Slow Looking

Rothko Chapel (image by Paul Hester)

There are things that I have learned from all of the artwork that I have seen over the years. There is artwork that catches my attention immediately. Sometimes I really like it. But soon after I move on and my attention is pointed elsewhere, the artwork dissipates. It is gone from my memory and mind like smoke dissolving in the ether.
Drawing of 9.01.17 PLAYA (Grass Dots), graphite on paper, 30 x 35 in., 2021, Rita Leduc
Drawing of 9.01.17 PLAYA (Grass Dots), graphite on paper, 30 x 35 in., 2021, Rita Leduc (image by Rita Leduc)

Craggy Little Nooks

The ones that remain intact do not necessarily demand my attention immediately. Sometimes they are the ones that quietly wait. They do not reveal themselves in a flash, all at once and then fade. They do just the opposite: they build slowly. They find a craggy little nook in my memory and they patiently settle in. Eventually they change. An outer husk present within my initial perception sloughs away to initiate transformation and growth. These artworks beckon for me to come back to take another look, this time to stay longer, to sit with it quietly and contemplate.

When I sit with art like this, it starts to whisper, softly revealing complexities that I may not fully understand. If a mystery remains, I know that I need to return later after the whispers have had the time to settle into the craggy hold that the art first established. The whispers are a call to develop a relationship with the art. This is the artwork that love and that I remember.

Technorama Facade, Ned Kahn

Technorama Facade, Ned Kahn


Art that reveals itself slowly was also, in all probability, also made slowly. There were probably closed doors, false beginnings, and misunderstandings that the artist had to resolve with the art while they were making it. This is the way of complex things.

Complex art does not to be presented in a complex way, experienced though complicated forms, perplexing composition or convoluted concepts. It can be minimal and contain intriguing mysteries that point at more mystery.

Sunday Paintings, Byron Kim
Sunday Paintings, Byron Kim

It doesn’t need to have signs of the struggle that produced it. On the contrary, when an artist grapples and struggles with the art persistently and comes through the other side, the art often appears as it had been confidently made. This is not the same as arrogantly made. Arrogance is a self conscious gesture. The effect that the gesture has is preemptively known because it has already been used and repeated, like a meme. Confidence is a byproduct of dipping into the unknown darkness and reemerging with a gift that is given only through building a relationship with the artwork. Strong relationships are developed over time and they are full of unexpected surprises. This is part of what keeps a good friendship interesting – the unexpected things that delight or make you think. The same is true for art.

Solstices & Equinoxes, Willamette University, Leah Wilson

Solstices & Equinoxes, Willamette University, oil on 12 wood panels, Leah Wilson


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