Mon, Aug 17, 2009
(photo: Jodi Miller)
Last Monday, New York Times art critic Michael Kimmelman proposed that "slow looking" might follow on the heels of the "slow cooking" movement. Slow looking, like slow food, is about investing time and attention to something that is easy to neglectr—in this case, a work of art. Studies have shown that the average museum visitor spends well under a minute with a work of art. There are many reasons for thisr—personal taste is certainly a big factorr—but what happens when you spend an extended amount of time looking at one work?
Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the Teaching Institute in Museum Education (TIME) and exploring that very question, alongside twenty museum educators from around the country. TIME is held at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and is expertly led by Rika Burnham, head of Education at the Frick Collection, and Elliott Kai-Kee, head of gallery teaching at the J. Paul Getty Museum, who have made extended looking and active dialogue the focus of their practice. Each morning, we'd spend an hour (often more) with a single work of art from the Art Institute's amazing collection, and then spend the afternoon in discussion.
How we spent the morning depended on the work before us. With Edouard Manet's Jesus Mocked by Soldiers, our conversation ranged from the biblical sources to whether the work might be a metaphor for the poor treatment Manet received from critics of the period. In front of Jackson Pollock's Greyed Rainbow, we experimented with sound and stream-of-consciousness writing as ways to engage with abstract painting. No matter what the work, our experience was guided by our own observations, which built off one another and allowed us all to notice things we wouldn't have alone, and was supported by the thoughtful introduction of contextual information and quotes by Rika.
The hour always flew by, even with works that I personally didn't find interesting at first glance. It was a bit like being under a spellr—and really, there is something magical about putting your ordinary life on hold and immersing yourself in another realm. The experience is not unlike yoga or meditation or even a good workout. Afterwards, you feel centered and reconnected with the world around you.
Needless to say, it was an incredible week. My sincere thanks go to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation for making the program possible. Together with my colleague, Tracie McCambridge, who attended TIME two years ago, I look forward to adding new programs that incorporate "slow looking" to our already active schedule of events at the Wexner Center. Keep your eyes out for these new programs starting in the fallr—I guarantee it will be time well spent.