Cultivating Patience Through Art

Now here is a great read from BigThink re: the benefits of prolonged engagement with art - or, in other words, paying attention to it.

Simply paying attention (to anything) is our biggest challenge in the age of distraction.


Have you ever noticed how long people look at a painting in a museum or gallery? Surveys have clocked view times anywhere between 10 and 17 seconds. The Louvre estimated that visitors studied the Mona Lisa, the most famous painting in the world, for an astoundingly low average of 15 seconds. Our increasingly online, instantaneous existence accounts for those numbers, obviously. Can we ever again find the patience to look at art as it was meant to be seen? A recent article by Harvard University art history professor Dr. Jennifer Roberts argues not only that art requires patience, but also that it can teach "the power of patience."

...Roberts begins by describing her teaching goal of “tak[ing] a more active role in shaping the temporal experiences” of her art history students, in which she, “in a conscientious and explicit way, [engineers] the pace andtempo of the learning experiences.” Using “deceleration, patience, and immersive attention,” Roberts wants “to give them the permission and the structures to slow down,” an experience she feels is “no longer available ‘in nature,’ as it were.” That permission takes the concrete form of making each student spend a full 3 hours in a museum or archive looking at the work they plan to write their paper on. Stripped of all technology and ripped from their natural environment, these students would then theoretically experience the work in a way that cursory, online viewing cannot offer. Despite initial complaints and disbelief that any work could merit 3 hours of viewing, Roberts’ “astonished” students eventually realized the value of prolonged viewing.

“What this exercise shows students is that just because you have looked at something doesn’t mean that you have seen it,” Roberts contends.