Open to Being Slow in Virginia

For their first Slow Art Day on April 10, 2021, Open to Being, a community-building organization based in Arlington, Virginia, hosted a virtual slow looking event and set of interactive exercises.

Theresa Esterlund, the founder of Open to Being, led a 45-minute session focused on artist Foon Sham’s outdoor sculpture ‘Ridge’ (2018), and participants were invited to join via Zoom or Facebook Live.

Foon Sham. Ridge. 2018. Public installation located in Oakland Park, Arlington, Virginia.
Photograph by Theresa Esterlund.

After looking slowly at the sculpture for 7-10 minutes, participants were invited to share and discuss their observations using the following questions and creative prompts:

Questions

  • What did the experience feel like to you?
  • What surprised you?
  • What inspired you?
  • What sparked your curiosity?
  • What do you remember the most?

Creative prompts

  • Write a 6 word story or Haiku
  • Use scraps of paper or other materials to build something
  • Take a photo
  • Design a symbol
  • Draw

Pictures and notes submitted by the participants in response to the creative prompts

The event was well received, and participants felt that the program was very accessible:

“I really appreciated the way your program unfolded. I did feel like I was transported to the park in a way, it was engaging in that we could almost compare notes with each other as guests on Zoom.”

Participant’s comment

With 25 years of experience in science, history, and art museum education, Esterlund is also an artist who now teaches yoga and meditation alongside her work with Open to Being. She sees a clear connection between slow looking at art and mindfulness:

“Looking at art slowly is an opportunity to practice mindfulness – being with everything that’s going on at any given moment and experiencing everything without judging or getting caught up in it. That kind of experience can lead to openings, which might be experienced long after the program. The emphasis was on the experience, with the artwork as a pathway and essential element of that experience, rather than on the art itself.”

Theresa Esterlund

At Slow Art Day HQ, we love it when hosts integrate slow looking, mindfulness and play. We can’t wait to see what creative design Esterlund comes up with for Slow Art Day 2022.

-Johanna, Jessica, Ashley and Phyl

PS. You can view a recording of the event, and check out the Open to Being Facebook page for more information about upcoming events.

Meditative Slow Art Day at Grounds For Sculpture

For Slow Art Day, Grounds For Sculpture (GFS) in Hamilton, New Jersey, hosted nearly 1,000 participants and provided them with meditative prompts to use while slow-viewing the sculptures.

Picture of visitors engaging with different sculptures at Grounds.

On April 10, all visitors were encouraged to do a slow looking activity using the following instructions created by Libby Vieira da Cunha, Manager of Group Visit and School Programs at Grounds For Sculpture:

1) Pick any sculpture on the grounds that interests you

2) Challenge yourself to look at the sculpture for 5 minutes – set a timer and allow yourself to slow down

3) While taking a slow look, ask yourself the following questions:

Observe

  • Take a deep breath. Walk around the sculpture and let your eyes move slowly around the artwork – from where it touches the ground all the way up to the sky.
  • What do you notice? Make three observations based on what you noticed.

Share

  • Think of a story or experience this sculpture reminds you of – anything that comes to mind.
  • Think of a friend that you want to share this sculpture with, why does this person come to mind?

Reflect

  • What do you notice about the sculpture now that you did not see at first glance? How does this change your impression of the sculpture?
  • If you’re with others share your responses with each other. Did they have similar or different thoughts on the sculpture?

Repeat

  • If you’re up for the Slow Art Day challenge, then repeat this exercise with two other sculptures
  • What new question might you pose for slow looking? Add it to your next slow look.

Slow Art Day at Grounds for Sculpture Poster

Throughout the day, facilitators also walked between different groups, inviting them to discuss the artwork ‘Dorian’ by artist Bruce Beasley (pictured below).

Bruce Beasley, Dorian (1986). Welded stainless steel, burnished surface.
240 in x 360 in x 120 in. Courtesy of Grounds for Sculpture

Ahead of the event, it was advertised on Facebook and Instagram, receiving more than 600 likes from the public. The in-person activity was very well received, and experienced by a total of 952 visitors from across the country – from Arizona, California, Minnesota, and many states along the east coast.

Participants shared that they found the experience fun, stimulating, reflective, special, interesting, insightful, and meditative:

“The fact that you can see it (the artwork) from so many different perspectives makes it more beautiful.”

Slow Art Day Participant

“I felt a closer bond to my friend doing it as we expressed our experiences”

Slow Art Day Participant’s quote

“Allows for seeing hidden beauty”

Participant’s quote

“I was able to reflect and learn something new”

Slow Art Day Participant’s quote

At Slow Art Day HQ, we were excited to see Grounds for Sculpture bring out nearly 1,000 people for their first annual event. We also appreciated GFS’ enthusiasm, creativity and attention to detail. And their poster (pictured above) is terrific.

