4. I have seen it slowly multiple times – including for this recent exercise. I am entranced every time by its fluidity, by its color and by what I call only describe as its “togetherness.”

On my visits prior to the one for this exercise, I have sat and tried to understand why these four separate canvases are somehow cohesive. I previously have noted that although each composition is different there is a unity created by the colors.

Today, when I sit for my third time in front of this wonderful set of four paintings, I discover that not only the composition but the colors play a key role in creating the cohesion. When I look at it one way, I see chaos and separation. The paintings can appear to be disconnected. But, Richter in his genius somehow uses the chaos in a way to connect. Further, the emotional feeling I experience from this chaotic connected work is calm. I don’t know how he does that. He uses a wide variety of colors. The pieces are complex. The texture is rich and constantly yielding new insights.

A few minutes go by and I notice something I hadn’t before. What is that big streak of grey? The movement had always seemed so consistent to me and there in front of me was a break in the pattern created by this rather large diagonal grey streak. My eyes move along to the other canvases to where I find that there is another break in the pattern I had missed. There it was, a curved orange, green, and blue brush stroke that I had missed on my previous visits.

“How had I not noticed this on my previous visits?!”

I ask myself this question as I continue to look and follow the movement of these new-found curves. I become astonished – not only am I seeing these new patterns but I’m also seeing colors I had missed or misunderstood previously. For example, the color I had always assumed was grey in the compositions, appears in fact to be purple. This was a huge shock to me. An entire color in all of the compositions that had looked one way to me begins to appear as a different color. And this true color that I had just now noticed changes the tone of each piece. It’s quite dramatic. After realizing this I also discover undertones of other colors I had previously not noticed – a dark green, a yellow, different shades of blue all begin to reveal themselves. As I look closely, I see that they had been cleverly tucked away behind layers of more prominent colors. I can’t believe that after all of the time I have spent in the past with these paintings that I am seeing so much more – and so much that I had misunderstood.

Despite my surprise and shock, at the end of my slow looking exercise I feel that calm from Richter – so calm that I’m rejuvenated. I’m not tired. I’m not burnt out. I’m excited and my senses are heightened. I get up to leave but before I go I take a quick look at the description written by the curators. “…Impulses and contradiction of representation urging skeptics in the evaluation of the purpose and effect of all constructed visual phenomena.” I’m not sure what they mean but I think I agree.
When I’m back home and reflecting on my experience, I realize that I really thought that I wouldn’t experience anything new from looking slowly at these Richter paintings for a third time. Now I see that I may never be done learning, and that maybe there are certain art works that take many visits to fully experience. Even in my favorite corner of my favorite museum that I have been to many times, I now know that I can sit down and ask myself if I really have seen it all.

– Sylvia Faichney, Art Institute of Chicago

Gerhard Richter’s Ice 1, 2, 3, 4 among other great works are available to view at the Art Institute of Chicago.  The Art Institute of Chicago is not currently a 2014 Slow Art Day venue.  Sign up to host here!

Seeing the unexpected

Slow Art Day has asked its 2013 college interns to write short summaries of their own experiences looking slowly at artworks of their choosing. Amanda Kegu, Slow Art Day intern from the University of Florida, writes here about her experience seeing the unexpected.

Viewing art slowly is not one of my normal habits at art museums. My first instinct, like many other art history nerds, is to beeline to the contemporary wing to gape in awe at a huge Jackson Pollock or to sit in a dark room for a few seconds watching a video installation before dashing to the next item. My usual goal is to see as many famous works of art at once to claim I’ve seen them in person. This is how usually I decide (1) the quality of the museum and (2) how well informed I am as an art historian.

However, just because a museum has a dozen Picassos and I’ve seen them all in under five minutes does not make that a great museum or make me a better viewer. If I really look back to my time spent in museums, most of it was spent moving from exhibition to exhibition wondering what was around the corner. I can appreciate the qualities, the skills, and the context of the works, but I view these works of art like they’re celebrities, there to be ticked off on my list of things to see in my lifetime.

Since joining the Slow Art Day team as an intern, I have come to understand the importance of looking at works slowly to truly appreciate them. I recently visited the Harn Museum of Art on the University of Florida campus to see their new contemporary exhibit (clearly, I’m a fan of today’s artists). I have interned there for two semesters and have been a Gallery Guide before, so I am very familiar with the works on display. But I wondered how my perspective has changed since becoming involved with Slow Art Day, so I decided to slowly look at one of my favorite pieces in the Modern collection, El Encuentro by Angel Botello.

Angel Botello, El Encuentro, 1950

Angel Botello (1913-1986) was a Spanish born artist known as the “Caribbean Ganguin” because of his distinct expressionistic style and use of colors. El Encuentro (1950) depicts the “encounter” between the natives of Haiti and Christopher Columbus. The abstracted figures stand and sit against a geometric background. Each figure has flattened, triangular feet and morphed hands with only four fingers. Behind the two largest figures in the front, hands raise in the background from unseen bodies. All the figures hands mimic each other, grabbing towards each other for some reason. Botello used warm and cool colors to contrast the neutral colors in the background and to highlight the emotions of the natives as they encounter a foreign person. He skillfully fit all the figures into geometric shapes, and the touches of lines all echo the energy of the people. Their hands reach up towards the sky as though they were searching for an answer from above and the geometric background representing chaos and confusion heightens the emotions of the scene.

Standing there looking at this for seven minutes gave me the chance to see the little details that Botello included. Every line, color, and mark that Botello used was to capture the energy of the natives that he lived amongst and tell the tale of the people he was a part of. Looking at their faces, I felt I could understand their confusion and distress when Columbus, a complete stranger that looks much different from their own people, appears almost magically from the ocean. It seemed so long ago today, but the impact of that moment was profound for Haiti. Slowly appreciating Botello’s quality of line, color, and shape made me understand his personal goal to capture his ancestors’ emotional state at this moment in time. Had I quickly glanced at this piece without stopping to look slowly, I would not have been able to fully understand what Botello was attempting to convey with his work of art.
This experience has made me realize that my method of viewing art in museums is not the most effective way. I might be the most efficient viewer in a museum, but seeing 10 works of art means nothing if I can’t recall the qualities of it. Its hard to describe the difference in the slow approach to looking, so here’s my advice: take a minute (or seven), slow down, and really take a look at art. Its amazing what you can see when you’re actually looking, especially when you don’t know what you’re looking for.

– Amanda Kegu, University of Florida

Angel Botello’s El Encuentro among other great works is available to view at the Harn Museum of Art in Gainesville, FL. Sign up to participate in the Harn Museum’s Slow Art Day event here.