There she was, looking over her shoulder directly at me across the gallery. I walked toward her, was drawn toward her, really. I craned my neck to get a closer look, nearly eye to eye with one of the most famous paintings in the world, Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring.

Tiny cracks in the painting’s centuries-old façade create an overall web across its surface. But the brightness of the Girl’s eyes shine through the painting’s age, their exactitude simultaneously piercing and elusive.

Soft and somehow limitless, her lips are ephemeral in the paint. From a distance, they exude youth and sensuality, but up close they defy definition.

My eyes tracked down to the pearl, only to find a dab of white paint and nearly nothing else. I looked again, searching for the painting’s titular element, but like her lips, up close the Girl’s pearl is impossibly immaterial. Step back, however, and the earring immediately comes into focus, pearlescent and solid.

—Sarah Bailey Hogarty

Slow Art with Willa Koerner and SFMOMAslow

Slow Art Day Social Media Manager Alie Cline recently interviewed Willa Koerner from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art to chat about the museum’s new Slow Art Day inspired project, SFMOMAslow.

On the importance of slow looking, Willa says: “Slow looking is a way that we can re-learn how to think critically and be patient with ourselves and our minds.” You can read the rest of the (great!) interview here.

You might have noticed that the Slow Art Day tumblr has been reblogging posts from SFMOMAcrowd, which is hosting the current crowd-sourced project, #SFMOMAslow, inspired by Slow Art Day. Make sure to check out their tumblr and submit your own experiences with the art of looking!


If I hadn’t known the title of this piece, would I know I was looking at boots? Perhaps this could be a fragment of a fence, broken by the strong winds of a storm…

Why are the boots in a line and what is the significance of the number 100? All facing the same direction, they seem to be taking a stand. One doesn’t often see boots at the beach. If I could imagine each pair of boots filled with a person, would they be exposing their tanned bums to me, hips jutting to each side and arms flung around each other, like so many postcards found at Florida gift shops? Or would they be standing up straight in a military uniform? Are they implying human form at all?

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For #sfmomaslow I examined this slinky on my desk. A lot of the time I was thinking about how its appearance changed when viewed from different places. I imagined what it could possibly represent, being the hollow versatile object that it was. I also noted the illusions it seems to create. The front part of the spiral seemed to disappear when I was focused on the back parts. I also spent a lot of it thinking about time and anxiety. I kept wanting to look at my timer to see how much longer I would have to look, but I restrained myself. The ten minutes felt more like 20. I suppose that was because I’m so used to looking at things for just a moment then moving on. With this, I realized how much more value an object as simple as a slinky could hold when inspected further. I also learned that I seem to get very anxious and uptight when I feel that I’m not being “productive” or occupying myself with a more physical task.

Frantisek Kupka, Mme Kupka Among Verticals, 1910-11

I finally managed to make it to visit the Museum of Modern Art in New York the other week; even though the place was packed, I managed to stake out a spot inside the Inventing Abstraction exhibit in front of this work by Czech painter Frantisek Kupka. After a close call with a museum guard (whoops - no photos allowed!), I spent over 15 minutes in front of the painting, happy to take a breather in the presence of such a gorgeous artwork. Because I didn’t know much about the painter’s history or background, most of the initial observations I made were aesthetic: the green surrounding the woman’s mouth, the bright strip of light blue almost directly in the middle of the painting, the washed out oils that looked almost like watercolor. Taking the time to notice these formal qualities familiarized my eyes with the painting, letting me adjust to the color palette & get to know the brushstrokes; it was like I was discovering the painting along with the artist as I noticed the choices he made when composing the work.

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I have never been able to focus on an artwork for more than 2 minutes without fidgeting and I can’t even spend time sitting in a room full of friends without doodling or making crafts to occupy my hands and wandering mind. Standing still for ten minutes absorbed in a single work of art seemed very daunting.

However, armed with my SFMOMA Slow assignment and my choice of El Anatsui’s undulating sculpture Black River, I had no problem spending fifteen minutes admiring the textile constructed out of recycled metal. I had never taken the time to see how many different types of recycled caps were used, how the light filtered through the negative space between the pieces of metal and how the curators had strategically pinned the sculpture against the wall so that it appeared like a cascade of gold. I admired it from numerous angles and different distances for its texture, and after reading the museum plaque, for its meaning.