We can’t wait to see what they come up with for their second Slow Art Day in 2022.

Johanna, Jessica, and Ashley

Relax and Re-energize: Slow Art Day at Galleria l’Arte di Seta

For their first Slow Art Day, the Galleria l’Arte di Seta, in Ljubljana, Slovenia, organized a mindful Zoom session on April 10, featuring three different paintings:

  • Camille Pissarro. A Creek in St. Thomas (Virgin Islands), 1856.
  • Auguste Renoir , Jeune Espagnole jouant de la guitare, 1898.
  • Vasily Kandinsky, Composition 8 (Komposition 8), 1923.
Camille Pissarro. A Creek in St. Thomas (Virgin Islands), 1856.
Oil on academy board, 24.5 x 32.2 cm, Courtesy of National Gallery, Washington.
Auguste Renoir , Jeune Espagnole jouant de la guitare, 1898.
Oil on canvas, 55.6 x 65.2 cm. Courtesy of National Gallery Washington
Vasily Kandinsky, Composition 8 (Komposition 8), 1923.
Oil on canvas, 140.3 x 200.7 cm. Courtesy of Guggenheim Museum.

Participants joined the two-hour Zoom session, which included 10 minute observation of each of the three paintings, followed by discussion.

Lidija Drobež, founder of Galleria l’Arte di Seta, was positively surprised by the enthusiasm and depth of insight from the participants. In fact, to foster even deeper discussion, she said the gallery might focus on one or two pieces of art next year.

Several participants left wonderful feedback.

“When I heard the title of event I was sceptical. After the session I can say that it was not only relaxing and reenergising but it gave me a lot of insights about myself.”

Ana Tijssen – Slow Art Day participant

“I joined the session out of simple curiosity. For the first time in my life I took more time to view a painting: I discovered things which took me by surprise. What I take out of whole event, is how diverse insights participants obtained and yet our conversation was open and positive all the time.”

Monika K. – Slow Art Day participant

“The more I was focusing on the paintings, the more it made me realise how everything is connected in life. For example – much more than being fond of traveling, I am fond of living in foreign countries and during the Slow Art Day session I realised why. When I allowed myself to stop and take time to be with the painting it was only then when I could feel a deeper connection and a sense of familiarity. It is the same with foreign countries – traveling through them seems like rushing through the gallery from one famous painting to another – the experience may appear fleeting and empty. Living in a foreign country, on the contrary, is like taking time to get to know the “painting” in depth, which feels meaningful and enriching.”

Anja Humljan – Slow Art Day participant

“I really appreciated the event, because it created the possibility of valuing different ways of seeing. One was to connect with myself and rediscover the joy of personal discovery almost like a child. And, of course, last but not least, I really enjoyed the insights and comments of other participants.”

Nenad Filipovic – Slow Art Day participant

Due to the enthusiastic response to the event by participants, the Gallery plans to organize an in-person event later this year once they can re-open. Visit their Instagram account to stay updated with their work.

At Slow Art Day HQ, we love the passion for slow looking that Lidija Drobež and her participants show. We must admit that our original design for Slow Art Day was to have participants look for one hour at one painting, but we decided that might be too intimidating. Yet, we still know the power of even slower looking, and are thus excited to see what Lidija Drobež comes up with for 2022.

Johanna, Jessica, Ashley

Slow Art Day Italian Interview

[Note: Slow Art Day 2021 is coming up Saturday, April 10 – read the 2020 report for ideas on how to design your slow looking events.]

In this interview, Annalisa Banzi, Ph.D. (researcher in museum studies, psychology and neuroscience at CESPEB-Bicocca University) shares some ideas on “Wellness and Museums” with Elisabetta Roncati (art influencer), and focuses on Slow Art Day as a great example of programs that help with mental health.

Banzi and Roncati discuss the powerful effect of slow looking and how Slow Art Day is radically inclusive – i.e., allows people to include themselves in the art experience.

Moreover, Banzi argues that Slow Art Day has become a useful way to enhance people’s mental wellbeing during the pandemic *and* has given an important way for museums to interact with visitors all over the world.

Listen to the interview in Italian here.

Phil

Van Gogh in Mississippi for Slow Art Day 2020

For their second Slow Art Day, the Mississippi Museum of Art shared a slow-panning video of Vincent van Gogh’s “Daisies, Arles” (1888).

The video featured close-ups of the painting alongside commentary by Victoria Meek, Associate Curator for Family and Studio Programs. The painting is her favorite artwork from the Mississippi Museum of Art exhibition “Van Gogh, Monet, Degas and Their Times,” which was postponed due to the pandemic.

