Today’s blog is written by Lisa Falk, Arizona State Museum’s Director of Education, and this blog’s editor.
People come to museums for a variety of reasons, but chief among these are to see objects, the art and artifacts on display. But according to those who study visitors in museums, visitors spend very little time actually viewing the objects. Different studies suggest that most people give items a casual glance of about 2 seconds or for something more familiar (say the Mona Lisa) perhaps 15-32 seconds. Of course some art or artifacts will draw specific viewers in for a longer look. By looking longer, a visitor can make a more meaningful connection with an object—you can see more, sense more, imagine more, learn more.
April 28th was Slow Art Day, an international program encouraging people to come to museums and view specific pieces of art slowly, say for ten minutes, and then discuss the artwork with others. Now in its fourth year, Slow Art Day has over 100 museums around the globe participating. At Arizona State Museum, we incorporated Slow Art Day into our community program celebrating the opening of the Basketry Treasured exhibit and also focusing on the Many Mexicos exhibit.
As an anthropology museum, in our exhibits, we don’t tend to single out objects as stand-alone art pieces, rather we use them to illustrate cultural and historical stories. We are not saying that the pieces are not art, only that they are presented differently then in an art museum. So our approach to Slow Art Day was a bit different as well.
Working with the docents from the University of Arizona Poetry Center, we invited visitors to read a haiku poem written by one of the docents and find the object that it described. The docents also invited visual explorers to discover a piece on exhibit that interested them. They were asked to really look at it, slowly. They were encouraged to write their own haiku poem about the piece.
Some suggestions to help them look deeper, included:
- Imagine using your five senses to get to know the piece—how would it feel, smell, sound, taste, what colors is it, what is it made of?
- Imagine having a dialogue with the object—what action words would express its story?
- Think about its history—how it might have been made, used or experienced and by who?
- Look at the label and make connections.
Modern haiku poems do not have to follow the traditional structure of Japanese haiku: line one: 5 syllables, line two: 7 syllables, line three: 5 syllables, doesn’t rhyme and the subject is about nature and a season. Modern haiku poems can simply consist of a short line, then a long line, finishing with another short line. Capitol letters, punctuation and rhyming are not necessary. And of course the subject of the poems written at the museum was an object in our exhibits.
Over 100 poems were written and transcribed onto a large piece of butcher paper, which is now on display at the Poetry Center. Here are some of the poems. Come visit Arizona State Museum and see if you can figure out which objects inspired them! Feel free to choose an object and write your own poem and post it on this blog.
simple, sturdy, functional
tiny acorn husk flakes
sweat scented, burden bearer’s
The hat of Pancho villa
the man who showed no fear
who battled to the end to find his freedom
Yaqui round hunter
hole in heel, hole near toe
your difficult journey
cactus of life
flag of honor
shine in the moon light
what do you think
four legged friend
And if you need more inspiration to slow down and look at art and cultural objects, read James Elkins piece, How Long Does it Take To Look at a Piece of Art, in the Huffington Post.
For teaches wanting to inspire students to slow down when looking at images (hey, they’re used to looking at digital media with thousands of images flashing quickly by their screens), try these lesson plans from the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Ringling Museum of Art. If you can’t get to a museum, try ASM’s online image database of paintings from the Avery Collection of Native American paintings. You can read poems written by students inspired by these paintings in our online chapbook. We also offer a school outreach program that guides students in writing inspired by looking at paintings in the Avery Collection.
Many thanks to the UA Poetry Center docents who made Slow Art Day such a success: Christine Baines, Elaine Folland, Jackie Goldman, Veronica Gonzales, Tony Luebbermann, Mary Myers, and Barrie Ryan.
Photographs courtesy Christine Baines, Lana Tupponce, and Jannelle Weakly.