Practicing Slow Looking on Slow Art Day 2023

Ink drawing of a man by Alice Neel
Alice Neel. Portrait of Peter Homitzky, 1967. Ink on paper. 30 1/4 x 22 1/2 in. Museum Purchase, 1999.012. Photo: Jueqian Fang 

On April 15, 2023, the Frye was one of more than 1500 museums and galleries that participated in Slow Art Day, a global event that asks people to take time to slow down and look at art. Slowing down has been linked to improved mental health, reduced stress, and better decision-making. Looking slowly at an artwork amplifies these benefits and helps viewers discover even more about a work of art. Researchers have found that the average person only spends about 27 seconds looking at a work of art, but on the Frye’s Slow Art Day tour, participants were challenged to look at and discuss two artworks for 25 minutes each—a true test of endurance. 

How do you practice the art of slow looking when there isn’t a tour?  

One method that facilitates slow looking is Visual Thinking Strategies, which relies on the ability to make meaning out of art simply by looking at it through the lens of our own experience. When you first approach an artwork, take a quiet moment to look, then ask yourself this series of questions: 

  1. What is going on in this artwork? 

  1. What do I see that makes me say that? 

  1. What more can I find? 

Continue to repeat questions two and three until you feel content. If you’re visiting with a friend, ask each other these questions and see how the conversation develops. You can also use more directed questions: 

  • Step away from or turn your back on the artwork. What can you recall most clearly about the work of art? Now look at it again. What details did you miss? What more do you notice now? 

  • What colors do you see in the artwork? Do they remind you of anything? How do they make you feel? 

  • What kind of lines do you see? How do they lead your eye through the artwork? 

  • Do you see movement or does the work seem still? 

With these new tools, enjoy the process of slow looking on your own, or come visit the Frye Art Museum and participate in a Frye in Focus tour.