If we but give it time,
a work of art ‘can rap and knock and enter our souls’ and re-align us
– all our molecules –
to make us whole again.
– P K Page
Georgia O’Keeffe: Bella Donna 1939
Nobody sees a flower – really –
it is so small it takes time – and to see takes time,
like to have a friend takes time.
– Georgia O’Keeffe
The Slow Art Movement, which has its day on the yearly stage this weekend (April 12th) has evolved around the activities of contemplatively viewing and gently digesting works of art – mostly within a gallery context. It’s a worthy idea. Anything that encourages us to slow down and really see (art, or anything) is wonderful medicine for the manic mind, and an effective antidote to the ‘glance-categorise-move along’ habit that rushes us through our days.
The notion of ‘Slow Art’ arrived in my life with a different twist. It was ushered in by Robert Hughes:
What we need more of is slow art: art that holds time as a vase holds water: art that grows out of modes of perception and whose skill and doggedness makes you think and feel; art that isn’t merely sensational, that doesn’t get its message across in 10 seconds, that isn’t falsely iconic, that hooks onto something deep-running in our natures.
– Robert Hughes in The Guardian, June 2004
and brilliantly explored in Slow Art: Painting and Drawing as a Meditative Process by Australian artist Amanda Robins:
The physical act of making and our immersion in this activity is the initial doorway to the productive ordering of consciousness known as ‘flow’. It is through this essential aspect that we can lose the sense of ourselves as separate and unique beings and become one with the activity.
The flow experience constitutes a time outside of the ordinary sequence of daily events where clock time loses its meaning and the constant stream of internal dialogue is for the moment, stilled.
The immersion within the world of the ordinary object leads ironically to new ways of seeing ourselves. … The everyday becomes a way of making connections and creating metaphors which can speak, in the end, about the ineffable.
Neither Hughes nor Robins were writing about the viewing of art. They were talking about its making. Their words were manifesto-like for me, directly motivating the creation of this website and blog.
For many makers, quietly involved in their studio practice, submerged in the mystery of creating, slow flow is the daily way. Their art springs from an inexplicable necessity, often contemplative or sacred in nature.
Gloria Petyarre: Atnangkere iv 1999
Slow motion opens the mind.
Smooth motion opens the heart.
Slow smooth motion
the inexplicable delight.
– Paul Reps
As Slow Art Day creeps closer, I’m wondering why there isn’t a version for art makers. Why don’t artisans get a ‘special’ day to sit quietly with their chosen mode of expression of visual language and allow their materials and processes free voice without pressure to produce for commissions or shows? Why isn’t there one little day in a year normally lived in a rush of consuming and commodifying set aside for the slow, deliberate, creating of something – anything – we can call our own authentic handwork?
It doesn’t need to qualify as “art” (better it doesn’t, because no one seems certain what that actually is). It just needs to be a simple, quiet, computer-free activity that arises out of stillness and is executed by our own hands with great attention and care. Preferably in silence and solitude – unless one is lucky enough to have the company of folk with similar intentions.
You might be a knitter, taking up needles and yarn for a day’s play without a pattern. Or a potter happy to pinch pots rather than use the wheel, just for a change. Or a photographer stealthily tracking a subject that bridges the gap between subject and object. Or a painter allowing herself to obey the dictates of her hues without design or direction… you get the gist.
P l a y d a y: a day when we enter our studio with beginner’s mind, as though we’re inventing painting or potting or weaving or carving for the very first time in human history, a day when comments from the inner critic will be entirely ignored. (It’s only one day out of 365 for goodness sake!)
As for yours truly, I’ll be breathing. And on each exhalation, I’ll be making a mark. This is how I give thanks for the blessing of the mystery of slow flow, and how I melt into the “inexplicable delight”. My studio is tiny and not properly unpacked or set up yet, but there’s a space for you if you’d like to join me. I’d love that. Let’s start a Slow Art movement of our own…
Georgia O’Keeffe – Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
Gloria Petyarre – Utopia Desert Art