Slow Art Day has come to the Sierra Nevada Santa Marta in Colombia, known as the ‘Heart of the World’ to the indigenous communities who inhabit the coastal mountains and valleys.
Photographer Natasha Johl organized this first Slow Art Day at Sonidoselva, a cultural center in Minca. After giving a short speech describing the simple methodology of slow looking, Johl invited participants to look slowly at her photography exhibition Dream Weaver, which presents a series of photographs taken over nine years that represent the ordinary, simple, and often overlooked moments of life.
In a world where images shout at the viewer, I believe there is a dignity in silence.
The main subject of her photos are the indigenous group of the Arhuacos, which descend from the Tairona, an ancient South American civilization that now reside in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. The Arhuaco have developed an understanding of the earth, which gives equal measure to the human mind and spirit and the forces of nature.
We at Slow Art Day HQ love that slow looking at art has made it to the ‘heart of the world’ and we look forward to seeing what Johl and her colleagues put together for Slow Art Day 2024.
For its 10th Slow Art Day, the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) in Washington DC celebrated a week of events. And because the museum’s historic building was closed for a major renovation until October 2023, the April 2023 events were hosted virtually.
For Slow Looking Week, the NMWA published a PDF with slow looking prompts and instructions, which is viewable below.
The theme for this year’s events was “A Growing Collection,” featuring recent acquisitions by the NMWA from 2021 and 2022. For the week, a selection of the artworks were uploaded to the NMWA’s Lightbox: 2023 Slow Art Day virtual art gallery. These could be viewed by participants in the week leading up to the 15th, when the NMWA hosted a Zoom meeting where all artworks could be discussed live.
Ahead of the Zoom meeting, all participants were encouraged to consider questions about the role of the art museum, including:
Which museum collection has spoken most to you? What about it resonated with you? Whose faces and voices were represented?
What should an art museum’s collection look like?
What do you want to see more of in art museums? Less of?
During the Zoom meeting, the group was divided into breakout rooms, in which each person was invited to select an image from the Lightbox options, and the whole group was asked to discuss using the Harvard Project Zero prompts See/Think/Wonder.
Following this, all groups came back together to share experiences of and reflect on process of looking together. Attendees called in from Canada, the United Kingdom, DC, FL, IL, MD, NJ, and NY. For 60% of the attendees, 2023 was their first Slow Art Day experience.
At the end of the Zoom event, participants were asked what they enjoyed the most about the slow looking experience. Here’s a selection of their answers:
“Hearing other people’s experiences and seeing more through their eyes.”
“Talking with just a few people at a time. I could talk a bit more than normal.”
“The shared experience; the opportunity to give over to LOOKING, observing, talking, and reflecting.”
“Breakout session, taking the time to understood what and why each of us chose specific artworks & how we all came with different background and observations.”
Everyone said that they would love to attend another Slow Art Day.
We at Slow Art Day are big fans of the NMWA – for many reasons including that they are real leaders in the global Slow Art Day movement. We hope more museums imitate their weeklong activities. And now that the NMWA has reopened, we look forward to what they come up with for Slow Art Day Week 2024.
Participants were first invited to look slowly at the following five artworks:
“Enderroc” by Ignasi Aballí
“Rinzen, Subito despertar” by Antoni Tàpies
“Eco de una carta inacabada” by Elena del Rivero
“Movil Home” by Mona Hatoum
“Dialegs de Llum” by Josep Grau-Garriga
After the slow looking exercise, art therapists Aura Pizarro, Joaquim Basart and Maribel Perpiñá led the group in a facilitated discussion using gestalt psychotherapy, which focuses on one’s present life rather than on past experiences. Through the discussion, participants shared reactions to the art and discovered common themes of friendship, play, family, pain, and happiness.
Slow Art Day is founded on the principle of being present in the moment, and we at HQ love to see how MACBA and the Fundacion La Casa Ambar combined Slow Looking with Gestalt Art Therapy. The Fundacion La Casa Ambar also mentioned that they offer therapy to everyone, irrespective of economic means — and radical inclusivity is another shared principle with Slow Art Day.
We are excited to see what the MACBA and the Fundacion La Casa Ambar come up with for Slow Art Day 2024.
For their 8th Slow Art Day, the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), one of the largest art museums in North America, invited participants to join one of two slow looking offerings with the AGO collection: either by designing their own slow looking tour, or by joining a guided tour.
For the guided tour, one of the AGO’s art educators asked participants to look at three artworks:
AGO curator Mellisa Smith reported that the post-looking conversation gained momentum through the tour as people became more comfortable sharing. This was a function of the trust participants built with each other as they experienced the act of looking at the art through each other’s eyes.
For the final session of the guided tour, the AGO hosts asked participants to wander slowly across the entire length of Tintoretto’s painting, “Christ Washing His Disciples’ Feet.” Specifically, they asked observers to pay attention to a trick with perspective that occurs with this painting. When viewed from the side as one slowly walks its length, Tintoretto’s painting seems to emphasize the gaze of the disciples towards Jesus, thus focusing the viewer on his status as the main subject. This is truly a painting which needs to be seen slowly.
When asked if they would do anything differently next year, the AGO told us two things:
In the future, they hope to try a more densely curated space, and investigate how participants are able to center themselves in a more chaotic space.
They would like to also avoid choosing artwork with in-depth wall texts, as visitors couldn’t help but to read the labels (understandable!)
We encourage art educators and curators to listen to an episode of the CBC Commotion podcast series hosted by Elamin Abdelmahmoud and featuring AGO curator Melissa Smith – Slow Art Day and the value of lingering. Smith mentions a point that we always like to reinforce about slow looking: it is about building your own meaning with a piece, and you don’t have to have any prior knowledge of art or the piece to do that. Yes! That indeed is the power of slow looking.
We really appreciate the Art Gallery of Ontario’s long-term commitment to Slow Art Day, and can’t wait to see what they come up with for Slow Art Day 2024.
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.