The Art of Slow Looking: From the Tate to Travelling

The Art of Slow Looking: Gallery Wall

In 2001, research that took place at New York’s prestigious Metropolitan Museum of Art found that visitors spent, on average, just 27.2 seconds looking at a painting. In 2017, the research was expanded again with a second study of a larger sample size at The Art Institute of Chicago. The results, however, were fairly similar – the average time spent was 28.63 seconds. In over 15 years, little has changed in terms of time spent looking, yet the research remarks how a significant percentage of visitors weren’t just looking, they were taking selfies with the paintings.

It seems remarkable that after possibly queuing for some time to access a gallery, we spend less than half a minute enjoying each painting. Add this to the time the artist spent creating their piece and 28.63 seconds seems a poor trade-off. Are exhibitions and places of art merely places to tick off travel bucket lists? The researchers may be inclined to agree, especially given how we now take photos for evidence of our attendance.

On the other hand, The Tate (although not citing any study in particular), claims that visitors to galleries spend just eight seconds appreciating works of art. In a bid to help people connect more deeply with artworks, they are promoting the art of ‘slow looking’. According to the gallery, the approach is “based on the idea that, if we really want to get to know a work of art, we need to spend time with it.”

This mindful method hopes viewers will find a personal connection with the painting, rather than seeing what artists or historians are telling them to see. It also encourages people to look more deeply, rather than just taking for granted what one can see immediately or at first glance.

Shari Tishman’s book, Slow Looking (2017), explores the benefits of the practice in educating, stating that, “patient, immersive attention to content can produce active cognitive opportunities for meaning-making and critical thinking that may not be possible though high-speed means of information delivery.” Arguably, this is logical, but serves as a reminder that our constant connection and accessibility to knowledge (fact-checked or more dubious) is only a few taps away. When in a gallery, would you be tempted to google the meaning behind a painting (or the meaning decided by art curators), rather than find your own answers?


Slow Looking and Travel

In many ways slow looking is a tool to use when embracing slow travel. To slow travellers such as Dale and Franca from Slow Vegan Travel, this means, “taking the time to embrace everything around us, to enjoy even the simplest things that aren’t necessarily the most popular or the most famous.” Rather than rushing from sight to sight to cram the most into your holiday, slow travel is about coming out from behind your camera lens to take your time to get to know a location.

Of course, it doesn’t mean skipping out the landmarks you desperately want to visit either. When visiting these, slow looking might be a way to understand and connect with what you’re viewing, rather than getting that shot for social media. Dale and Franca recommend taking your time, not trying to pack too many places into your trip and walking. Lots of walking.


Tips for Slow Looking in Galleries, Museums and Places of Interest

Much like with slow travel, The Tate make a valid point that slow looking must be selective. If you were to spend 15 minutes admiring each and every one of their artworks, you’d be there for 12 hours a day over four years. They suggest choosing a piece that you’re really drawn to, whether that’s out of intrigue, attraction, or even frustration. Once you have pinpointed your item of interest, be that a sculpture, artifact, or even an element of architecture, try these tips for embracing slow looking:

  • Be patient: try to forget anything you already know about the item. No one is marking how profound your answer is!
  • Try these focus points to get started: if you’re stuck, try considering the painting or item’s texture, colour, shape or symbols.
  • Take another look: does the artwork or item look different on a different day? Or, when your mood is different? If you’ve returned from your trip and are looking at photos or online versions, have your thoughts changed towards the piece now that you’re home?

Slow looking is a technique to purposefully slow down during a leisure activity with the aim of gaining much more from the experience. In the hustle and bustle of the city, retreating into a quiet corner of a gallery for a while seems like a refreshing anecdote for our fast pace of life. And when travelling, slow looking could create memories beyond those posted online.


This article is part of A Year of Living Slower – 12 monthly experiments in living better, not faster. May’s theme is Slow Travel.

The Benefits of Off-Grid Escapes: A Cotswolds Case Study

Converted horse lorry in the countryside

While some thrive on the buzz of the city – the pace, the sheer volume of people and urban sprawl – it can leave us feeling burnt out and seeking sea air or green space. Luckily, the rise of glamping and Airbnb’s quirky homes have revolutionised our short break options. It’s now easier than ever to find new locations to get off the beaten track and recharge for a weekend. And that’s all without having to pitch a tent.

A recent weekend spent in a converted horse lorry nestled in the Cotswold countryside confirmed that getting off-grid is good for the soul. From quiet and curious village walks to a digital switch-off, the benefits of a technology-free weekend and staying somewhere out-of-the-ordinary is not to be underestimated.

The Benefits of Off-Grid Escapes

Inside a converted horse lorry

Digital Detox and Reconnecting

Our digital devices are some of the most effective attention-seekers of our time. Designed to distract, their addictive features encourage us to scroll through constant streams of content and messaging. An off-grid escape offers the opportunity to switch off from our always-on culture and its FOMO-inducing tendencies. It’s a chance to embrace simple, analogue pleasures such as getting lost in a well-written novel, rather than another clickbait article. Without the pull of a screen, it’s also an opportunity to reconnect with the people you’re travelling with, or if alone, yourself.


