Concentrating on art is like a reward to the brain. So a day in the museum can even be healing and comforting’. …and who doesn’t like to be rewarded? In this form even completely calorie-free and nevertheless enriching! If you have traumatic childhood memories of this and have since avoided museums & co. like the devil avoided holy water, then I would have an idea for you here.

So it is ‘normal

Usually, a visit to a museum or exhibition means that you are taking in as many of the ‘important’ works as possible. At the latest after the 15th art object, however, you will be tired and dragging yourself from exhibit to exhibit. After all, you have paid – mostly expensive – admission and now you want to ‘take’ as much as possible of the artist XYZ’s exhibition with you. Just so that you can shine at the next small talk with it

Credit: aufleinwand

What if I did?

How about if you could make your next exhibition or museum visit a little different? First you go there all by yourself! In the museum or in the exhibition you look for a bank and sit on it. The painting / art object, which you can see from your sitting position and which appeals to you the most, you now look at for a whole hour. Yes, you have read correctly: full 60 minutes, look at the clock!

Now get involved with the picture, look at it very carefully and listen into what associations, questions, memories etc. it awakens in you.

  • What do you think of the representation?
  • Which colours / forms appeal to you most in the picture?
  • Which ones rather not?
  • Which feelings come up in you?

I admit, I didn’t come up with the idea. The entrepreneur Phil Terry had it 10 years ago and tested it in a self-experiment at the Jewish Museum in New York. He proceeded as described above and thus took a very close look at two or three works. His conclusion at the time was that he felt that he had perceived the exhibition much more intensively, that he had really ‘experienced’ it, so to speak, and that he was filled with an inner peace and contentment that he, as an entrepreneur, did not feel too often.

He developed the concept ‘Slow Art Day’, created a homepage. Meanwhile, this day is celebrated annually by over 200 museums worldwide, including Brussels, Barcelona, Paris and Boston. Unfortunately, there is no German Kunsthaus yet.

The concept is simple: Alone or in a small group, you sit down in front of only four or five pictures within an hour, look at them in detail and without prior information. Then you exchange experiences with the others about what you have experienced.

“When we take time for art, we make completely different discoveries” (Phil Terry).

When you do this, you pay even more attention to the details or to the feelings the image triggers in you. If you think now…oh, I don’t know anything about art and so that’s not for me anyway’ …forget it. According to Phil Terry, we don’t need any previous training for this. He is convinced that by looking calmly you can not only enjoy your visit to the museum more, but also gradually gain greater confidence in your own aesthetic feeling.

Take a look and be amazed

Well, just because no German Kunsthaus is yet taking part in the Slow Art Day, which only takes place once a year, you don’t have to do without it. In any case, it’s worth it to look at art with more time, care and intuition.

The Visual Thinking concept will show you the first steps on a terrain you are still unfamiliar with. It was developed by Shari Tishman of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Tishman is an educationalist and has found several new ways to view illustrated books, paintings or charts. A simple method is called ‘lake, think, wonder’. Which means as much as: When you’re standing in front of a painting or sculpture, just look at the picture at first and let what you’re looking at work without any evaluation. For example, you can tell yourself internally: ‘I see thick black lines, blue lines, moving figures, blobs, two different shoes…’.

After this pure enumeration of the facts, you can try to fathom which questions and emotions the work triggers in you. For example: ‘What’s it all about with that character? Does it resemble a bird or a woman? Why does she wear two different shoes? What could the artist have felt when he created the painting? You can let the answers that now come up in you have an effect on you again and marvel at yourself, which own feelings and insights emerge as a result.

It is clear that not every picture will trigger an aha-experience in you. Amazement’ here also means that you allow what effect a certain colour can have on you, even to the point of amazement. It is also very important that you only read the information panels that are usually attached to the picture afterwards! Otherwise you will automatically influence your perception by the hard facts.

You will achieve the greatest effect if you concentrate only on what you have before your eyes. This really gives you personal impressions and increases the likelihood that you will leave the museum inspired and exhilarated!

Art can also heal

I had once written so casually that art can also be healing. In fact, so-called Slow Art fans, including Phil Terry mentioned earlier, report that a day in the museum can even be healing and comforting. And that’s by no means a purely subjective impression. Of course, such statements always attract a few ambitious scientists to the start and in this case a team of neuropsychologists was able to show a few years ago that physical pain decreases when people look at pictures for a long time that they find very aesthetically or artistically interesting. Concentrating on art has a rewarding effect on the brain – so strong that pain centres in the cerebrum are less active. Maybe you should not take a tablet for your next headache attack, but go to the entrance ticket to the museum, because here you can really relax and enjoy your time.

So if you’d like to try it out soon, here’s a kind of to-do list for your next art visit.

  • Try to visit an exhibition during the quieter hours, for example in the late afternoon. You don’t have to invest a whole day, half an hour is enough.
  • When you enter a room, spontaneously look for a work that appeals to you or interests you.
  • Look at the form, colours, figures, details. Let questions come up in you.
  • Take notes if you want or take a sketchbook with you.
  • Look at the work from different perspectives or walk around it.
  • After the visit: think about what you can remember. What is of lasting interest to you?