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Slow Art

Slow art isn’t a collection of aesthetic objects, as you might suppose; rather, it names a dynamic interaction between observer and observed. Artists can create the conditions for slow looking—think of James Turrell ’65 Skyspaces like Pomona’s “Dividing the Light.” But what about viewers? How can we do our share?

In a given year, more Americans visit art museums than attend any one professional sporting event. They want and expect to take pleasure, learn and share positive experiences with each other and perhaps with their children. Too often the result is otherwise. Despite massive arts education programs, many visitors still arrive at a museum feeling confused or disadvantaged about how to navigate the place—where to go first, what to look at in any given gallery, how to connect with what they find. (There is a particular disconnect for people 40 and under, on whom museums will increasingly rely for support.) As a Jeffersonian populist, I believe that everyone who passes through a gallery ought to feel enfranchised. Everybody, I believe, can have meaningful, maybe even transforming experiences looking at artworks. Whether or not we possess any particular talent, training, art education or technical vocabulary, we all bring the sole necessary requirements: a set of eyes and lived experience. The playing field is level. But how to look is not self-evident.

How? My answer will come as no surprise: pacing can make a world of difference. Magic may happen when you give yourself over to the process and attune yourself to the artwork, listen to what it asks from you. “Notice how with two or three lines I’ve made this thatched roof,” says a Rembrandt drawing. “Look at how the shadows under the plane trees turn purple,” says a Van Gogh landscape. Give a painting time to reveal itself, I’ve said, and it turns into a moving picture—the experience can be that eye-opening. Over time, you will perceive more and more elements of the image, things that you literally never saw before. However closely you attend, you will never absorb an object’s every visual detail or nuance. There will always remain more to see. In fact, this inexhaustibility is the sign of art itself.

How, then, to slow down? There are many possibilities, old-fashioned (docent tours, audio guides) and newfangled (smartphone apps, iPads on gallery walls, online learning sources like the Khan Academy). The scores of museum-goers who use them testify to a widespread need for guidance. Each of these options may work. Here, I limit my suggestions to rugged individuals, unwired visitors who follow neither audio tour nor app. Or better, take advantage of any external aid—rent an audio tour because you know nothing about Mughal art—but take time also to shut off the devices and linger.

1 / Believe that you already come equipped with everything you need—those eyes and that life experience. Trust that something surprising can come of the encounter, or simply that the experience might be fun.

2 / Don’t go alone. In another’s company you’ll have more stamina and notice more. (More than three people looking together may prove too many.) Best is a viewing partner who is open-minded, prepared to be patient, receptive to being taken aback. Also, somebody you feel free to disagree with. “Opposition,” said William Blake, “is true friendship.” Some of my best experiences have come out of seeing things differently from my companion.

3 / Remember that museums are like libraries. Why do people assume that they need to look at everything on display in a gallery when they would never pull every book off a shelf? Be selective. Once I interviewed the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s longtime director, Philippe de Montebello. I asked him about navigating art spaces. “My wife loves going to museums with me because I tell her: ‘In this room, we will look at X and Z.’” “If we happen not to be your spouse?” I asked. “Head first to the museum shop. The postcards will tell you which works the place prizes most highly. Second, say you’re in a gallery with many objects clustered together and another given its own vitrine. Choose the latter. Finally, whatever the guards say, you have to get up close.” I would add: start by scanning the room to see if anything calls out to you. Don’t even think about pausing before every object. One or two items in a gallery will be enough or more than enough. Don’t worry if your pick is not among the postcards; trust your taste.

4 / Grant your chosen object time—how much is tricky, I acknow­ledge. If, after a spell, nothing clicks, move on. This is a no-fault game. You are nobody’s student; there are no should’s. Eventually you and your companion will find something that you agree is intriguing, striking, ravishing, perplexing, disturbingly unfamiliar—what that thing is hardly matters.

5 / Now let yourself go. Get close, back up, shift from side to side, squint. Notice the surround: does the installation lighting create hot or dark spots unrelated to the artwork? Let yourself wonder about what might seem trivial. Why do Cézanne’s tables tilt up? Why do mountains look stylized in medieval depictions of deserts? What is that strange detail on the curving side of a glass vase, in a still lifepainting of flowers? Might it be light reflected from a four-paned window in the imaginary room? And why is a caterpillar munching on that leaf? Why does one window in an Edward Hopper painting behave differently from its neighbors? There is no telling where seemingly naïve questions may carry you. Remember that frustration is part and parcel of engaged looking; an artwork that doesn’t offer resistance may not offer much at all.

6 / Let images “tell you” how they want to be seen. In my experience, they will do so if you “listen to them” with patience.

7 / Don’t be in a hurry to speak. Start by letting your eyes wander freely. Then zero in on what seems meaningful, or looks to be part of a pattern, or perhaps is an anomaly. Toggle between focused and unfocused looking. Test what you’ve registered by closing your eyes and asking yourself what you recollect. Then look again to compare.

