We enjoyed a great “Slow Art Day” at Laguna Art Museum. This event differs from my “One Hour/One Painting” series (now “Slow Looking: The Art of Looking at Art”) in several respects. First, it takes place at more than two hundred venues in locations throughout the globe—museums, galleries, art centers, studios… Then its basic premise is to take in five works of art in the space of an hour—ten minutes each, unlike the single work we sit with at a “Slow Looking” session. And it concludes with a convivial discussion session over lunch or coffee at a local café. But the principle is the same: spend some good, concentrated time with the art work, rather than rushing past it at the usual museum/gallery trot. So, pay attention. Think about what you’re looking at, and about the looking process.
My co-host for the Laguna Art Museum event was the painter, Hedy Buzan...
... whose approach is very different from my own; she talks
participants through the compositional aspects of the painting—line and shape,
color and value, texture, and so on, offering an artist’s education in how it’s all put together, how it works as a structural entity. My approach is based in the time-tested skills of meditation
and contemplation, applying them to the process of looking; it attempts to
engage the perceiving mind, settling it into a state of pure stillness and
receptivity and demanding from the eyes the hard work of registering every
detail of the work. I act as guide
to the process.
|(here she is, center...)|
I did not do a head count of our Slow Art Day participants. I believe there were up to sixteen at any given moment—“up to”, because one or two of our number tended to wander off and follow their own inclinations. Which was fine. But we had reliably a dozen people at each stop along the way. Our original plan was for Hedy and myself to introduce our different approaches and invite group members to choose between the two. But then… we thought, well, we can start together and see where we go from there; and things turned out differently from what we’d planned.
First stop was a Millard Sheets painting, “Night of the Dead”, a complex work evoking the presence of both living and dead in a Mexican graveyard. Here, Hedy did such an excellent job of guiding the group through her structural approach that I thought, why not let’s alternate? Let’s encourage the whole group to experience both approaches. So we all went on to a landing on the museum’s stairway, where a group of small, dazzling Frank Cuprien sunset/seascapes was installed--quite typical of this California Impressionist's magical play with light and space. There was enough continuity between each of the paintings to allow group members to select of their choice; and I realized, as I led the process, that my vision—and presumably theirs too—had already been much enriched by Hedy’s analytical approach. We brought that along with us into contemplation.
So we decided to alternate, keeping the group together for all five of the paintings, and derived enormous benefit from the way the two approaches fed into each other, enriching both our skills and the experience as we went. From Cuprien, we moved on to a beautiful William Wendt landscape--again typical, with its rich interplay of greens; and from there to a small Wayne Thiebaud painting of a cigar, still burning, laid across an ashtray; and to a remarkable, large-scale drawing by the contemporary artist Dana Harel, “Gatekeeper,” with its skillful juxtaposition of grey graphite values evoking three partial images--a chair, and a seated figure holding an indeterminate animal. Our final two minutes with this work were spent in silent contemplation.
Across the street, we settled down to coffee—and, some of us, lunch—in a shady garden corner set aside for us at Madison’s. Here we enjoyed the opportunity to compare notes about the experience and get to know a little more about each other. From feedback, it appeared that all our guests had been as happy with the “Slow Art Day” experience as were Hedy and I. A great day, and one which I hope will lead to better art-viewing habits for us all.