The Art of Slow
by Nancy Yang, Rochester Minnesota
“Stop and smell the roses,” so the saying goes. But who has time to smell roses when we’re all so feverishly working, studying, racing to the next step in our frantic lives? To keep up requires a constant supply of instant communication, instant dinners, instant entertainment. Even the roses we smell come from the convenience store, potted and bloomed and ready for our nostrils, to save the painstaking time of having to plant them ourselves.
What is instantaneous must be good.
And if efficiency is the hero, then Art is its arch nemesis.
Deciding to become an “artist” might now be met with disdain, if not downright ridicule, mostly on the idea that unless you’re well established, there’s not much money to be made from making art. People seem to have little use for handmade when they can buy three times as much of factory-made “home décor” from the nearest Walmart or Target-- faster, cheaper, and in greater supply.
However, there has recently been a decided struggle to slow down. It began in the late 1980s, when Carlo Petrini protested a new McDonald’s franchise in a historical area of Rome. Petrini founded the Slow Food Movement, but he began a revolution that went way beyond food; it grew to encompass business practice, education, even parenting and fashion: the Slow Movement.
Central to the Slow Movement is the idea that life cannot be fulfilled by instantaneous gratification. Rather than consuming as much as possible in as little time as possible, the Movement asks that we slow down and consider our actions, how they impact ourselves and others, and how we can make the impact positive, rather than negative.
Slow Art is a part of this crusade. It includes the annual global Slow Art Day begun by Phil Terry, founder of the Reading Odyssey and CEO of Creative Good. Slow Art Day encourages venues to volunteer and set up small collections of art for slow enjoyment and discussion, as opposed to the typical high-speed, whole-gallery tours, so that visitors can take time to understand the artwork. The next Slow Art Day is scheduled for April 27, 2013.
It also includes direct opposition to the fast industry, as self-proclaimed SlowArt founder artist Tim Slowinski explains on his website: “The act of creating art is a meditation and devotion… created very slowly and deliberately” to rail against social injustice. Slowinski paints images that criticize how our society has habituated to the fast lifestyle.
But the “art” I’m talking about is more fundamental. Art itself is intrinsically “slow” in that truly meaningful art requires intense dedication; the creation of art is literally slow. Artistic expression is diluted when the goal is changed from maximizing the impact of each piece of art to maximizing the total volume of production.
Design also goes with Slow Art. According to the definition given by the New York based organization Slow Lab, Slow Design is to “exchange ideas and resources, share knowledge and cooperatively develop projects that positively impact the lives of individuals, the communities they participate in and the planet that we share.”
What Slow Design might lack in intellectual expression compared to, say, a Picasso or a Rembrandt, it makes up in the process. The beauty in Slow Design is in understanding that the materials that, for instance, are used to make Robin Wade furniture come from sustainable, local sources, and the acquisition of the materials themselves requires substantial contemplation by the maker. It’s a careful balance between satisfaction of the self—the consumer—with that of the community. It’s the beauty in a chair made from a fallen hardwood in a nearby forest; the flavor in a meal prepared from local farm products; the joy in a community gathering around and enjoying an art exhibit. It is beauty that comes from time and dedication that cannot be manufactured into a factory-made product.
Efficiency is good, no doubt; it provides higher living standards for our ever-growing human population. But it comes with sacrifices. In order to satiate our need for more, cheaper, faster—is it worth the sacrifice of the welfare of the community, the environment, and probably our own sanity?
A quote on the front page of SlowPlanet.com reads “Slow is not about doing everything at a snail’s pace; it’s about working, playing, and living better by doing everything at the right speed.” The Slow philosophy isn’t advocating laziness; if anything, living slow requires more work and effort than living “fast.”
It’s about dedicating our time—a completely human concept that we hold so sacred—for the sake of our humanity.