8/ Don’t screw yourself to the spot. A surefire recipe for distraction is to insist that you concentrate on some work for X minutes. You are sure to chafe. Genuine viewing is always a mix of engagement and withdrawal, and as I’ve said, some degree of boredom is integral to the experience of slow art.

Dieric Bouts, Annunciation, J. Paul Getty Museum

Dieric Bouts, Annunciation, J. Paul Getty Museum

9 / Say you are looking at a Renaissance painting of a sallow-faced woman whose reading has been interrupted by a man with Technicolor wings. It’s enough to begin by attending to the physical details: the crisp folds of the red linen hanging behind the bed, or the mosaic pattern on the floor, which seems to repeat the design of a stained glass window in the recess at the left. Under the bedchamber’s barrel vault a half lunette appears to float above the bed canopy—like a moon, or the book’s open clasp. It’s good to begin in mystery, because not knowing rouses curiosity. Questions prompted by the act of looking motivate us to learn about the image’s content and about its social, aesthetic, political, historical contexts. By contrast, front-loading information—in a slide lecture sandwiched in with a hundred other images—is likely to generate little interest and leave but a fleeting impression. So studies of museum education repeatedly conclude.

Now—and not before—is when the wall label should come into play: what Dieric Bouts painted between 1450 and 1455 is the Annunciation. Wondering what that refers to—I am assuming no specialized knowledge—brings your smartphone app into the picture. You learn that the Angel Gabriel has just told the Virgin Mary—that is, he has announced—that she is to be the mother of God (Luke 1, 31). His message accounts for her expression, a mix of bashfulness (she refuses to return the angel’s gaze), shock, humility and fear that she will not satisfy the job requirements. Perhaps Gabriel’s words also explain the placement of her hands, which simultaneously express astonishment and are about to meet in prayer. Pursuing your inquiry will teach you that the cloth bundled up at the left-hand corner—a gorgeous, realistic, seemingly gratuituous detail—also symbolizes the great event yet to unfold but already being prepared. This bundle is a visible, external double of Mary’s womb. But what of the single pillow propped up on the bed, square between Gabriel and Mary? Another symbol? On the Getty’s website you can see Bouts’ underdrawing, detect traces of animal glue seeping through the linen, and spot vermillion pigment, thanks to X-ray and ultraviolet analysis. Speed and distraction aside, there has never been a better time to look.

10 / You will get better with practice. You and your interlocutor will become comfortable with each other’s rhythms and styles. You will build up categories to scan for: color, composition, mood, atmosphere, form, depth, quality of brushstrokes—fine or broad, insistent or invisible; awkwardnesses, conventional narratives; stylistic changes over time; political controversies. Over time you will amass episodes of close looking and build a mental library of images, a backlog of aesthetic experiences that will serve as points of reference or comparison.

11 / You will experience a range of pleasures: eye-candy, puzzle-solving, meditative or spiritual moments. You will have fun.


… she thought she’d somehow only now learned how to look.

—Don DeLillo, The Body Artist

Arden Reed is the Arthur M. Dole and Fanny M. Dole Professor of English at Pomona College and author of the forthcoming book, Slow Art: The Experience of Looking, Sacred Images to James Turrell.

Glee Club in Rome


The Pomona College Glee Club, under the direction of Professor Donna Di Grazia, performs in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome during the group’s spring tour of Italy.

Buonasera Glee Club

This May, St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice will ring with the voices of the Pomona College Glee Club, as the group brings its annual concert tour for the first time to Italy. Each year after the end of the spring semester, the Glee Club takes a little piece of Pomona on the road, performing in venues across the country and around the world. Last year’s East Coast tour included a performance at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. (below). The last time the troop went transatlantic was in 2012, when they performed at venues across Poland, England and Germany, including the famous Thomaskirche in Leipzig (Bach’s home church for nearly 30 years), St. James’s Piccadilly in London, and the Berliner Dom in Berlin.

For Sagehens abroad or those who plan to be abroad in May, here’s the complete schedule (all are concert performances unless otherwise noted):

  • Basilica San Nicolo, Lecco (Lake Como region), Italy—May 19, 9 p.m.
  • Chiesa San Salvador, Venice, Italy—May 21, 7 p.m.
  • St. Mark’s Basilica, Venice, Italy—May 22, noon (featured choir at mass)
  • Chiesa di Santa Caterina, Pisa, Italy—May 24, 9 p.m. (concert sponsored by UNESCO.)
  • Basilica Santa Trinita, Florence, Italy—May 25, 9 p.m.
  • Chiesa San Marcello, Rome, Italy—May 27, 9 p.m.
  • St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City, Rome, Italy —May 28, 5 p.m. (featured choir at mass)


Artwork by James Hueter ’46 Acquired by The Huntington Library

1946-HueterThe sculpture-painting, “The Figure Rising,” by artist James Hueter has been acquired by The Huntington Library, Art Collection and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, CA, for their permanent collection of American Art. James studied art at Pomona and received his M.F.A. at CGS. He has been an active artist since then and continues to show and work. A 60-year retrospective of his work, curated by Steve Comba, associate director of Pomona College Museum of Art, was shown at the Claremont Museum of Art in 2009, and he will have a show at Bunny Gunner Gallery in Claremont in May 2016. See photo of James with his work at the Huntington. He and his family had a private tour of the gallery space in Jan. with Hal Nelson, curator of Decorative Art, and Jessica Todd Smith, chief curator of American Art.

