The National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, one of the largest museums in North America, hosted its first Slow Art Day in 2023, with a simple design: participants were invited to look slowly at art in two rooms of the gallery before discussing their experiences together.
On April 15, educator Andrea Gumpert and interpreter Valérie Mercier greeted English and French speaking participants in the Great Hall. After a quick grounding exercise and a collective slow looking warm up, participants were taken to two different galleries for their slow looking. They were given a few prompts to keep in mind during each session, including choosing to read or ignore the artwork labels.
Participants were first invited to select a piece in a gallery with only figurative works (Indigenous and Canadian Galleries – A110). They spent 10 minutes looking at their chosen artworks before sharing thoughts.
This was repeated for 15 minutes in a different gallery with a variety of figurative and abstract paintings and Inuit sculptures (Indigenous and Canadian Galleries – A112). After the second session, participants compared experiences from each gallery.
In the sharing sessions, participants remarked that their impressions of the works grew more nuanced as they spent time with them. Some found themselves asking questions about painting techniques or of the artist’s life. Two participants in the French speaking group requested to spend time with Riopelle’s Pavane, and enjoyed the exchange so much that they decided to lunch together afterwards despite not knowing each other beforehand.
In addition to the public group experience, the Gallery also suggested that participants participate on their own or watch the guided slow look of Rembrandt’s Heroine via a video produced by the museum. Several people on social media commented positively about Slow Art Day, and others wrote to the Gallery asking if the exercise would be repeated. A few staff also suggested the approach be offered on an ongoing basis.
The slow looking event was first tested in staff sessions at the Gallery in March prior to the public event in April. Andrea and Valérie ran the program with staff to 1) offer a team building exercise, and 2) test their approach and work out any kinks ahead of the public program. The staff loved it and later answered a survey, including this note from Dina Groulx, Corporate Relations Officer:
I genuinely enjoyed every minute of the tour […]. What a treat it was for me to have experienced that. As a remote employee, it felt very impactful. I really wasn’t sure what to expect when I signed up, but I was so glad to have invested time out of my day for myself. I also thought of how lucky I was as an employee to have had access to the quietness of the space (most of the time) and I realized that as the pilot took place on Monday, it created a calm retreat experience. It was so nice to go through that experience with colleagues outside of my regular work and made connections with them and with the art in a way that I had never experienced before.
Dina Groulx, Corporate Relations Officer
Taking inspiration from the National Gallery of Canada, we strongly recommend that other museums and galleries imitate what they have done and run slow looking sessions with their staff.
Note that the National Gallery of Canada also ran an effective marketing campaign. Their Slow Art Day event was featured in an article by Chelsea Osmond in the National Gallery of Canada Magazine and advertised on local radio stations. The Gallery also promoted the event via social media posts and in their monthly newsletter.
We are so glad the National Gallery of Canada has joined the Slow Art Day movement, and we look forward to the creative design they come up with for 2024.
-Johanna, Ashley, Jessica Jane, and Phyl
P.S. Take a look at these concluding remarks from educator Andrea Gumpert:
“Participation in the Slow Art Day requires little preparation, links the Gallery to a broader global movement and aligns directly with the Strategic Plan. The approach also benefits visitors by reported reduction in stress levels, improved concentration levels and a better ability to foster empathy. As the participants in the Gallery’s Slow Art Day expressed, slow and careful looking helps to unravel complexity, build connections and see things from multiple perspectives. Finally, since slow looking is inclusive: everyone can take part and no prior knowledge is required. For those who want to practice slow looking with art, no art historical knowledge is required giving confidence in one’s own abilities to visit a museum and to understand works of art for oneself. The Gallery is ideally placed to continue the annual Slow Art Day event and might consider further opportunities to host slow looking programs for the public as well as the staff.”
Andrea Gumpert, educator at the National Gallery of Canada
For their first Slow Art Day, Ellie Harold Studio and Gallery in Frankfort, Michigan, a small town of 1,500, hosted a slow looking event from 12 – 4 pm in her home-based venue. One of the things we love about Slow Art Day is that it happens in national museums, regional museums, movie theaters, and even local home-based galleries.
On April 15, Ellie Harold displayed a variety of paintings from her private collection, one large painting of her own, and a sculpture.
The whole town embraced this first Slow Art Day in Frankfort. Not only did a large group of people come out to view the Slow Art Day, but the local paper, Benzie County Record Patriot, also ran a substantial article.
For the event itself, the gallery handed each participant a sheet with suggestions for slow looking and a blank space and pen for writing down notes:
SUGGESTIONS FOR SLOW LOOKING
Gaze at a spot and let it reveal itself to you.
How do the colors make you feel?
Look at details.
Follow a path through the painting with your eyes.
Find different textures in the painting.
What comes forward and what recedes?
