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A lesson in looking

Slow Art Day returns April 15 reminding us that the longer and more carefully you look at art, the more you may see.

Slow art 2023

Image courtesy of the AGO

This is one of the many moments when we encourage you to put down your electronic devices, disconnect from social media and make a date to spend Slow Art Day at the AGO, intently gazing at one or more artworks for ten minutes each. 

“In our hyper-accelerated world, slow looking is not instinctive,” says Melissa Smith, the AGO Program Curator, Collaborative Learning, “but is rather something that must be learned, a process to be adopted. So when Phil Terry founded Slow Art Day in 2008, he was trying to share his realization that how we look at art changes the ways we experience it, no book learning or degrees needed.”

Slow Art Day falls on April 15 this year and it just so happens to be on a Saturday. Here at the Gallery, we invite you to join a guided, slow-looking tour with an AGO Art Educator, who will take visitors through the AGO Collection. Book your ticket in advance here and meet in Walker Court at 1 pm.

Eager to get started? Here are eight tips for being a better, slower looker, courtesy of Melissa Smith. 

  1. Get comfortable.
  1. Try looking at an artwork for 10 minutes. The average person looks at an artwork for between three and 10 seconds. To keep track of your viewing time, set a quiet timer on your phone or try simply counting a number of breaths.
  1. Take your time. Be patient. Let your eyes wander. Try focusing on the details. Try not to have any expectations and try to forget anything you think you know about the artwork. Be open. Look at the texture, colour, shape, symbols, story and perspective.
  1. Trust your own authority and intuition. Pay attention to your first impressions. Don’t underestimate your knowledge of visual culture. Lean into why you were drawn to the work in the first place.
  1. Make connections. Your mind will try and make connections among elements of the work. These connections might be intended by the artist, or unique to you. It doesn’t matter; both are valid. See things from a fresh perspective. 
  1.  How do you feel? Pay attention to how your mind and body respond. This might be in a subtle way. Does the art help you feel calm, does it irritate you, excite you? Does it trigger any memories?
  1. Share your findings. How do you feel about this artwork now that you have studied it in detail? Try and summarize your thoughts. This could be in your head, with your friends, or on social media.
  1.  Look again. Try a different angle or straight away, after a coffee break, on a different day. How does it look in other conditions: on a rainy day, on a bad hair day, on your birthday?

Follow these tips to look at a piece of artwork in your home before Slow Art Day. Use this time to connect with art slowly and see what you discover. Practice with our tips and mark April 15 to join us in celebrating at the Gallery or at home.

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