And the experience didn’t just change how I saw that artwork. After leaving the museum I was able to focus more than I had ever before. I generally appreciate the beautiful and interesting aspects of my environment as an artist and an art history major, but I rarely take the time to actually stop and stare at something I find intriguing. After my slow encounter with Black River, I noticed a gaggle of geese and stopped to stare at them for over ten minutes. I took in the texture of their webbed feet, noting how it compared nicely with their fluffy feathers, and gawked at the striking contrast between their black necks and the white patches underneath their eyes. This experience taught me that art is everywhere and anything can be beautiful as long as you take long enough to sit and appreciate it.

- Gabrielle Peck, Slow Art Day intern 

Drawing can be another way of seeing.

For SFMOMA’s Slow Art Day event, artist Erin Mitchell created brief sketches of the featured works, noting the pieces and the ways in which the group observed them. 

Visiting Lecturer Tess Thackara led this Slow Art Day session with Mark Rothko’s painting No. 14 (1960). 

My first reaction to looking at an image for 10 minutes was that half way through I wouldn’t have anything else to look at. However, I was completely surprised when time was up. As time went along, I perceived more & more amazing things within the image, I know a lot of them had to do with my imagination but that was the most interesting part. My mind made up lots of different stories and characters within the image. I feel like doing this exercise over and over with loads of images/videos - I feel as if it sharpens perception because there is a very deep meditative quality to it! Thank you!

I decide to spend some time looking at the work of Michael Bogin at the Davis Gallery here on my school campus.  After wandering the rooms of the gallery, scanning the walls in search of one of Bogin’s pieces that speaks to me, I notice a pattern.  While at first seeming overtly simplistic, upon closer inspection his pieces start to formulate individual stories.  Scanning the room, I am immediately struck by the stunning color schemes that run across the walls.  Done in gouache, watercolor, and colored pencil, the multi-media quality gives the piece a depth that mimics that of the ocean.  For example, upon closely looking at Galapagos #157, focusing at the center of the painting, it becomes difficult to tell if the water sits in the foreground or background.  The sea creatures seem to remain in limbo undulating back and forth between the different layers of the painting and it is this confusion that leads to my intrigue.  The more I look at the painting, the less sure I am of where all the shapes sit in space. The reds and oranges seem to float to the surface in some areas while they seem to recede into the cloudy blue expanse in other sections.  After a while I begin to see the intentionality behind Bogin’s every mark.  You can see, upon closer inspection, where he has laid down a block of color, taken most of it away, and then put down more paint in order to achieve the illusion of depth.  The blues overlap the greens in the top portion and leave behind a shadow of what once was, thereby furthering the magic of his artifice.  It is this ambiguity that endows the painting with such power. 

Working in a museum, I look at art- the same art- several times a week.
While some might assume that I’d get bored of looking at the same pieces
over and over, it’s actually very enlightening because I have a different
experience every time I look at the same piece. I find this phenomena to
also occur with slow looking. After looking at a piece for an extended
period of time, I start to notice more about the work as my mind dives
deeper into its elements.

For example, there is this painting, called Supper at Bethany, that I didn’t really give much attention to until my painting teacher pointed out all of its intricacies and peculiar details. The fingers are so delicate and slender, and the ribs of the dog are so treated. It just has so much thought put into every little part that are (in my opinion) really lovely to gaze at. I honestly wouldn’t have noticed this had I not spent more time looking.

Furthermore, I think engaging in discussion about a piece provides even more discoveries as different viewpoints people have are exchanged. I love when I hear a patron or a docent make a comment about a piece I have seen a hundred times that makes me see it in a whole new light. I think the development and sharing of these ideas we form while looking intently at art are so important and enriching as humans beings.

Being an intern with Slow Art Day along with doing more slow looking while in museums or galleries has made my relationship with art so much more meaningful and memorable. I remember my experiences more vividly and I feel that it has impacted my painting and my power to observe and record what I see. I feel that slow looking is important to artists and non artists alike because it is an activity that both can engage in and talk about regardless of artistic talent or ambitions, and I hope that the movement continues to grow!

The wires under my desk

The slack, haphazard way they lay sprawled does something painterly: it articulates the ground plane of a carpeted office.

I started to notice the tiny infrastructures of my cubicle: the lettered outlets and ethernet docks, the color-coded casings, tucked away beyond view.  They’re designed to be overlooked, but once I notice them, they assert themselves: kelly green and dirty white, lounging in the periphery.

They represent the many unremarkable, enabling structures set in place so that I may sit here and write an online document. 

Looking at a long (inches-wise) “artist’s book” with maps & a quote, 10’ !


