Seeing Art Slowly: Part II

Phillips Publicity and Marketing Coordinator Amy Wike asked Lana Housholder, Gallery Educator and tour guide to D.C. Emerging Museum Professionals Slow Art Day 2013 tour on April 27, some questions about the experience. Read the tour organizer’s account here. In the spirit of slow looking, we’ve reproduced the works below to invite further contemplation.

Images of paintings viewed on Slow Art Day 2013

(left) Willem de Kooning, Asheville, ca. 1935. Oil and enamel on cardboard, 25 9/16 x 31 7/8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1952 (right) Bradley Walker Tomlin, No. 8, 1952. Oil and charcoal on canvas, 65 7/8 x 47 7/8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1955.

Amy Wike: What were some of the things Slow Art Day 2013 participants focused on during the tour?

Lana Housholder: I asked the participants lots of questions, such as: What object or shape did you first notice when looking at this work of art? Why do you think that was the first think you noticed? Do you see movement in this work of art, or does it seem still? Do the colors, lines, and shapes make it seem that way? How? What is the story that you see happening in this work of art? Who are the characters in this story? How many characters are present in this scene? Where is this taking place? What emotions seem to be expressed in the story? What do you see that makes you say that? What’s one word you might use to describe the mood of this painting? What’s one word you could use to describe the subject of this painting?

AW: Did you notice any interesting interpretations from visitors?

LH: Yes. The visitors found objects and shapes in several abstract works of art that I hadn’t seen before. They explained to me why those objects were the first thing they noticed and what drew their eye to them. Visitors also explained to me how certain works would appear differently if they were a different size. For example, Willem de Kooning‘s Asheville would feel much more chaotic and full of movement and intensity if it were larger. It is a relatively small piece in comparison to his other works. This makes the work feel more intimate and less busy, they said.

AW: As tour guide, do you have any additional observations about the experience?

LH: I really enjoyed the experience overall. I loved hearing the thoughts of the visitors and focusing on their interpretations of the art. It was nice that the audience understood the focus of the tour was on the interpretation and act of looking as well as the history surrounding the art and artist. Oftentimes I feel that visitors expect me to give a lecture when in front of a work of art. They want to know content. It was nice to not have that be the only expectation. As Gallery Educators in the Education Department at the Phillips, we are trained to have looking exercises be part of each museum tour. We ask several looking questions at each work of art to get the audience involved in the act of really seeing a piece instead of passively listening to the Gallery Educator. We hope our tours focus on both the content surrounding the art as well as an audience-led interpretation of what is on view.

Seeing Art Slowly: Part I

Images of paintings viewed on Slow Art Day 2013

(left) Willem de Kooning, Asheville, ca. 1935. Oil and enamel on cardboard, 25 9/16 x 31 7/8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1952 (right) Bradley Walker Tomlin, No. 8, 1952. Oil and charcoal on canvas, 65 7/8 x 47 7/8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1955.

On Saturday, April 27, Slow Art Day came to The Phillips Collection. Slow Art Day is an annual event that happens all over the world. This event challenges museum visitors to see art differently. In organizing the Phillips iteration, I was excited about the potential discussions a slow art visit would generate. At the Phillips, participants were invited to view works like Willem de Kooning‘s Asheville and Bradley Walker Tomlin‘s No. 8, slowly.

I encourage you to make every day Slow Art Day. Challenge yourself to look at art differently. Slow down and spend time looking. Hopefully this will lead to a meaningful discussion about the pieces of art you see. You can do it right now! Spend 5-10 minutes looking at the Willem de Kooning and Bradley Walker Tomlin paintings above and share your reaction in the comments. Then stay tuned for a guest post by Gallery Educator Lana Housholder who led the tour at the Phillips.

Mackenzie Good, DC Emerging Museum Professionals Co-Officer, Washington, D.C. 2013 Slow Art Day Organizer

Everyone’s In on the Action

(Left to right) Valerie Hellstein gives a tour ; Willem de Kooning,  Asheville, 1948, Oil and enamel on cardboard; 25 9/16 x 31 7/8 in.; 64.92875 x 80.9625 cm.. Acquired 1952 ; Bradley Walker Tomlin, No. 8, 1952, Oil and charcoal on canvas; 65 7/8 x 47 7/8 in.; 167.3225 x 121.6025 cm.. Acquired 1955.

(Left to right) Valerie Hellstein gives a tour ; Willem de Kooning, Asheville, 1948. Oil and enamel on cardboard, 25 9/16 x 31 7/8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1952; Bradley Walker Tomlin, No. 8, 1952. Oil and charcoal on canvas, 65 7/8 x 47 7/8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1955.

In Valerie Hellstein’s spotlight talk yesterday, about her installation of abstract expressionist works, she moved us past familiar thoughts about the actions of the artist (think Jackson Pollock dancing over his canvases) toward a focus on the actions of the viewer. Action painting requires action on the part of the viewer to really experience the work, she explained. We attend to the colors. We think about the depth of the paint and the forms on the canvas. Active looking is required to do more than just pass by the work with a glancing notice. And through our active looking, we become aware of our moment and our place in that moment, standing before the painting.