An Exercise in Slow

Lately I’ve been writing some analysis papers for my Art Humanities class. So far, it has been an exercise in slow.

Based on my very limited experience, analyzing art involves a whole lot of time looking. Not necessarily a lot of time making brilliant observations. Not necessarily a lot of time writing things down. Mostly a whole lot of time looking at lines and shapes and colors until you (hopefully) notice something new (like OMG why did it take me an hour to notice that the girl’s eyes are totally directed at the light source?). My professor’s advice for when you’re stuck is to look longer.

It usually seems to work, but it’s also difficult and infuriating. I’m seriously supposed to just sit there and stare? And do nothing else? When I have 3 papers to write? Even if I literally have the time, it’s frustrating that I can’t make it happen faster by working harder or “smarter,” the way we’re supposed to want to do with everything.

Some people probably see this as an example of how technology has made #millennials dependent on constant stimulation and unable to take the time to fully appreciate art. But at least for me, I don’t think that’s the main problem: it’s not exactly that I feel bored staring at art, but that I feel lazy. The issue isn’t a lack of stimulation, but a lack of productivity.

The whole “time is money” thing that we subscribe to not only implies that our time is valuable, but also that every moment of our lives is an investment. Which means we evaluate it based on measurable returns, and the more we can get out of less time, the better. Fast is efficient, and efficient is good. And if a moment isn’t a good investment, it’s a waste.

Looking at art is slow. And not even the slow-and-steady kind of slow where you can comfort yourself with constant, if minimal, evidence of progress along the way. It’s the slow-and-empty kind of slow, loaded with indefinite stillnesses which give no guarantees of progress in exchange for your time.

As an investment, slow inefficiency is a risky gamble. Instead of settling for a probably-almost-as-good quick version, you put in moment after moment for the uncertain possibility of finding something of greater value.

This can mean staring at art. Or meditating. Or watching live performances instead of YouTube clips. Or making cookies from scratch instead of using pre-made dough. Or reading the whole book instead of just the SparkNotes. Or actually watching TV shows instead of just reading the recaps (side note: I find it funny that there’s a whole online genre dedicated to making a even the most mindless pastimes faster and more efficient—and I read it).

You can’t always fit it in. And it’s not always worth it. But sometimes it totally is.

I recently found (i.e. my dad sent me) this quote from an article about early tech-panic surrounding the telegraph: “too fast for the truth.” Beyond the original context, I find it kind of interesting to think about the speed of truth. Sometimes it’s fast-moving target that you’ll miss if you slow down (Wait, how many people are running for president now?). But sometimes it’s something slow and quiet that you’ll pass right by if you don’t take the time to stop and stare between the lines.

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