See Less, See More

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.


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4 Responses to See Less, See More

  1. emiliano says:

    See less, See more

    Yes, that´s my rule when I go out home or make a trip which ever place or country that I could go.
    But usually it is not what people or travel agencies use to do, in fact this year I am
    not going to travel with some facilities that the Madrid Government gives cheaper to
    the old people of this city because they are too busy, to many places to scarcely see going fast very fast visiting lot of cities from France, Poland or which ever place they make the trips plan, and of course I don´t like that way of visiting nice cities or going on a short trip.
    Looking at an art piece in the Prado Museum I could be half on hour or more if it is one or some of my best painters. Usually from the Flamenco Painters like Pieter Brueghel or El Bosco to mention two, but there are several of them.
    Looking a Velazquez, Murillo, or El Greco it is similar, looking three or four of them it is enough.
    From Monet I prefer “Impression, Sunrise” (French: Impression, soleil levant) is a painting by Claude Monet.
    That could be my best from him but there are choices for all.

    What about looking at the sea in the afternoon?
    How the light change as the sun is going down and water is illuminated by the
    light of the sky?.
    Looking at that I could be hours, listening to the waves and seeing the light
    of the sun going down and water going brighter.
    I used to go at the sea side when I was in Alicante, watching the sky, the light
    and the sea water, it was splendid pure Nature in its best side,
    I did not need any more.

    Well, today I agree with you Warren absolutely, see less, see more.

    Regards, emiliano

  2. emiliano says:

    Tania, I would like to have some words from you dear.
    I am really very worried.


  3. Peter says:

    April pink full moon is due in two days time.
    Look up the sky and enjoy the moon when it is at the peak of its beauty.
    Well, if u r really looking forward to see a really pinkish moon ,you are setting yourselves up for a huge disappointment. Well ,the practice of naming full moon as they appear throughout the year is all driven from an old tradition if u will. It is all attributed to indigenous people.
    The name given to the full moon every month is some how a reflaction of some significant happening or events in a given month.
    For instance, harvest moon in September as a symbol of father’s crops or straw bury full moon in June and so forth.

    Enjoy the pink moon folks 🙂
    All it takes is to look up

    Look up


  4. Peter says:

    Hello folks ,
    Happy Easter !!
    It is a family observance, festivity if u will.
    Well, it is officially celebrated on Sunday April the 16th. Well
    This Sunday like other Sundays is a part of regular weekends off.
    So , the federal government has made the Friday before Sunday a holiday as a compensation for it.
    Well, Easter holiday is all about kids. I have none.
    Nevertheless ,I like the spirit and the festivity about it.if u ask me ,it is a happy day for everybody. Not just kids.
    U know , Warren your post about art and museum couldn’t come at a better time.
    The reason I m bringing it up is that there is actually art -related museum activities in Ottawa -the capital of Canada.
    Taking place every year on Easter.
    Every year ,A lot of parents take their kids to the museum-Cumberland Heritage Village Museum.
    In there ,kids get to spend time with Easter bunnies:) ,dye eggs and learn a thing or two about
    People in the past and how they got ready for spring and stuff.
    It is a fun-filled activity for kids.
    I have no kids but I always try to get to the spirit of Easter by dying eggs and watching a couple of Easter Bunny movies.
    Well , trust me ,Today, Easter bunny movies and Easter bunny animations movies are on all day long
    In Every single channel out there
    Even sport channels show “space jam ” : the animation movie starring Michael Jordan and bugs bunny.:)) I m telling you.

    Happy Easter folks


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