Looking, Writing, Making, and Mindfulness at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

On April 10, 2021, the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, hosted both in-person and virtual sessions for their 7th Slow Art Day.

For the in-person activity, visitors were first introduced to the concept of slow looking, and were then invited to practice what they learned as they walked through the museum. Participants were encouraged to share their experiences on social media and tag the museum with #PMASlowArtDay.

Printed Textile Swatch (detail), 1935–59, made by Soieries F. Ducharne
Printed Textile Swatch (detail), 1935–59, made by Soieries F. Ducharne (France, 1920–1972), 2014-144-190a. Picture used to advertise the Slow Art Day event on the Philadephia Museum of Art website in April.

The virtual event consisted of four separate Zoom sessions focused on slow looking, writing, making, and mindfulness.

Slow Looking

For the slow looking session, participants were encouraged to use a naturalist’s attention to detail when looking at still life paintings. Using tools like the Google Art & Education app allowed them to zoom in and experience works of art in a different way compared to in-person.

Detail of Antoine Berjon, 1819.
Still Life with Flowers, Shells, a Shark’s Head, and Petrifications. Oil on canvas, 42 1/2 × 34 9/16 inches (108 × 87.8 cm) [from the Slow Looking Zoom session hosted by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021]

Slow Making

The Slow Making session took the form of a workshop inspired by the work of artist Judith Rothschild. For this session, participants cut and collaged materials to create their own mixed-media work of art, which resulted in the works you see below.

Participants engaging with art during the Slow Making workshop

Slow Writing

For this session, participants were guided in a communal writing exploration of portraits in the museum’s exhibition Painting Identity. Participants were asked to imagine and write about the subjects’ identity.

Portraits from the exhibition Painting Identity

Museum Mindfulness’

For this virtual session, the Yogi, martial artist, and body worker J Miles of Maha Vira Yoga encouraged participants to find their inner calm with a slow, guided look at a selection of works from the PMA’s collection. This section had a more internal approach compared to the other three sessions.

The events were well received, and the virtual participants responded positively to the PMA survey on Slow Art Day:

“The programs will make me more mindful when visiting the museum. I appreciated the opportunities to look more deeply at works of art that I might have otherwise skipped by.”

Participant’s quote

“A lovely creative and mindful way to start my day”

Participant’s quote after attending the Museum Mindful Session

“Taking time to smell the virtual flowers and using Google Art & Education app to zoom in on every area of a painting; seeing that each component had significance in the painting.”

Participant’s quote after having attended the Slow Looking session

“…slowing down & listening to/reading other participants comments, seeing their creations… is very rewarding and opens new vistas.”

Participant’s quote after having attended the Slow Making session

“Very creative and uplifting. I felt renewed and encouraged, and also came up with some ideas for my own teaching”

Participant’s quote after having attended the Slow Writing session

At Slow Art Day HQ, we want to thank the Philadelphia Museum of Art for hosting yet another wonderful event. The range of activities they designed inspire us and educators around the world to consider creating multiple workshops and experiences for Slow Art Day.

We look forward to whatever creative designs the Philadelphia Museum of Art comes up with in 2022.

Johanna, Jessica, Ashley, and Phyl

PS. For further information on the museum’s events you can follow their social media accounts: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.

Multi-lingual Slow Art Day at MO Museum

For their first Slow Art Day, the MO Museum in Vilnius, Lithuania, organized a free multi-lingual international event on Zoom as part of their MO Conversations program. On 10 April 2021, the museum hosted five conversation groups throughout the day to discuss ‘Interior XI,’ an artwork by Romanas Vilkauskas, in English, Russian, or Lithuanian.

Participants were invited to join a session in their preferred language and look slowly at the artwork before joining a discussion with one of the facilitators: Karen Vanhercke for English; Simona Košinskaitė and Justina Kaminskaitė for Lithuanian; and Irina Leto for Russian.

ROMANAS VILKAUSKAS, Interior XI, 1997 – 1998, oil on canvas, 105,5 x 125 cm. Copyright MOMuseum, Vilnius

The aim was to encourage participants to connect with a single artwork for an entire hour, and no prior knowledge of art was required. The facilitators were well versed in the “visual thinking strategy” (VTS) discussion technique, which they used for the sessions.

Staged picture with art on view and facilitator Karen Vanhercke, Educational Curator at MOMuseum

Participants loved the event and left positive feedback:

Looking at, instead of reading about, the art: the practice of  ‘slow art’ transformed my experience and gave me a deeper connection.

