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What Is Slow Art? On Time, Attention, and The Sensuality of Creation

Updated: Jul 9

"Slow art for a slow life," my tagline as an artist and as a woman who desires to live in the world with a calm nervous system, experiencing life in as deep a full and delicious sensory exploration as possible. But what does it mean? Slow art for a slow life, it sounds good, but what does it mean?

original image by Cyn Alexander

The concept of the slow art movement, as I can trace it online, originated with the idea for a Slow Art Day in 2008 from Phil Terry, a founder of the nonprofit Reading Odyssey. He organized the first Slow Art Day in response to how he experienced museum-goers racing through the art exhibits. From ArtWorld:

According to the organizers and participants in the Slow Art Day event(s), the main goal is to help the viewer contemplate art and take in the sensory experience as a meditative event. Their intention is to aid the visitor in paying attention to the artwork itself, as opposed to the experience where one mainly considers background information, such as the museum painting labels and wall texts.
Besides giving people time to appreciate an art piece more, think about it and its meaning, look into the details, the artwork’s cultural and historical significance, the Slow Art Movement gives artists the time they need to create their artwork, with less stress from the modern world’s mass-produced expectations.

original image by Cyn Alexander

Time. Slow art is, at least in part, a response to the speeding up of time--time to create and time to consume. In our current epidemic of rapid-fire scrolling, we've lost sight of the notion that observing a piece of art, or anything for that matter, is an active process. We change things as we observe them, and they change us. As we stand in front of a photo or a painting, meeting it with all our lived experiences, we participate, for the duration of our viewing, in that work of art. It becomes as we view. That's an incredibly sensual process when you think about it. More than a union, it's a transient co-creating. If we can allow ourselves to stay present in it, to let it move in and through us, two becoming one becoming two anew, it's sort of tantric. We often don't think about the sensuality of art anymore.

original image by Cyn Alexander

Beyond how we consume art, though, the notion of slow art extends to the making of art itself. As an artist, I want my work to take time. I want to allow it time to breathe, to develop, to show me what it wants to be. It means I take my time in creating it, that time itself is a facet of its creation.

For photography, it means not rushing through edits, not relying on presets for speed or ease. It means editing and absorbing, and then editing again. Did I help this image tell its story? It means all my work is my own, so no AI. And it means understanding how that image is displayed is the final layer of its creative process. How does this piece want to be revealed?

original image by Cyn Alexander

For painting, it means hours or sometimes days allowing a piece to sit and come to life. It means practicing and experimenting, allowing all the imperfections and happy accidents to guide the process. Layers upon layers of color. Channeling micro bits of my soul into each brush stroke.

Slow art means quality over quantity, attention to process, a focused emphasis on intention and expression over shock and awe.

In terms of my floral art, it means growing my own botanicals, raising them myself, mostly from seed. It means making art with them, drying their leaves and petals to make more art and artful products, then composting anything that’s left. It means reverence and patience and attention and care.

As a consumer of art, it means spending more than 3-7 seconds taking in a piece. Did you know the optimal amount of time to look at a piece of art, to let it unfold to you and awaken you, is five to seven minutes? That’s the minimum end. How can I encourage others to spend time with my art? To stand and take it in, to listen to it speak? These are questions I’m considering as I get closer to opening Venus In Pieces, a fine art pleasure apothecary for which slow and intentional are founding principles.

original image by Cyn Alexander (look, it's me!)

It has taken an enormous amount of personal growth and healing and trauma work for me to get to a place in my life where my focus in now on achieving and maintaining a calm nervous system. I guess it helps that I have a body that is simply intolerant of anything less than that these days. The concept of slow art, then, is very much in line with slow living for me. There's really no other way I could create and maintain my health. What's happened, though, as I've leaned more into slow is that other areas of my life have begun to blossom. No, that's not quite it. Other areas of me, myself, my soul, my body, have begun to unfold. I am, in fact, in my body now, learning to love it more and more each day, learning to enjoy it. I've adopted a level of pleasure-seeking that embraces an ethical hedonism (more on that in a future post), and I'm loving it.

Slow art, slow kisses, slow dances, slow meals, slow travels, slow conversations and long content: as the world gets faster, I’ll be over here reducing my speed.

Speaking of reducing my speed, in this week's issue of my newsletter, Jupiter's Phantasy, I'm talking all about starting and growing a meditation practice you can actually live with. If you're interested in being more fully present in your life, click here to subscribe.

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