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Columns at museum's entrance

What is Slow Art Day?

Beth Evans
April 3, 2018
A group of people closely examining a sculpture in a museum gallery
Matailong Du, 2016.

What is Slow Art Day? What do you do there? Why do you need it?

On April 14, 2018, the National Portrait Gallery, along with museums across the world, from the United States to Germany, Zambia, China, Brazil, France, El Salvador, Britain, Ukraine, and many other countries, will invite people in their communities to hit the pause button. Visitors will gather inside the gallery spaces to take part in international Slow Art Day and slow down as they look at art.

At the Portrait Gallery we encourage visitors to engage with portraits by spending time with the sitters, looking at their faces, and learning their stories. We believe that portraits, just like real people, reveal more about themselves as people spend time with them. The average person looks at a painting for fifteen to thirty seconds, but on Slow Art Day, we urge visitors to spend 5 to 10 minutes in front of a work of art – or longer if the conversation engrosses them.

What You Do at Slow Art Day

Slow Art Day at the National Portrait Gallery, from 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., will include in-gallery activities, as well as a family-friendly festival in the Kogod Courtyard with art projects, writing activities, and music inspired by the works on display in the museum. Visitors who love the colors and shapes of abstract portraits will learn how to create their own. Visitors who love the stories the portraits tell can write their own. Music lovers can view portraits of their favorite American composers and musicians and then dance to their music in the courtyard.

Not sure where to start? Peruse the Slow Art Day guides created for this event and find a theme that appeals to you. Guides can be found in the courtyard, along with tips and activities will help you dig deeper in front of the art. Themes include:

  • Presidents
  • Musicians
  • Activists
  • Artists
  • The Art Of Portraiture

When you’re ready to begin, step into one of three floors of gallery spaces and pause. Find your work of art. Look at it from afar. Look at it from up close. Let your eyes wander from corner to corner and top to bottom. Notice colors, facial expressions, objects, light, pose, and anything else that helps tell the story. Stay with the art for five to ten minutes and record your impressions. Then find your next work of art. It can be something on a list, or any work that catches your eye.

Once you have completed your time in the galleries, gather with a museum educator and other participants to share experiences and discuss insights gained through slow looking.

Why Slow Art Day?

Slow Art Day’s website offers the following explanation:

“Why slow? When people look slowly at a piece of art they make discoveries. The most important discovery they make is that they can see and experience art without an expert (or expertise). And that’s an exciting discovery. It unlocks passion and creativity and helps to create more art lovers.”

On April 14, we invite visitors of all ages to stop in anytime from 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. to experience slow art and discover the Portrait Gallery in a new light.

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