Participant’s quote

Actually, the major takeaway from today’s Zoom call, was my change of perception! In one hour the artpiece changed in front of my eyes. In the beginning it was just an artwork, but in the end it was a story.

Participant’s quote

The discussion made me appreciate it on different levels: peeling away at the layers of expression… It is truly a great piece, and great to see how timeless and flexible art can be.

Participant’s quote

At Slow Art Day HQ, we are excited that the MO Museum designed such an inclusive slow art event in three different languages. We encourage museum educators to consider multi-lingual options for future Slow Art Day events, and we look forward to whatever they come up with in 2022.

Johanna, Jessica, Ashley, and Phyl

P.S. You can follow updates from the MO Museum on their Facebook and Instagram pages.

Slow Art for Educators at the Smithsonian

For their second Slow Art Day, The Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art in Washington, D.C., organized a virtual slow looking workshop specifically for art educators focused on the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849). The aim of the session was to share slow looking ideas and skills that can be applied as teaching methods.

Detail of Katsushika Hokusai. Thunder God. Edo period, 1847. Ink and color on paper. 126.9 x 53.8 cm (49 15/16 x 21 3/16 in). Courtesy of Freer Gallery of Art.
Katsushika Hokusai. Thunder God. Edo period, 1847. Ink and color on paper. 126.9 x 53.8 cm (49 15/16 x 21 3/16 in). Courtesy of Freer Gallery of Art.

After a brief introduction by Education Specialist Jennifer Reifsteck, Faylinda Kodis, high-school Visual Educator, led the slow looking activity. BoBeen Chung, Program Assistant for the Department of Engagement and Visitor Experience, supported by sharing links for participants in the chat. The structure of the session is outlined below.

1. Start with a relaxation and meditation “eye palming” activity

2. Observe Hokusai’s “Thunder God” for 10 minutes – without prior knowledge of the work (and without distractions, including mobile phones).

3. Write observations on Hokusai’s artwork using the following prompts:

  • Describe: What did you see?
  • Analyze: Why do you think the artist made certain decisions in this artwork?
  • Interpret: What is the message, story, or theme of this artwork?
  • Inquire: What would you like to know about this artwork?

4. Discussion of the artwork and observations

Jennifer Reifsteck closed the day’s program by sharing a brief history of the Freer and Sackler’s Galleries, information on Hokusai’s collection, and where to find lesson plans and useful material for educators on the Gallery’s website.

We encourage educators to view the recording of the session and this Google doc highlighting the participants’ reflections.

Screenshot from the beginning of the Zoom session.

The event was attended by 53 participants from all over the world, including Romania, France, India, Austria, and several states across the United States: Virginia, Maryland, Washington, D.C., Connecticut, Florida, California, Rhode Island, and New York.

Participants loved the event, and left positive feedback:

“Congratulations and THANK YOU for today’s work and the follow-on resources. What lovely teamwork and expertise to share with us educators. Thanks to all participants, too!”

Participant’s quote from Zoom’s chat

“These resources/sharings are some of the BEST things that have come out of the pandemic, RIGHT?  Bless your good work!”

Participant’s quote from Zoom’s chat

“Amazing! Thank you, I am very inspired by this educational slow looking technique.”

Participant’s quote from Zoom’s chat

“Thank you for this wonderful approach to perception.”

Participant’s quote from Zoom’s chat

“Excellent, very informative & inspirational lessons on slow looking with Hokusai at Freer with you. Thank you so much.”

Participant’s quote from Zoom’s chat

“Thank you for all of this. It was very informative and of great benefit for me and my teaching going forward.”

Participant’s quote from Zoom’s chat

“Therapeutic to slow look. I appreciate this platform to collaboratively slow look and appreciate out loud. So I’m curious if the Freer or other art museums are offering more mornings like this to bring folks together for the shared experience. Now that the nation is ZOOMING as never before, it unleashes some more possibilities.”

Participant’s quote from Zoom’s chat

At Slow Art Day HQ, we are excited that the Smithsonian designed a slow art event specifically for educators, which advances our mission of equipping educators with the skills to implement slow looking in their teaching.

We look forward to seeing what they come up with in 2022!

Johanna, Jessica, Ashley, and Phyl

In Mindful Memory: Slow Art with the Patricia & Philip Frost Art Museum

For their 9th Slow Art Day, the Patricia & Philip Frost Art Museum at Florida International University, in Miami, Florida, invited participants to join them for a virtual guided meditation, a yoga session, and a close-looking art exercise.