Title: Art Moment | Vincent van Gogh’s “Daisies, Arles,” 1888.
Artwork: Oil on canvas, 13 x 16 1/2 in. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, 2014.207. Copyright Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Photo: Travis Fullerton

McKenzie Drake, Assistant Curator of Public Programs and Community Engagement, said that the video was well-received across social media, with 830+ views and likes on Instagram and Facebook.

One person posted a picture of roses as a thematic connection, and others praised our education staff for providing insightful interpretation of the work. We were pleased to have produced something that could allow our audience to take a closer look at one of the iconic works on view.

McKenzie Drake, Assistant Curator of Public Programs and Community Engagement

Following the positive feedback on the video, the Museum created a new “Mindful Art Moment” video series on their Facebook page, encouraging viewers to think differently about what they see in works of art.

At Slow Art Day HQ, we are excited to see the Museum build new programs based on the success of its Slow Art Day initiative. This is core to our mission: use the annual event to encourage museums to adopt year-round programming.

We look forward to seeing what the Mississippi Museum of Art has in store for Slow Art Day 2021.

– Johanna and Ashley

‘The Approaching Storm’ with The Norton Simon

For their fifth Slow Art Day, The Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, CA, invited the public via Instagram to look slowly at Narcisse-Virgile Diaz de la Peña’s ‘The Approaching Storm.’

The event was inspired by the Norton Simon’s regular Mindful Looking sessions, where visitors focus on looking at one artwork for one hour.

Narcisse-Virgile Diaz de la Peña (French, 1807-1876), The Approaching Storm, 1870, oil on canvas, The Norton Simon Foundation, Gift of Mr. Norton Simon.

Viewers were guided by two prompts:

  • Step inside this scene and sit under the light.
  • How does it feel? In times of uneasiness, where do you find light⁣⁣?

We’d also like to note that the museum provided an unusually good description of the artwork – not filled with jargon but instead with accessible, compelling, and even poetic words.

⁣”In the midst of an approaching storm, a beacon of light shines down through a gunmetal sky onto a rocky landscape. A lone woman by the rocks nestled in the middle of the scene reminds us that we are part of this earth. At right, a tree is bent and blasted but does not break.”⁣⁣

Description of ‘The Approaching Storm’, The Norton Simon Museum, Slow Art Day 2020.

Mariko Tu, Manager of Youth and Family Programs at the Norton Simon Museum, said that slow-looking visitors loved the experience and the post was liked 600+ times.

The Slow Art Day HQ team also participated. We imagined ourselves in this scene; felt the soft warmth of the light, and really immersed ourselves in the calm before the storm. Although the lone woman in the painting seemed small, we came to believe that she is filled with strength and courage from the light despite the dark skies.

We look forward to whatever The Norton Simon Museum comes up with for Slow Art Day 2021.

– Johanna and Ashley

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 ICA, Boston

For their third Slow Art Day, The Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) in Boston, MA, designed a slow-looking event for participants to try at home.

Guidelines for the slow-looking were created by Amy Briggs Kemeza, Tour Programs Manager at the ICA. On April 4, they were shared to Instagram, Facebook, and the museum website, where they could also be accessed via a PDF.

Participants could choose artwork in their own home for slow-looking, or use one of the suggested artworks from the ICA’s collection such as Caitlin Keogh, Blank Melody, Old Wall (2018).

Caitlin Keogh, Blank Melody, Old Wall, 2018. Acrylic on canvas, 84 x 63 inches (213.4 x 160 cm). Fotene Demoulas and Tom Coté Art Acquisition Fund and Anonymous Art Acquisition Fund. Courtesy the artist and Bortolami, New York. © Caitlin Keogh

The easy-to-follow instructions involved mindful breathing, slow-looking, and stream-of-consciousness note-taking which were well received across the board – with the Instagram post receiving 530+ likes. For anyone wishing to recreate the experience, the material can still be accessed on Instagram, Facebook, and the museum’s website.

Guidelines to the ICA Boston slow-looking event, created by Amy Briggs Kemeza, Tour Programs Manager at ICA Boston. Available here.

One Instagram user commented:

“Happy Slow Art Day! I like the slow art from (artist) Caitlin Keogh very much! Thank you for sharing her work with us in slow motion during this global event, and it fits well with quarantine schedules as it invites us to slow down and enjoy the discoveries art can offer.”

The whole Slow Art Day HQ team was excited by the clear and compelling design of their slow looking instructions as well as by the decision to encourage participants to slowly look at artworks in their home.

We look forward to whatever the ICA Boston comes up with for Slow Art Day 2021.

– Johanna and Ashley

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.

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