Robert Hughes on Slow Art

by Shane Wilson

When an idea’s time has come, it seems to spring up fresh and new all over, like psychic water bursting simultaneously through multiple leaks in the dam of contemporary orthodoxy.

Slow Art is an idea whose time has come.

The Australian art critic, Robert Hughes, has arrived at the idea of Slow Art through the experience and rejection of much of Modern and Contemporary Art.

In the following video clip, from Hughes 1982 TV series, ‘The Shock of the New’, Hughes laments much of the art created during the 1960’s and 70’s: “I don’t think there has ever been such a rush towards insignificance in the name of the historical future as we have seen in the last fifteen years.”

In 2009, he interviews Alberto Mugrabi (below), a wealthy collector of Contemporary Art. The interview provides a rare glimpse behind the curtain at one of Contemporary Art’s largest patrons, which is at once instructive and revealing. (For a reaction to the interview, see the Art Market Monitor blog here.)

Clearly, there is little to be gained by pillorying Contemporary Art. Elsewhere, I have written, “Art reflects and interprets the world in which it is created and serves as a kind of record, going forward, of who we are.” Contemporary Art needs to be understood in context, as a reflection of our contemporary world, it’s excess and superficiality.

So it is apt that Hughes maintains Contemporary Art “aspires to the condition of musak – it provides the background hum for power.” On a parallel note, during an encounter with Contemporary Artist Damien Hirst’s sculpture ‘The Virgin Mother’, Hughes quips, “Isn’t it a miracle, what so much money and so little ability can produce!”

In The Guardian, in September 2008, Hughes vilifies Hirst as a “a pirate, whose skill is shown by the way in which he has managed to bluff so many into giving credence to his originality and the importance of his ‘ideas’.” This prescient observation (accusation?) identifies with precision how closely Hirst and his contemporaries truly reflect this age.

Those who brought about the global financial meltdown, one month later, in October 2008, are among the primary collectors of Contemporary Art. Is it surprising these fiscal pirates, whose derivative deception has wrought such financial hardship on the world, used the fruits of their deception (bail outs and bonuses) to acquire even more? This is the context of Contemporary Art.

No wonder there are protests on Wall Street! High time for a change in the world and also, according to Hughes, in the world of art.

In a speech delivered at the Royal Academy Dinner in 2004, entitled, “We Need Slow Art” and in the above video clip advocating the return to hard skills in art making, Hughes suggests the following, by way of his own protest and as a way forward for the art world:

We have had a gutful of fast art and fast food. 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 making whose skill and doggedness make you think and feel; art that isn’t merely sensational, that doesn’t get its message across in ten seconds, that isn’t falsely iconic, that hooks onto something deep-running in our natures.

Slow Art is an idea whose time has come.


by Serena Kovalosky

In recent years, I’ve been tempted to find a way to speed things up a bit. Produce more work, loosen the detail, simplify the process. I really don’t want to, but I feel I might have to in order to maintain a sustainable income level. I’m not the only artist who’s considering this. I’ve had many conversations with my contemporaries and we are all looking for ways to produce in a more efficient, cost-effective manner.

Then I came across Shane’s blog post and exhaled for the first time in months. I can’t work any other way. I have to take the time to sit with my raw materials, especially the gourds – to hold them in my hands, and see what they have to say. I can’t just start cutting away at a piece – I carve a little at a time to allow the material to incorporate the energy shifts that take place with every chip that falls to the ground.

from The Value of Slow Art

Saving Slow from Slur

by Shane Wilson

Why choose ‘slow’ to describe art? Isn’t ‘slow’ a negative word? Doesn’t ‘slow’ really mean stupid, dull or boring? After all, who wants a slow computer or internet connection, slow service when in need of repairs or food, a slow car, or be considered slow on the uptake? Why not look for a synonym or find another descriptor entirely?

I’d like to think that words have meaning in context. The context here is art. And who wants a piece of art that is dashed off, derivative, made in a hurry, or thoughtless?

Dall Sheep Duality, 2004 by Shane Wilson (dall sheep horns and skull)

Dall Sheep Duality, 2004 by Shane Wilson (dall sheep horns and skull - 42x58x23 cm - private collection)

Often, one of the first questions an artist gets asked about their work is “How long did that take to make?” The usual answer, for pieces done quickly, is “All my life.” Slow art, on the other hand, is done slowly, it takes time, so there is always a less coy, more concrete response to the question.

We recognize inherently the value of slow art, because we value our own lives and the limited time we have on this earth. We are constantly asking the question: what is worth doing, how should we spend our time?

When an artist choses to invest days, months or years of their life into a particular painting or sculpture or work of art, they offer their answer to this question. Their art takes on a palpable depth and meaning, elevated from idea or gesture, it pulsates with Life itself.

And we know it.

Slow Art Day

by Shane Wilson

“Slow Art does not recognize video in its field. Showing images at 22 per second is not slow. Showing one image (usually called a painting) for 2 or 3 centuries is more our speed.” Gerald Kortello, Slow Artist

Gerry’s tongue and cheek quote expresses something of the value of appreciating art slowly – slow art from the experiential point of view. It is a matter of record that most people, when visiting an art gallery, tend to zoom through, spending 17 seconds or less looking at each painting or sculpture.

Slow Art Day, the brainchild of Phil Terry from New York, was started to invite novices – and experts – to experience the art of looking at art slowly.

It’s a very simple process. Volunteer hosts (not necessarily experts) invite people to come to a local museum and view a small number of works of art for 5 to 10 minutes each. Then everyone meets for lunch at a nearby cafe to talk about their experience. And all this happens the same day around the world.

The result? Participants say they get “inspired not tired” and plan to return to that museum or gallery again and again (note: our not-so-secret agenda is to help more people experience the excitement of art and become regular patrons of their local museums).

The alpha test for Slow Art Day occurred in the summer of 2009 at MoMA in New York with four people. The success of that first, small experiment, a larger “beta” test took place in October 2009, which featured 16 museums and galleries in the U.S., Canada and Europe. Attendee feedback was so enthusiastic that it was decided to make Slow Art day an annual global event.

Slow Art Day 2010 – Saturday, April 17 – was the first truly global Slow Art Day and it featured volunteers hosting slow viewing sessions at 50+ museums, galleries and churches around the world (every continent except Antarctica). It was a big success – and all powered by volunteer effort without any funding or official support.

Slow Art Day 2011 kicked off in December 2010 when the scientists at McMurdo Station in Antarctica hosted the first Slow Art Day of the season. On Saturday, April 16, 2011, 90+ sites followed the Antarctic kickoff to host Slow Art Day on every other continent. Hundreds of volunteers – including a global team – made Slow Art Day 2011 possible. Still with no funding, this simple idea has proven that the general public wants to slow down and see art in a way that can inspire.

Slow Art Day 2012 is scheduled for Saturday, April 28, 2012. If you would like to participate as a ‘host’ there is a sign up form and information page here. No experience is necessary. To find out more about Slow Art Day check out the website here. Slow Art Day was also featured in the April 2011 issue of Art News.