The event was organized in memory of Helena Venero, a dedicated docent, volunteer and art lover who enthusiastically helped the Frost Art Museum host their first Slow Art Day. We never knew Helena, but we feel her spirit strongly, and are really touched that the Museum organized the event in her memory.

Slow Art Day Zoom Session: Screenshot of Krysten Medina’s yoga session from the gallery on Zoom.
In the background: Chris Friday, “20 Feet Tall.” (Chalk on Arches paper, 2021)


On April 10, Victoria R. Gonzalez, a Health Educator, opened the event by encouraging participants to turn off their cellphones and join her in a guided meditation.

This prepped participants for the virtual yoga class that followed, which was led by Krysten Medina, a Prana Yoga instructor. With artwork in the background, she encouraged participants to give love and care to their bodies during the session as a grounding practice.

After yoga, participants were invited to complete a close-looking exercise using one of the below five works from the Gallery’s permanent collection.

Pepe Mar, ‘Mothership,’ Mixed media on wood, 2020, Courtesy of the Artist and David Castillo Gallery
René Portocarrero, ‘Mujer,’ 1954, painting, 15.25 x 11.5 in, Darlene M. and Jorge M. Perez Art Collection at FIU

Xaviera Simmons, ‘Beyond the Canon of Landscape,’ color photograph. 2008 Courtesy of the Artist and David Castillo Gallery

Unknown, ‘Mexico  Mask,’ wood paint. 20th Century  6 5/8 x 6 3/8 x 4 ½ inches  Gift of Lawrence and Linda Twill, FIU
Edouard Duval Carrie, ‘Regional Study,’ mixed media on paper. 2002  80 x 60 x 2 ½ inches  Purchase made possible with funds donated by Dr. Sanford L. and Dolores Ziff. FIU

Participants chose one of the artworks, and spent 15 minutes looking slowly. They were then asked to ponder the following questions:

1. Describe the object.

2. What emotions, moods, ideas, or thoughts does the object convey or generate?

3. How has the maker/artist manipulated the materials and/or elements to convey or generate these emotions, moods, ideas, or thoughts? 

4. What social, cultural, and historical factors might have influenced the maker/artist’s choices, and the object’s meaning?

5. What personal meaning or significance do you find in this object?

6. How would you compare this work to other artworks that you have seen? How is it similar and how is it different?

7. What other observations do you have?

Emily Afre, Education Specialist at the Gallery, thanked the Slow Art Day HQ team for “the opportunity to participate in another year of taking it slow.”

In turn, we would like to thank Emily and The Frost Art Museum for their long-term commitment to celebrating Slow Art Day, and for holding this year’s event in memory of someone who started their journey in Slow Art. We love being part of a global movement that helps people learn to look at and love art, all while slowing down in this fast-paced, multi-tasking world.

We can’t wait to see what the Patricia & Philip Frost Museum comes up with for their 10th Anniversary Slow Art Day in 2022.

Johanna, Jessica, Ashley, and Phyl

P.S. If you are interested in following the Frost Art Museum’s updates, here you can find their Facebook page.

(Anything But) Black and White: Slow Art Week at NMWA

For their 8th annual (and 2nd virtual) Slow Art event, the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) in Washington DC, invited visitors to take part in a Slow Art Week, which opened on April 2 and culminated in a virtual gathering on April 10, facilitated by a museum educator.

The NMWA created a virtual collection, “(Anything But) Black and White”, for the week of activities. The Museum’s aim with this collection was to remind that life is rarely clearcut, and that we should seek to discover and embrace nuance, variety, and difference. The selected artworks were available to view online throughout the week, and were on display in the museum for those who could visit in person.

               Shirin Neshat, On Guard, 1998; Gelatin silver print with ink, 11 x 14 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Tony Podesta Collection; © Shirin Neshat

The final event of Slow Art Week, held on Saturday the 10th, featured lively conversation about the experience of slow looking. To facilitate more intimate dialogue with the group the museum used breakout rooms, which is a great tool during virtual sessions.

The NMWA provided participants a detailed PDF with instructions to review before joining the session on Saturday 10th.

We encourage museum educators and curators to review the PDF above to get a sense of the design of the whole event. We will highlight just a few things here.

We particularly liked the four guiding questions the NMWA asked participants to consider ahead of the Saturday session. Those questions were the following:

  • How might art help you appreciate perspectives other than your own?
  • What are your first impressions or assumptions based on? What do you need for your opinions to evolve or change?
  • Have you experienced a shift from binary to spectrum thinking about a topic in the last year? What influenced that change in thinking?
  • How can we seek to “find the gray” in the world around us?

