We recently wrote about Slow Art Day, and were quite happy to finally try it ourselves this past weekend.

To recap, a recent study estimated that museumgoers spend an average of just 17 seconds looking at an individual artwork. To combat this habit, Phil Terry, CEO of Collaborative Gain, started a movement in which a volunteer host selects art at a gallery or museum, participants meet at the venue to examine several works for five to ten minutes each, and then discuss their impressions over lunch or coffee.

Artstor staff headed out two locations: The Frick Collection and the Rubin Museum. The staff at the Rubin had helpfully offered some highlights from which to choose, but both there and at the Frick we ended up wandering around their exhibits and picking works to focus on as they caught our attention. All of us being art lovers, we hadn’t expected to be too surprised by the experience, but in the end we all learned some things that we hadn’t predicted.

Not surprisingly, the art had a much stronger presence in person. For example, we were admirers of the great JMW Turner, but were still moved by seeing his works in real life at the Frick. For one thing, the experience was very visceral—there’s an undeniable impact of standing in front of an object that feels different than simply viewing an image of it. We also enjoyed the physicality of the paint. Sure, it’s handy to zoom in to see brushstrokes in the Artstor Digital Library, but the scale of the real object makes the viewer more acutely aware that this is the work of an actual person.


Similarly, the Rubin’s Himalayan art is generally so mind-bogglingly detailed that taking the time to analyze it provided many rewards. One of the aspects we enjoyed the most was looking at the wide variety of hand gestures, something that we would have easily missed if we hadn’t paid close attention.

More surprisingly, we discovered that five minutes felt much longer than we expected. However, if we looked at an artwork with someone else and exchanged observations, the time flew by and our comments enriched each other’s experience. Another option we enjoyed was to see the work by ourselves, then return to look with someone else. And everyone enjoyed the discussion afterwards—a factor that we hadn’t realized would prove as rewarding as the actual looking.

Finally, the effect of Slow Art Day is already extending past the event itself. We are now more mindful of the benefits of looking more slowly and closely. Still, we look forward to an outing in the next Slow Art Day. And we encourage you to volunteer, preparations are already beginning for next year!