Does the painting take you up, down, or all around?
Look for rhythm or pattern.
Where in the painting do your eyes want to rest?
Does the painting have a message for you?
What else do you notice?
Most participants took 45 minutes to 1 hour to look at the pieces. Since the event took place in Ellie’s home, there was more artwork on display than what was selected specifically for the event, and some visitors chose to look slowly at those as well. During the event, Ellie walked around and discussed the experience with participants. She also later published a blog post: “Slow Art Day: Taking Time to Gaze.”
“Everyone reported having a positive experience and said that the exercise would change how they view art in museums going forward.”
Ellie Harold, Gallery and Studio owner
As we noted, we are always happy to see Slow Art Day being embraced by towns and institutions of all sizes and scale around the world. We welcome Ellie Harold Studio and Gallery to the Slow Art Day community, and look forward to their event next year, which will expand to include several artists.
For their first Slow Art Day, Sigmund Freud University and the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin in Berlin, which comprises seventeen museums in five clusters, jointly sponsored a Slow Art event hosted by Master’s students in Art Therapy Naira Bloss and Ulla Utasch.
The museum complex invited visitors to pre-register for one of two 150-minute long workshops held on April 15th:
WORKSHOP 1: The New Museum / Neues Museum. 9.30 a.m. -12.00 p.m.
WORKSHOP 2: The Old Museum / Altes Museum. 2:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Each session opened with a guided relaxation exercise, followed by slow looking at the busts of Queen Nefertiti (workshop 1) and Queen Cleopatra (workshop 2). Afterwards, the hosts facilitated in-depth discussions.
The sessions concluded with a slow drawing exercise, where the hosts asked each participant to create a design inspired by their experience in the museum, and reflecting on the impact of Slow Looking at art on their mental health.
At Slow Art Day HQ, we are so happy to welcome the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, and its seventeen museums, to the slow looking movement. We also want to thank Prof. Dr. Georg Franzen, Professorship for Psychotherapy Science and Applied Art Psychology at the Sigmund Freud University for supervising his students Naira and Ulla.
We look forward to what the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin comes up with for Slow Art Day 2024.
Art Educator Jonna Kihlsten chose Lee Bul’s art, in part, because she approaches her work both philosophically and with a focus on the observer’s physical experience. As a result, her work opens space for contemplation, reflection and philosophical conversation (and, obviously is great for slow looking).
For the event, philosophy teacher and consultant Mathias Tistelgren led a slow viewing and discussion on Lee’s work Scale of Tongue.
We at Slow Art Day HQ are fans of Lee Bul’s art – and really love the idea of having a philosopher lead slow looking sessions. We can only guess what the Gothenburg Museum of Art will come up with for their 5th Slow Art Day in 2024.
– Jessica Jane, Johanna, Ashley, and Phyl
P.S. If you want to keep updated with the Gothenburg museum, check out their Instagram and Facebook accounts.
For their fourth Slow Art Day, the Open-Air Museum Europos Parkas, in Vilinius, Lithuania, organized a plein-air slow looking session with their participants.
Europos Parkas is a 55 hectare (136 acre) open-air museum situated in the center of Europe that began as a relaxing place in the forest where artists, sculptors, and people around the world could meet, and eventually transformed into an open-air museum with modern sculptures and landscape art.
On the 15th of April, participants where invited to slowly experience three different sculptures:
“Gintarė/electricity” by Evaldas Pauza (Lithuania)
“Conjuror” by Magdalena Abakanowicz (Poland)
“Space of Unknown Growth” by Magdalena Abakanowicz (Poland)
Participants were encouraged to pay close attention to their breathing, all while taking note of the colors, sounds, and smells surrounding them – and even being blindfolded so they could focus on touch.
After the slow viewing, art facilitator Karen Vanhercke led a discussion encouraging participants to make mindful connections between themselves and the surrounding nature, art, and other participants. To make the event more inclusive, discussions were conducted in English with Lithuanian translation. Tea and biscuits were also served.
At Slow Art Day HQ, we love the creativity of the Europos Parkas team and look forward to seeing what they come up with in 2024.
For their second Slow Art Day, Angel Ambrose Fine Art Studio in Bloomington, Illinois invited visitors to consider the well known wedding rhyme “Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue” as part of the city-wide Slow Art Day in this famous Route 66 town.
Angel invited visitors to her studio to look slowly at a selection of works that corresponded with the rhyme:
– Something Old: an “old” painting from Angel’s BFA show at Illinois State University
– Something New: a selection of new artworks by Angel
– Something Borrowed: an Ansel Adams photo on loan from a private collection
– Something Blue: a painting titled “Magnificent Blues,” on loan from the private collection of Wendy Knight Ives (pictured below).
Angel also shared a slow looking activity on Facebook for online participants.