Also in preparation for the Saturday session, the close looking PDF provided various entry points for participants, including prompts for kinesthetic and visual learners. The aim was to give participants the opportunity to approach the process of slow looking in way(s) most comfortable for them. Some of the provocations are listed below.

  • Consider the artwork’s details. Roll up a sheet of paper to create a viewfinder. Look at the artwork through it to isolate and consider the artwork’s parts.
  •  Arrange things you find around your home to make a temporary found-object sculpture that is inspired by your favorite choice. Take a picture of your sculpture. Post it to social media and tag @womeninthearts and @slowartday.
  • Create a bank of words and phrases that come to mind as you look at an artwork.

Slow Art Week was well received:

 “For the NMWA session I did the independent slow looking first, then attended the Zoom meeting. All of it was rewarding. I enjoyed the chance for interaction in the small groups. Hearing other people talk about their observations, questions, ideas, etc. is a reminder to me that I miss things even when looking closely and/or I interpret what I see differently than other people. Above all what was most meaningful to me was the opportunity to “commune” with other, like-minded (art-minded) people. For a short time I felt less alone. What I enjoyed about the day overall (attended Slow Art Day at both NMWA and Philadelphia Museum of Art) is that I allowed myself to have a whole day for art things, which was like medicine.”

Participant’s quote

“If you want to learn about and get to know a person, you spend time with them. The same is true with works of art. Time to look, time to pause, time to breathe. Time to process and to just be. NMWA’s works of art deserve this, and so do we. These works can become our life-long friends.”

Participant’s quote

 “I participated in the independent slow looking and in the Zoom meeting. For me, both were important, I guess one needs time to look in your own times and places, and you also arrive prepared to the meeting. The meeting is also important because it is the opportunity to share and to listen to other experiences and views. For me both are learning opportunities and experiences.”

Participant’s quote in response to the moderator’s questions: What element(s) of Slow Art Day did you take part in—independent slow looking, Zoom meeting, both? Which element(s) did you find most rewarding. Why?

 “I did not do the independent slow looking exercise since I only decided to participate a short while ahead of enrolling in the session. During the Zoom meeting, I found the conversation that you facilitated thoughtful and respectful, with time given in between words for collective observation. When you added information about the works, it was artfully done, with just the right amount so as to further the looking dialogue that was happening between us.”

Participant’s quote

We at Slow Art Day HQ would like to thank the NMWA for their long-lasting commitment to Slow Art Day, and love how creative and inclusive their Slow Art Week was. The pandemic has proven quite isolating for many, and we agree, as one participant mentioned, that enjoying art slowly is “like medicine” for the soul.

We look forward to seeing what the NMWA comes up with for Slow Art Day 2022 (and, again, encourage museum educators to review their detailed PDF for ideas and inspiration).

Johanna, Jessica, Ashley, and Phyl

P.S. If you would like to be updated with the NMWA’s events you can follow the on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Long Exposure: Slow Looking Photography at FOMU

For their 6th Slow Art Day, the Foto Museum (FOMU), in Antwerp, Belgium, organized four virtual slow looking sessions featuring two photographs:

  • Lynne Cohen, Recording Studio, 1987.
  • Martine Franck, Quartier de Byker, Newcastle upon Tyne, Royaume-Uni, 1977.
Recording Studio, 1987 © Lynne Cohen, Courtesy Rodolphe Janssen.
Quartier de Byker, Newcastle upon Tyne, Royaume-Uni, 1977© Martine Franck / Magnum Photos.

Each virtual session opened with a warm welcome from a guide, and introductions from participants.

Without giving any details of the photographs, the guide shared each one and invited participants to look slowly and freely discuss their thoughts.

At the end of the session, all participants were guided through a mindful full-body check to reconnect to their physical surroundings.

Participants engaging with one of the photographs
Participants on Zoom

The participants enjoyed the slow looking and were eager to share their reflections, both about the pictures and the sessions.

“It’s a nice way to interact with strangers.”

Participant’s quote

“I was surprised that the time went by so quickly!”

Participant’s quote

“Nice food for thought with lots of different perspectives.”

Participant’s quote

At Slow Art Day HQ we are really impressed with FOMU’s commitment to hosting not one – but four – sessions in one day. Bookending each event with an introduction round and a mindful cooling-down activity is a great structure that we hope other museums adopt for a future Slow Art Day.

We look forward to what FOMU comes up with for their 7th Slow Art Day in 2022.

Johanna, Jessica, Ashley, and Phyl