As you continue

the book slows you down

see Washington, see Wilderness

see Interval 40 and 1:24–

like “music without sound”, you think,

but only after flipping to the end and going back–

it gets quieter, you trace the lines on the map

George Lake a finger print

Raston Virginia a miniature hop-scotch square

which you will 

Produced by Control

do, the way

Improved Road; Unimproved Road; Trail

to proceed

off the map into white like a ski jump

Powder River, Goose Creek, Love Ditch

will become

Freemont National Forest, Scale


A Road Legend

With islands in it and somewhere a myth? 

e.g. Robin Hood behind the trees,

tiny target, topographic, 7.5 minutes,

a rake through Zen sand–

(This was made after an earthquake, California had been shaking

all the way to Oregon the map was pulled apart

by an artist’s fingers the pieces were sewn back together 

it must have been quiet in the studio, she must have been counting 

it must have taken a very long time)

until the last page–

John Cage


A friend mailed me with a bunch of artworks featured in Kochi Muziris Biennalle. I was instantly drawn to ‘Steps from Villa Sebollini, Bellagio’ by Clifford Charles. Our e-mail exchanges:

Me: Wow! I’m in love with steps from villa sebollini

Friend: Frankly, i didnt understand much of this work …somehow the soul evades me…

Me: Those forms just make me feel good. Imagine the moving forms that are created in water which you can keep looking at endlessly, like waves or ripples or ink dissolving in water, the way ink flows and creates forms which cannot be imagined by structure or geometry. It’s free flowing, uncontrolled. Yet, he (Clifford Charles) has controlled them to look like a certain kind of force has dragged them across the canvas. It’s easy to lose yourself in those fluid depths. For me, more than a meaning, it evokes a powerful feeling of losing myself in those depths just like swimming in a mild current or floating with the uneven rhythm of waves on my back.   Friend: Well, more along the lines of… And the conversation goes on…

I strode into the gallery with purpose; J.E.H. MacDonald’s October Shower Gleam, 1922, was the only work I was going to spend time with that day.  

I set my alarm for the proscribed 10 minutes, and set my eyes to work. What initially made the painting unattractive to me, the garish 70s mix of close-to-neon colours with earthy greens and browns, I set my eye to first. Looking closely at what I read as autumnal trees and brush, I soon discovered a graceful, organic patterning. As my eye traveled downwards, towards the reflection of the landscape in the still lake, I realized that MacDonald’s depiction of water consisted solely of a reflection of the patterning I had been closely studying. Sandwiching this mirrored landscape was a mass of roiling clouds, as well as a rocky outcropping of land containing a few windswept trees in the foreground. They squished me into the landscape in such a way that I felt like my only escape was forward, toward the rolling hills and the two small “V’s” of clear sky – away from the October shower that was imminent, seen in the shiny wetness of the purple clouds.

 My “introduction” to the work lasted a mere minute or two. After that, I was lost in the landscape, its patterns, shapes, colours, and texture, until my alarm rudely interrupted. Ten minutes felt like two; I could have easily spent another ten or twenty minutes immersed in the work.

Though not initially appealing to me, I grew, through this exercise, to appreciate aspects of the work that weren’t immediately apparent. Practicing slow looking with a work I wasn’t immediately attracted to in a positive way helped me remember that to “like” and “dislike” are fluid categories - and don’t always include “appreciate”. 

Dali’s works exhibit the utter essence of Slow Art Looking, because it is nearly impossible to discover all that his works have to offer without taking time to truly interact with each piece. During an incredible exhibit of his lifetime’s work, I got the chance to spend some time with Dali’s Apparition of Face and Fruit Dish on Beach.  Well, the piece was a lot larger than I expected and boy does it have a lot going on.  

The two elements that I always find striking are the dog and the face.  They’re the first aspects of the piece that really jump out, perhaps they’re the only aspects that allow a true sense of clarity.  Yet looking deeper I am able to experience more and more. 

For me, Dali’s manipulation of space in this piece is quite troubling.  The more I look, for all different views and distances, the more levels of depth I experience within the piece.  Elements such as the dog’s head seem to be both in the foreground and the background.  In addition, in some areas of the beach the ground seems to be tilted and to recede into the background, while in another areas it is completely flattened.

The figures that are tucked into the mid ground interact with one another and elements of the limited architecture, and some faces seem to be formed entirely out of the landscape.  There is true emphasis on form and composition construction. 

Dali is known for playing tricks, and aiming to exercise the eye in unconventional ways, but does his reputation justify the spatial confusion that this piece demonstrates?  It is definitely debatable, but taking time to slow down and truly interact with this piece has allowed me to play with the idea of spatial juxtaposition.  It really is these rejections of rules that allow Dali to be so dynamic in his paintings and create such thought provoking, mind-boggling art.