(photo credit: stock.xchng)

In the first chapter of Not So Fast (the link takes you to a pre-published sample that has changed slightly), I talk about our family’s fast-paced, camera-clicking, breeze-past-the-art trip through the Louvre.

On that particular trip, we didn’t slow enough to really take in the art.

Apparently, we are not alone.

This article in The New York Times, “At the Louvre, Many Stop to Snap but Few Stay to Focus,”  is about this very phenomenon of people snapping photos of paintings and moving on, without taking time to observe. To observe apparently takes too long, requiring a person to stop for a while and look.

The author describes two young women in flowered dresses who walked around and looked at the art. They slowed. “They paused and circled around a few sculptures,” he said. “They took their time. They looked slowly … The young women were unusual for stopping. Most of the museum’s visitors passed through the gallery oblivious.”

Enjoying art, appreciating it, takes time.

The article said, “Almost nobody, over the course of that hour or two, paused before any object for as long as a full minute.”

In our fast-paced world, can we learn to slow down enough to truly focus?

While we ponder that at a philosophical and personal level, I do have some practical ideas to offer that are related to families in art museums.

The kids and I have been to a few art museums, and most of the time we took our time (the Louvre being our ridiculous exception).

When the kids were really little, we just pointed out things that might be of interest to preschool and primary-school minds (“Let’s count the sheep on this hillside.” “Look how huge that cloud is!” or “Can you see how the whole picture is made up of little color dots? We could try something like that at home with your markers.”).

We also checked with the museum’s policy on notebooks, bags, etc. Some are very particular that you cannot carry a backpack, pen, or have a sketchbook over a certain size. Once we discovered what was allowed, we took a shoulder bag within the size limit and packed it full of colored pencils and notebooks. Then we encouraged the kids to find a painting or piece of art that they really liked. If the museum would allow it and the crowds were small, we’d encourage the kids to sit on the floor and sketch it. By looking closely like that, copying it as best they could, following the curves and matching colors, they “owned” that piece of art.

Often I would join them, attempted to copy a painting or sculpture myself. Those are pieces that I “own,” too.

As we walked along, I would read the information plaques to myself and then explain it at their level, focusing in on some detail they might find interesting.

If I was heading to a well-known out-of-town art museum, I would check out a book from the library with photos of the art at that place. Now I would probably look online, as well, to see some beforehand.

Then they could enjoy a kind of scavenger hunt when we arrived:

“Okay, kids, next let’s look for that Edward Hopper painting we saw in the library book.”

“Does someone spot the Seurat we saw online? Yes, right over there—look how big it is!”

All this museum-talk has me craving some art. I’m going to make time in the next two months to get to a museum … and schedule a good, long visit so we can really focus.

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