December 9, 2022

The Art of Seeing

It was only very recently, during this summer in fact, that I saw – for the first time in my life – someone staring at a painting.

Now, I like to take my time when observing a painting. In fact, I know a lot of people who do, but this guy…he was different. He wasn’t a Time-Taker. Time-Takers usually float around the room, coming to a halt at some paintings. They shift their weight from foot to foot. They gently scan the decor. They read the label. They move to the next painting.

No, he wasn’t a Time-Taker. Whether he knew it or not, he was a Slow Art Observer.

It was kind of a funny sight! I mean, here was this man – in his early twenties, no more – leaning shamelessly forward; I’m speaking of straight legs, torso bent forward at a ridiculous 90° angle, and his jaw jutted out as he puzzled over every detail in the painting. It took me ten minutes to perambulate the whole room – and, remember, this was me taking my time… and yet when I looked back at the young man, he was still installed before the same painting.

At first I was amused. Was this guy joking around? Was he making fun of us? I decided to watch him for a while, and see how serious he was. That’s when I grew disconcerted; had I missed something in the painting? Curiosity got the better of me, and instead of exiting I joined him at the painting. So did another sir. We both exchanged swift looks before directing our eyes towards the Jan van Goyen in front of us…and then we felt it.

Now, it is most probable that this man was not aware of Slow Art Day, and yet he was beautifully following its principles. Personally, I only just recently heard of this motion…


Slow Art Day is a relatively new movement. The project is simple, and yet so brilliant: to dedicate one day each year (the 27th April in 2013) to visit local galleries and museums and just slowly look at art. Around five pieces will be chosen. At least ten minutes will be spent observing them. Afterwards, the groups of people will get together over lunch and discuss any experiences, observations, feelings and share thought-provoking questions.

Anyone can get involved. Any gallery can get involved. To be a host, one must simply invite people to attend a local museum and view a small number of art works. Last year, there were around 94 locations participating. This year counts with venues ranging from cities like Pasadena or New York, Monterrey, Auckland, Rome and London (Ontario).

As well as that, the Slow Art Day tumblr is already creating reflection, in order to prepare people for the emotional delve of art observation. As one of their bloggers puts it, in a fantastic knowledge issue: ‘Should the amount of time an artist spends working on a piece influence how much time the viewer devotes to it?’

I have the feeling that Slow Art Day not only has in mind the spread of conscientiousness around art, but also it wants to rekindle our passion for the small things.

Maybe observing art slowly is only the beginning for savouring other activities, instead of rushing through them. This is only a feeling I have, but perhaps the habit of reflection accompanying every action will be sparked by this well-spirited movement. If we manage to make this project transcend the exhibitions and live within ourselves, then maybe some of us will learn how to enjoy the perks of life again!

1 Comment on The Art of Seeing

  1. Hi Daniela,
    good article… like that fella I harvest such looks in museums (though I try to stand legere)and I always go solo nowadays as my friends become impatient after a few minutes at one exhibit! I believe taking life slowly and taking in all the details promotes longevity!

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