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

Mindful Slow-Looking with The Fotomuseum

For their 5th Slow Art Day, The Fotomuseum in Antwerp, Belgium, provided a virtual slow-looking mindfulness exercise (in Dutch) for people at home during the Covid19 pandemic.

Title picture of the instructions for the event Slow Art Day at Home organised by the Fotomuseum, Antwerp.

Participants were encouraged to choose an image, drawing or photo to look at for 5-10 minutes and find a comfortable seated position. The Fotomuseum outlined 5 stages for its meditative slow-looking activity:

1) Relax

“Close your eyes. Pay attention to your breath, and put one hand on your stomach to feel it. If your mind wanders, return to your breath. Breathe in for 4 seconds and out for 6. Repeat this 5 times.”

2) Look at your artwork

“Open your eyes and look at the artwork with the same alertness you had for your breath. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do you notice?
  • What colors, composition, shapes and materials do you see?
  • Does the artwork remind you of events from your own life?
  • Would anyone else notice the same things as you?

If your mind wanders, try to return to the image.”

3) Breathe

“Close your eyes a second time, and return focus to your breathing. Take a few deep breaths so you feel the air flow deeply into your lungs, and then breathe as normal again. Pay attention to any thoughts about the artwork, but try to not lose yourself in them. Return to your breathing again.”

4) Look a second time

“Open your eyes and look at the artwork for the second time.

  • What stands out to you now?
  • Do you notice anything new?
  • Does the artwork take on a new meaning for you?”

5) Reflect

“Take a moment to reflect on the exercise.

  • Did you notice yourself thinking or looking in a different way?
  • Do you have a new or different connection with the artwork?”

The original in-person event planned by the museum attracted interest from over 150 prospective attendees, and the online instructions were shared to Facebook with 50+ interactions.

At Slow Art Day HQ we have loved using these thoughtful instructions for our own slow-looking. Try them out at home for yourself!

We look forward to The Fotomuseum’s 6th Slow Art Day in 2021 ― hopefully in their actual museum.

– Johanna

Note: The above instructions were translated from the original Dutch.

PS – You may want to take a look at the webinar they did for Slow Art Day last year.

Inhotim Brazil Slows Down for Art and Nature

2019 was the first year Slow Art Day came to Brazil’s largest foundation of contemporary art, Inhotim, which is also one of the largest outdoor art centers in Latin America. Located in Brumadinho (Minas Gerais), just 60 km (30 miles) away from Belo Horizonte, the Institute has a total area of 1942.25 acres in the biome of the Atlantic Forest.

Renan Zandomenico, educator and mediator, began the Slow Art Day experience in the central area of the Institute, where he says the memory of the past and the present combine in diverse species groups, and where the main tree, Enterolobium contortisiliquum, names the space.

After leaving the central area, the Slow Art Day visitors walked slowly over to their first artwork, Bisected triangle, Interior curve, 2002, by Dan Graham.

“Walking along the lakes slowly and seeing the integration of art and nature, we entered and stayed in Dan Graham’s Bisected triangle, Interior curve, 2002. Slowing down allowed us to experience how Graham’s distorted glass subverts the colors and shapes of the trees and buses and of the other artworks surrounding the area,” said Zandomenico (see photo below).

Slow Art Day 2019 participants looking out and through Dan Graham’s Bisected triangle, Interior curve, 2002 (photo by Daniela Paoliello)

The program continued by slowly entering nearby pavilions which house the works La intimidad de la luz en St Ives: Inhotim, 1997, by Argentine artist Victor Grippo, and Black ³, 2008, by North American artist Robert Irwin. In the pavilions, Zandomenico asked the participants to slow down and contemplate the nuances of light while also listening to the “breath of nature.”

They then went to their final artwork Im Here, But nothing, 2000, by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. Her work allowed them to “pause and search for details and memories through the ultra-violet and domestic atmosphere” created by Kusama’s art.

They finished Slow Art Day in the garden with conversation and a breathing exercise next to the blue palm (Bismarckia nobilis). The participants talked about how slowing down surprised them and allowed them to see and be inspired by art and nature (and art in nature) in new ways.

Inhotim was clearly able to provide Slow Art Day 2019 participants with a powerful meditative and multi-sensory experience. We look forward to their 2020 participation.

– Ashley

Meditative Slow Art Day 2019 at Butler Gallery

For Slow Art Day 2019, Butler Gallery in Kilkenny, Ireland invited visitors to slow down, focus, and connect with artworks in the exhibition: Poulaphouca: New Paintings & Works on Paper by Wicklow-based, Texas born artist Sam Reveles.

The event began with a guided meditation facilitated by Suzanne Martius, Hatha Yoga practitioner. 

Guided meditation facilitated by Suzanne Martius.

This was followed with a Slow Art looking session and guided discussion facilitated by Jean Mann, Interim Learning and Public Engagement Curator at Butler Gallery.

Jean Mann, Interim Learning and Public Engagement Curator at Butler Gallery, facilitating slow observation of artwork “Elemental Span, 2018” by artist Sam Reveles.

We look forward to what Butler Gallery comes up with for Slow Art Day 2020.

– Ashley

Yoga & Meditative Creation for Slow Art Day at Wanås Konst in Sweden

For Slow Art Day 2019, Wanås Konst – Center for Art and Learning based in southern Sweden organized a full day focused on three main activities: yoga, slow art exploration, and meditative action painting.

The day started with the yoga session led by yoga instructor Risa Larsen, who focused on gaining new energy and a relaxed body and mind.

Then throughout the day, visitors were encouraged to choose five artworks in the sculpture park, taking the time to observe each slowly. 

Finally, in the afternoon, visitors were invited to the “Meditative Action Painting” workshop inspired by the Danish artist Jeppe Hein. Participants filled Tibetan singing bowls with colored water and used a ringer to slowly move around the edge of the bowl to create vibrations. These vibrations then created a work of art by sprinkling colored droplets onto a canvas underneath the bowl.

Meditative Action Painting Workshop
Photo credit: Elin Magnusson

Elin Magnusson, Head of Education at Wanås Konst, reported that many of the visitors stayed for the entire program.

We look forward to seeing what this site-specific, international contemporary art-focused organization has in store for their 2020 Slow Art Day.

– Ashley

Meditation at Mildura Arts Centre

For Slow Art Day 2019, Mildura Arts Centre in Mildura, Australia hosted a day full of events including slow looking at the Sam Loyd exhibit, “The Lost Photographs of Socrates Smith,” as well as meditation sessions with local artist and yoga instructor Laura Freitag.

– Ashley