A Change of Scenery and Finding Focus

‘A change of scenery’ has long since been used to describe going somewhere new after being in one place for a significant amount of time. It’s probably not a coincidence that so many books and films portray writers moving to beautiful, rural locations to find inspiration and beat writer’s block. A complete overhaul of your usual scenery (swapping inner-city London for the Cornish coast, for example) helps to remove distractions and may leave you better able to find clarity, inspiration and focus. This is possibly because in these locations, we’re doing less and allowing time for our minds to wander and explore. And for those who grew up in the countryside, it might also bring us back to a simpler time and present a fresh perspective on life.


Rediscovering Nature

Research and our instinct tells us that being in nature is good for us. As such, off-grid escapes aren’t just about going somewhere different, they’re about embracing and rediscovering the beauty of nature. A good walk releases endorphins, but a good walk within stunning natural scenery may have a longer lasting effect on your mood. As an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Cotswolds aren’t a bad choice when it comes to walking.


Slowing Down and Gaining Gratitude

If you’re truly off-grid, everyday tasks become more meaningful purely because they take longer to achieve. In the converted horse lorry, it was a pleasure stepping into the hot roll top bath after a hard walk, having waited 30 minutes for the gas bottled boiler to heat enough piped water. These simply tasks which not only act as an antidote to the speed at which we have become accustomed to living, they also encourage gratitude for the things we take for granted each day.

From yurts to lodges and treehouses, the options for an off-grid escape are constantly growing. Why not try something different for your next slow travel trip?


This article is part of A Year of Living Slower – 12 monthly experiments in living better, not faster. May’s theme is Slow Travel.

What is Slow Travel?

Rustic building in Pula Croatia: Slow Travel Tips

To escape the rat race, we travel, seeking new adventures and experiences. Yet, when we’re exploring, we’re still racing. Racing from sight to sight and from city to city. How much do we really ‘see’ when we travel? Rather, are we just ticking off destinations on our bucket lists like a game of international bingo? We visit new places to escape the grind, yet we often return more exhausted than before we set off. In fact, over half of Brits keep in touch with work during annual leave.

Carl Honoré, one of the key thinkers of the slow movement, summarises this paradox, “when we travel in roadrunner mode, we miss the small details that make each place thrilling and unique. We lose the joy of the journey. And at the end of it all, when every box on our To Do list has been checked, we return home even more exhausted than when we left.”


What is Slow Travel?

Slow travel, stemming from the slow food and wider slow living movement, aims to answer this contradiction. Many claim that slow travel is not a method or a means, rather a mindset. It replaces the desire to see as much as possible with the desire to experience as deeply as possible. That means connecting with the local people, their cuisine, culture and music.

Of course, if you’re embarking on a once-in-a-lifetime trip somewhere far flung, you may have limited time and wish to see as much as possible. In these cases, the slow travel motto of “there’s always another trip” may not apply. But in general, slow travellers promote staying in one place for as long as possible and getting off the beaten track. Whether that’s eating at local restaurants, visiting markets or taking a language or cooking class. In turn, helping to travel more sustainably and supporting local economies.


Advantages of Slow Travel

An increasingly popular way of travelling, slow travel boasts a range of advantages over traditional jam-packed travel itineraries:

  • Return home rested and revitalised
  • Escape your comfort zone
  • Expand your horizons and knowledge of other cultures first hand
  • Contribute more to the local economy
  • Make lasting, unique memories
  • Connect with locals
  • Save money (if opting for homestays over hotels, for example)

Experience More: Tips for Slow Travel

If you often feel more worn out after a holiday than before, the slow travel mindset might be one to adopt. These tips, including those from slow travel enthusiasts, will help you get started:

  • Franca from Slow Vegan Travel advises that you shouldn’t be scared of getting lost – “getting lost isn’t always a pleasant experience, but it might lead you to discover unexpected beauties and to meet interesting people.”
  • Remote Year encourages you ditch the guidebook for local recommendations – “talk to the people that you meet when you arrive at your destination and find out their favorite places to eat, relax, and learn.”
  • Slow Travel Magazine recommends travellers to “take a course – painting, cooking, salsa dancing, whatever you are interested in.”
  • Sloww encourages sustainability and living like a local – “good home habits should travel with you.”
  • It’s also worth allowing time for spontaneity and flexibility. A full itinerary leaves little time for exploration and creates the feeling of the need to rush from place to place.
  • A strict daily plan also limits wandering by foot. It may not always be the quickest way to get around, but slow travel fans often encourage travellers to walk as much as possible and away from the main sights. Plus, it’s an easy way to reduce your eco footprint.

Evidently, do research which neighbourhoods are advised to be safe and keep some way of navigating back to familiar territory should you stray into a situation that makes you uncomfortable.