Give yourself 3-5 minutes of silence to focus on one piece of art. Think about these prompts as you view the selected art, (and answer them for yourself afterwards if you wish):
For your head (objective thought/intellect) you can consider any of the following:
What did you see? What decisions did you notice that Angel made in her painting—line, color, texture, form, repetition, contrast, etc? Was there a color scheme/theme apparent? Notice the paint—can you see individual brushstrokes, or a smooth surface, or perhaps another tool was used to apply the paint? How was movement used in the artwork? Was the piece representational, abstracted, or somewhere between? Why do you think Angel chose this format?
For your heart (feelings/emotions), consider the following:
How did you feel when you looked at the work? Did the colors evoke any emotions? What did these feelings make you think about? Did your mood change after looking at the artwork? Did you experience any personal significance to the piece?”
Angel reported that the event was a success, with many new visitors and lots of great conversations.
At Slow Art Day HQ we love how this and the other galleries in Bloomington have been pioneering citywide events. (Note: rumors are that a state-wide Slow Art Day is now being considered in Illinois!)
For the first-stage, MART invited the Slow Food producers to a private event in order to experience slow looking with the works of art shown below.
“Spiralando sull’Arena di Verona”, by Renato Di Bosso, 1935 (from the permanent collection)
“L’incantesimo dell’amore e la primavera della vita” by Galileo Chini, 1914 (from the temporary exhibition on Klimt and Italian Art)
For the second stage held about a week later, MART invited the public to the same slow looking experience with the same works of art.
This time, however, the Slow Food producers held a food tasting afterwards that featured foods they chose to pair with the art based on things like color and emotion. During the tasting, the Slow Food collective talked about their choices in the pairings.
Wow! What a great design for Slow Art Day.
We encourage museums around the world to do something similar: partner with a local Slow Food organization.
Not surprisingly, the MART hosts (Monica Sperandio, Social Media Representative, and Denise Bernabe, Membership Coordinator), reported that the event was a success on all fronts:
We were very satisfied with the experience and the collaboration as Slow Art and Slow Food have very similar ethics and visions, and we were able to combine two different but similar pleasures of life such as art and quality food.
At Slow Art Day HQ, we love the partnership with Slow Food.
We (one of us is based in Italy) hope to visit MART in the future, and get a chance to see and taste the art and food ourselves.
And, of course, we are eager to see what unique design MART comes up with for Slow Art Day 2024.
-Johanna, Ashley, Jessica Jane and Phyl
P.S. Stay up to date with upcoming events at MART via their Instagram and Facebook pages.
Executive Director Ross Mitchell at Glen Foerd in Philadelphia, PA reported that they had a very successful third Slow Art Day, featuring four works of art for an hour and a half of slow looking, followed by a group discussion.
The following prompts were printed out and provided to partcipants to consider during their slow looking:
Look not only at what is pictured, but how it is pictured.
What kind of colors has the artist used? Are they bright, muted, or somewhere in between?
Can you see how the color has been applied or is the color smooth and blended?
Is there a sense of deep, moderate, shallow, or indeterminate space? Is that space consistent throughout the picture?
Is space clear and well defined or atmospheric? What about how the picture was painted gives it that quality?
Is there the suggestion of a directional light source, of light coming from a one side or the other?
Can you see lines anywhere, whether painted lines or strong edges created by color-to-color areas? Where are lines used and how?
What other observations can you make?
How is the installation piece different from the paintings?
What is the unifying theme of the installation?
Glen Foerd participated in a Philadelphia-wide Slow Art Day along with these other museums:
For their third Slow Art Day, educators and docents at Grounds for Sculpture (GFS) in Hamilton, New Jersey, invited visitors to slow down and look at any four different sculptures.
While looking slowly, participants were asked to consider the following prompts:
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. Did they have similar or different thoughts on the sculpture?
Repeat: If you are up for the Slow Art Day challenge, then repeat this excercise with three other sculptures. What new question might you pose for slow looking? Add it to your next slow look.
Here are a few of the visitor observations while slow looking at the sculpture Dorian, which proved to be one of the most popular pieces for Slow Art Day according to GFS docent Adria Sherman:
A child noticed the triangles, diamonds and octagons. Another thought it was a spaceship. A young woman visiting from California saw a hummingbird sipping water and appreciated the effect of clouds on the reflections. The most touching and personal interaction I had was with a couple holding hands. They viewed the sculpture as a living person and its reflection on the surrounding water as the memory of the deceased individual that lives on in the mind of loved ones.
Sherman also mentioned that Slow Art Day 2023 created one of the best visitor experiences she has witnessed in her long tenure at Grounds For Sculpture.
At Slow Art Day HQ, we always love reading about what the team at GFS designs for their annual event, and we look forward to seeing what they come up with for their fourth Slow Art Day in 2024.