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May 12, 2011 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Although the average museumgoer spends a whopping 8 to 17 seconds staring at a work of art, visitors at the MU Museum of Art and Archaeology took their time with Picasso’s Fish Platter May 5 by staring at the painting for five to 10 minutes. These marathon gazers took a gander at only five pieces, but they all understood what Slow Art Day founder Phil Terry says is the secret to enjoying a museum: You see more by seeing less.
This concept spawned the first Slow Art Day event in 2009 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which had a paltry four attendees. Although the first year featured only 16 events across the nation, in three years the program has been painted across the map. This year, more than 90 sites have hosted events.
Slow Art Day, which fell on April 16, kicked off its celebration on a global scale at McMurdo Station in Antarctica last December and ended with the final slow art event of the year in Columbia last Thursday.
Slow Art Day blossomed out of Terry’s realization while looking at Hans Hofmann’s abstract expressionist oil painting Fantasia on a Saturday afternoon. Terry spent almost an hour staring at the painting. Although the New Yorker describes himself as an art-world outsider, he thinks spending more time in front of a painting helps museum visitors appreciate art as something more than a tourist attraction.
“The ability to slow down and look — it creates an emotional response, an intellectual response,” Terry says. “It’s a human experience and creates a profound respect for the artist.”
Terry says it’s a well-known fact in the art world that art appreciation requires more than just a few minutes and definitely more than just a glance.
“I used to work at two art museums in New York, and you could just stand back and tell the difference between the average museumgoer and someone who really knows art,” says Elizabeth Beckman, MU Museum of Art and Archaeology education committee member. “This whole slow art concept gives people a chance to take things in and think about them in a different way.”
At its heart, it’s a simple idea: Museums choose five to 10 pieces of art, and audiences spend anywhere from five to 10 minutes looking at each piece. Afterward, attendees gather for food or cocktails to discuss what they saw.
Next year’s Slow Art Day will fall on April 28, and the event is on track to increase participating museums in a year or two, Terry says. In Auckland, New Zealand, this year’s event was so popular that participants asked for it to be a regular event, coordinator Padma Naidu says. In CoMo, slow art will also make another appearance.
The Museum of Art and Archaeology will have another event to celebrate the holiday on April 12, 2012. “When we go to a museum, the more we try to squeeze more in, the less we can truly appreciate it,” Columbia event organizer Elizabeth Kraatz says.