Deeper, more meaningful art-experiences with digital

Slow looking online with the Clyfford Still Museum

Slow looking is the practice of taking time to explore an artwork in a particular way in order to gain a deeper understanding of the piece. It is traditionally an in-gallery experience, guided by an educator or an audio guide.

This post details our ongoing journey to create deep and meaningful art-experiences online. It tells our story of slow looking experiments, and an online collection project where the slow looking experiments were made real.

In partnership with the Clyfford Still Museum, we have just launched their online collection with an innovative slow looking feature. More on that later…

Slow looking

I’ve been obsessed with slow looking since I heard Meagan Estep from the National Gallery of Art speak about it at Museums and the Web 2016.

I love slow looking because it is an immediate, low-barrier way to experience art more deeply, and because I am sure that digital can deliver a strong slow looking experience. I’m really interested in developing deeper, more meaningful art-based experiences through digital, and slow looking is a key area I wanted to explore.

I decided to experiment.

Slow looking TV

The first experiment I made used Keynote to make an animation and Quicktime to record my screen and voice. I had an idea for a slow looking channel on YouTube, and made this video prototype to see how it felt. Try it full screen with headphones for the full effect.

Famous Sites of the Sumida River by Sumiyoshi school. Google Art Project [public domain] via Wikimedia Commons.

The results were encouraging. It was quick to make, it encourages you to see things in the artwork you might not have, and to relate them to your own life.

It also had an unintended meditative aspect to it which was a pleasant surprise and I wanted to explore further.

Clyfford Still Museum

In parallel, we started building the online collection for the Clyfford Still Museum.

My counterpart there Sarah Wambold is part of the National Visitor Motivation Survey Project, a multi-museum collaboration to understand why visitors come to museums.

The data the Clyfford Still Museum got from that project suggested that an above-average number of physical visitors to CSM are Rechargers.

Rechargers are characterised by John Falk as:

Yearning to physically, emotionally, & intellectually recharge in a beautiful and refreshing environment.

Sarah and I thought “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could give that Recharger audience a similar experience online?”

Slow Looking Club

Back to slow looking, and at Museums and the Web 2017. Meagan and I convened the first meeting of the Slow Looking Club. The idea was to open this conversation up to a wider group, to explore ideas together.

We discussed the possibilities for slow looking, as well as how the slow movement is reaching into television, radio, education, even parenting.

The inaugural Slow Looking Club at Museums and the Web 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. L-R: Elizabeth Shaffer, Tom Scutt, susan e, Koven J. Smith (joining via Skype), Meagan Estep, Andy Cummins and Chad Weinard. Photo by me.

Slow Looking Club was also a great opportunity to share the next experiment Jon and I had been working on together.

Slow looking across your entire online collection

We wanted to create a slow looking experience that can be plugged into a museums online collection and provide a beautiful yet automated journey through the image.

Where as my earlier video experiment required editorial decisions to be made (where to pan, voiceover etc), this experience uses the IIIF protocol and a set of pre-defined routes around the image. Here are two examples routes animated.

Zig-zag through the image
Linear route back and forth across the image

Here are two beta examples from Cogapp Labs for you to try yourself.

The first is a Rene Antoine Houasse piece and the second is Vincent van Gogh’s Irises.

You can adjust the way you’re guided through the image by updating the URL with pantype=zig or pantype=linear; adjust the speed by updating the URL slowness=500. A higher number gives a slower experience.

The Cogapp Labs examples are in beta so you might find bugs. Please let us know if you spot any.

Slow looking at Clyfford Still Museum

We showed these Cogapp Labs projects to the team at Clyfford Still Museum who immediately recognised that slow looking would be a wonderful, experiential addition to their online collection, and so we agreed to add it in.

The end result is that the Clyfford Still Museum have an online collection that displays more artworks than they ever have done before, plus provides a deep and meaningful way to engage with the work, in a way that research evidence suggests is completely appropriate for the audience.

Try it for yourself by hitting the eye icon on any collection object (I like this one) then sit back, relax and enjoy.

What’s next?

The next steps with slow looking are to continue our experiments by bringing audio into the slow looking experience. Ideas include a pre-recorded voiceover; stock phrases triggered at random; soundscapes; music; Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) and more!

We’d be really interested to hear what you think about slow looking, and where Slow Looking Club could take it next. Please get in touch with us in the comments or on Twitter.

The next meeting of Slow Looking Club will be at MCN17 in Pittsburgh. Let me know if you can make it.

And why not take a moment now to find an artwork you like on the Clyfford Still Museum Online Collection, hit the eye icon and have a #slowlooking experience.


Figure de la Magnificence Royale By René Antoine Houasse [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Irises by Vincent van Gogh, [No restrictions or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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