Seventeen (17) seconds. That’s all.
That’s about how much time people spend in front of a piece of art as they walk through an art museum. An organization, called Slow Art Day, is trying to change that.
Every year in April, Slow Art Day encourages art museums in the U.S. and around the world to choose five paintings for people to look at “slowly” for 5-10 minutes and to show them in a place that makes it easy to do.
They believe that if people take more time to look at fewer works of art, they will learn more about the art, understand it better, and appreciate it more, even if they know nothing about it. They believe that if people see less, fewer artworks, they will see more in each piece of art.
I used to do something similar with my adult ESL students. Let me use one of my favorite paintings – Claude Monet’s Portal (doorway, entrance) of Rouen Cathedral in Morning Light (the photo at the top of the page) – as an example. It’s at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles (If you want to look at a larger photo of it, it’s here).
When you first see the painting, it’s easy to see that it’s a cathedral, but there are many things about the cathedral that look different than if you saw it. The lines are soft. Some things aren’t clear and others are missing. The color isn’t what you would expect.
As my students and I talked about the painting and thought about its name – Portal of Rouen Cathedral in Morning Light – they began to think differently about what Monet was doing. He wasn’t painting the cathedral. He was painting the light shining on and around the cathedral, the kind and color of light you find early in the morning.
Monet was interested in the mixture (combination) of air, light, moisture (small amounts of water in the air), and temperature around the cathedral. As that mixture changed during the day, so did the way he saw the cathedral and the way he painted it.
Monet made about 30 of these paintings while looking out of the window of a room he rented across the street from the cathedral. He worked on each one for only about 10 minutes at the same time every day so the light was always the same.
Whenever my students looked at a new work of art, I asked them where their eyes went first and where they went after that. And to think about why. With this painting, the answer was almost always the same. They looked first at the dark area at the bottom and moved up from there. The change from dark to light “pushed” their eyes up to the top of the painting. So did the triangles (shapes with 3 sides) at the top of the doors, the one above that with the small circle for the clock, and the one at the top of the cathedral.
My students discovered that they could learn a lot about works of art by practicing “slow art,” taking time to look at them and think about what the artist did and why. The next time you go to an art museum, choose a few works of art and spend some extra time looking at them and thinking about them. Remember: see less, see more.
~ Warren Ediger – ESL coach/tutor and creator of the Successful English website.
Photo of Monet’s Rouen Cathedral in Morning Light courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.