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Taking A Long Look At Slow Art

by Anne Bothwell 20 Feb 2014 6:00 PM

Erin Starr-White from The Modern in Fort Worth tells KERA’s Anne Bothwell what we might gain if we stop sprinting through museums.



“The Deluge” by David Bates. The longer you look at it, the more you see.

When you go to an art museum, how much time do you spend taking in each work? For most people, it’s 17 seconds or less. But there’s a movement to stop us from dashing past the Picasos. It’s called Slow Art. Museums around the world participate in Slow Art Day in April. And now, The Modern in Fort Worth presents a Slow Art evening every month. Erin Starr White, the Modern’s assistant curator of education, spoke with me about the rewards of taking a long look.

    • Slow Art at The Modern happens this Friday at 5:30 p.m. and the third Friday of every month.
    • Listen to the conversation:


Here are a few highlights from my chat with Erin Starr White

What is slow art?

Slow art is a way for people to stop and look at one piece for 30 minutes.

People in museums spend about 17 seconds looking at a piece, if that. Do you see people rushing through the museum?

Oh yeah, I do it. I work in a museum.  Everybody does it. I think part of that is fatigue. We’re asked a lot from  works of art. So this is a chance to plug in, in a different way, with a work of art.  It’s amazing what you pull out of something. And the time just flies by.

ErinWhite (2)

Erin Starr-White

I’ve heard several different versions. One is that it started with the slow food movement, which started in the ’80s in Italy. It’s all about reconnecting to the dailiness of life.  And calming everything down and appreciating. And so we thought, why not do a monthly tour where that’s the point.

You mention that The Modern’s slow art nights often end over a glass of wine in the cafe.  The idea around the international Slow Art Day involves discussing works over lunch. Why is it so important to talk about what you’ve seen?

You know a lot of people are scared to speak up in a museum. They’re afraid that what they have to say isn’t smart enough or right enough, whatever that means. The great thing about art is, within certain parameters, you can say a whole lot and its relevant. Your specific experience works. And it’s not better than mine or the next person, no matter how much training you have.  Very democratic.

A recent subject of Slow Art night:

With our “Mexico Inside Out” exhibition, [the docent chose] a piece that was all about experience. It was by Idiad Rodriguez and you  were supposed to go put your ear up next to the wall and hear people speaking, reading from letters. And it was so poignant and meaningful. And sad.  But it was a great opportunity for slow art because it was all about your own inner life and how you responded to these voices.

Why spend so much time on one or two pieces? What do audiences get out of it?

It gives them something else to chew on next time they go to a museum. They won’t maybe do the whirlwind tour, but they’ll pick five or 10 or however many pieces fits them, and they’ll really spend time with them. And it’s not just something they check off their list….” Oh, I saw it.”  But they really saw it.