Slow Art Day annually challenges people to observe works of art more slowly, asking participants to spend ten minutes with each selected image, sculpture or installation. Galleries across the globe took part this year, from the prestigious Galleria Degli Uffizi in Florence to the more modern BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead. All 238 locations selected works and hosted lunches for participants to discuss what they’d seen.
I gave the ten minute challenge a go, and found that after overcoming the bizarre inertia that wanted to push me forwards it was really worthwhile.
When it comes to moving images, TV cameras cut on average every seven seconds, to hold out attention and tell us where to look. We don’t even have the patience for video clips anymore. We’ve become pros at scrolling through news feeds, flicking through channels and Snapchatting. All of which have combined to create an ability, that is both a blessing and a curse, as whilst we can take in visual stimuli at record speeds, we also often struggle to slow down.
There have been a number of studies which have asked how long we spend looking at works in galleries, all of which have come up with slightly different answers. One study concluded that we look at paintings and photographs for an average of 17 seconds, another decided on 12, which broke down to two seconds looking at the piece, ten reading the wall text and then a final cursory glance. Apparently, people spend an average of 15 seconds looking at the Mona Lisa. The most optimistic survey comes from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where the visitors look at each work for 32.5 seconds.
As much as I’m sure there’s a lot of benefits to spending hours with one painting, we don’t all have the time, or the inclination, to do so. But, in my opinion, we should find the time to spend a little longer looking. Works in galleries aren’t Snapchats; they don’t have a 10 second expiration date. They’re not like TV shows either; no one else is going to tell you what to look at. Those differences are what’s great about art galleries. You can sweep past as much as you want, but you can also stop and spend as long as you want just looking. So, with that in mind, I think I better go and start practising for next year’s Slow Art Day.