In Nyssa P. Chopra’s words, “I travel not to cross countries off a list, but to ignite passionate affairs with destinations.” For a more meaningful trip, ditch the list and embrace the slow.


This article is part of A Year of Living Slower – 12 monthly experiments in living better, not faster. May’s theme is Slow Travel.

A Year of Living Slower, May: Slow Travel

Slow Travel in Toulouse

As the blossom trees fade and wisteria and lush green leaves take centre stage, nature tells us that we’ve reached May. A handful of sunnier days promise that winter will soon be a distant memory and it’s time to start planning our summer escapes. In this atmosphere of excitement for the thought of swapping multiple layers for sandals and alfresco evenings, we’re a third of the way through A Year of Living Slower, our year-long challenge in living better, not faster. In May, we focus on slow travel, a key part of the slow living movement.

To refresh your memory, we started the year focusing on getting a good night’s sleep – crucial for living and working to the best of our ability. In February, we aimed to put the self-care back into Sundays, reminding ourselves that there is value when we slow down and do less. March explored slow food, the origins of the slow movement. And finally, in April, we shared why the power of getting back to nature shouldn’t be underestimated and where to escape into green space in London.


Gaining More from Travel

A break from the grind, our trips promise new experiences and time to recharge. However, a YouGov survey revealed that 60% of British holidaymakers check their work emails when away, despite 80% saying that they’d rather switch off completely. Our always-on digital culture makes it more difficult to escape from work, while paradoxically we feel we must cram every sight and attraction into our precious and limited annual leave.

May’s theme of slow travel shares inspiration and ideas around how to better connect with the places you visit and return home feeling rested, rather than exhausted.

If you’re making summer travel plans, whether that’s at home or further afield, this month will be packed with useful tips. Share your experiences using #AYearOfLivingSlower on Instagram and let’s celebrate our fifth month of living better, not faster.

Nature and Nurture: Why Getting Outdoors is Good For You

Seascape in Devon - why nature makes up happier

We grew up being told that getting outside was “good for us”. The phrase “get some fresh air” implies we place importance on going outdoors to find mental clarity or resolve conflict. When you stop to reflect, there are numerous similar examples of our societal belief that being in nature is important for our well-being. Even in the 18th century, poet Samuel Johnson said, “Deviation from nature is deviation from happiness.” 

In the face of culture, society and our gut telling us that getting outdoors is key for health and happiness, it seems strange that British adults spend 90% of their time indoors. Is it the Great British weather? Or, perhaps the sedentary tendency of many of us to work behind a computer screen? The following studies help remind us what we stand to gain by exploring green spaces on a more regular basis. After all, when we consider ‘work:life integration’ rather than ‘work:life balance’, we understand how our deliberate acts of well-being can positively impact what we spend the majority of time doing: working.

Science-Backed Reasons for Getting Outdoors

  • Going outdoors improves your focus: Researchers at the University of Michigan found that attention spans and memory performance was improved by 20% by spending an hour in nature. They also found that participants felt the same benefits, regardless of the temperature. This means that the temperamental British weather is no longer an excuse.
  • Nature reduces stress in the city: Research published in Frontiers in Psychology found that urban dwellers who were asked to spend at least ten minutes in nature three time a week reported reduced levels of stress. The greatest reductions were found when participants spent between twenty and thirty minutes in urban nature.
  • Switching off from technology and embracing nature improves creative problem solving: In the journal PLoS ONE, researchers found that hikers who were disconnected from technology and immersed in a natural setting for four days had a 50% increased performance at a creative problem solving task.
  • Connecting with nature improves health and happiness: University of Derby and The Wildlife Trusts launched ’30 Days Wild’ – an experiment that measured the impact of people doing something ‘wild’, such as feeding the birds, every day for 30 days. The researchers found that 30% more participants rated their health as ‘excellent’ after the month-long experiment, which they attributed to the increase in happiness.

Ways to Reconnect with Nature in the City

If you’re a city dweller, finding natural spaces requires more effort, although the research above suggests it pays off. In London, there are plenty of places to get back to nature, including Kew Gardens, city farms, Royal parks and nature reserves. For more simple ways to reconnect with nature, try these ideas:

  • Go for a walk along a canal or riverside
  • Plant a window box
  • Nurture some houseplants to create fresh oxygen at home
  • Walk, sit, meditate or picnic in a park
  • Eat more seasonally and visit farmers’ markets
  • Visit a nature-inspired exhibition (for example, Wildlife Photographer of the Year at London’s Natural History Museum)
  • Volunteer and help conserve the city’s wildlife (for example, London Wildlife Trust)

We know that nature can have many benefits on health and happiness, but perhaps we need a reminder that these benefits aren’t exclusive to living in the countryside. Recognising the reassuring pattern and pace of nature is a good way to find refreshing slowness in our hurried lifestyles. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said “adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience”. To truly connect, we must adjust our pace.


This article is part of A Year of Living Slower – 12 monthly experiments in living better, not faster. April’s theme is Slow Living & Getting Outdoors.