New Work by Linda Kawasaki Yoshizawa ’78

Artwork by Linda Kawasaki YoshizawaA new work by Linda Kawasaki Yoshizawa ’78  was included in the visual arts portion of the 10th annual “East Meets West” art and poetry exhibit, integrating visual and literary arts, held in the Civic Center at the main Livermore, California, library. Yoshizawa is a printmaker from the San Francisco Bay Area whose artwork reflects the mixing of two cultural sensibilities—American and Japanese. Her nature-inspired drawings are used as symbols of our own struggles and yearnings. She uses colors, values, and textures to elicit mood, questions, and a sense of serenity. Her monotype printing technique balances serendipity and design with a personal aesthetic that reflects her Japanese-American identity. An art major at Pomona, she is a member of the California Society of Printmakers and the Los Angeles Printmaking Society. Her work is included in many personal and corporate collections across the country, including Kaiser Permanente in San Ramon and Pleasanton, California.

Vertigo@Midnight Art Exhibit Explores Afrofuturism

THE ART EXHIBIT “Vertigo@Midnight: New Visual AfroFuturisms & Speculative Migrations,” on view Feb. 23 – VatM-Posterside4cMarch 6, at Pomona College and Scripps College, invites viewers to contemplate the visceral, spiritual, emotional and political dimensions of diaspora.

The artists from around the world include Chakaia Booker, Michele Bringier, Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons, Krista Franklin, Renee Stout, Lee Blalock, Chris Christion, Oluwatobi Clement, Sydney Dyson, Sharon Grier, Karen Hampton, Zeal Harris, David Huffman, Lek Jeyifous, Ademola Olugebefola, Glynnis Reed, Cauleen Smith, Jaye Thomas, Sheila Walker, Jessica Wimbley and Saya Woolfalk.

The artists are linked through their interest in and reimaginings of race, gender, the body, space and time. The artwork collected here considers the tensions and joys of identity through multiplicity, remixed histories, storytelling, memories, fragmentations and reinventions, disorientation and vertiginous boundary crossings.

The Vertigo@Midnight exhibition is hosted by two campus galleries – the Pomona College Studio Art Hall Chan Gallery, (370 N. Columbia Ave., Claremont) and the Scripps College Clark Humanities Museum (981 N. Amherst Ave., Claremont). The opening reception, with readings by Kima Jones, Peter Harris, and 5Cs students, will be held on Wednesday, Feb. 25, at 4:15 p.m., at the Clark Museum. Both museums are open Monday-Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday-Sunday, 12 – 5 pm.

Curated by Pomona College Prof. Valorie Thomas, “Vertigo@Midnight” opens dialogue about disorientation and equilibrium through her theorizing of African Diasporic Vertigo as a cultural idiom that crosses borders, cultures and languages.

Related Events:

  • Feb 21, Film/Performance, 8 p.m., King Britt presents “Brother From Another Planet (Recontextualized),” Smith Campus Center (Edmunds Ballroom, 170 E. Sixth St., Claremont)
  • February 27-28 & March 6-7, Film Screenings, AfroFuturisms and the Speculative Arts, 12-6 p.m., Crookshank Hall (140 W. Sixth St., Claremont)
  • March 4, Artist Talk, Jessica Wimbley, 1:15 p.m. with reception at 4 p.m., featuring a dance performance by Sesa Bakenra (Claremont McKenna College ’15), Pomona College Studio Art Hall, Room 122.
  • March 5, Artist Talk, Claude Fiddler, 4:15 p.m., Pomona College Studio Art Hall, Room 122.
  • March 6-7, Film Screenings, AfroFuturisms and the Speculative Arts, 12-6 p.m., Pomona College Studio Art Hall, Room 122.

For more information on AfroFuturisms and the Speculative Arts, contact valorie.thomas@pomona.edu.

—Cynthia Peters

Story Quilt Exhibit Reveals Reactions to Trayvon Martin Shooting

“AMERICAN SPRING, A CAUSE FOR JUSTICE,” 23 story quilts that narrate the Trayvon Martin shooting in 11-quilt-bracy300Florida, will be on display at Pomona College, beginning Feb. 23. The quilts come from the Fiber Artists of Hope Network and reveal reactions to Martin’s death in 2012 and hopes for a better America.

The exhibition will be open Feb. 23 to March 8, 2015, at the Pomona College Bridges Auditorium (450 N. College Way, Claremont) and is free to the public. An opening reception will be held on Thursday, Feb. 26, with lectures at 6 p.m. and the reception at 7 p.m.

The exhibition is open on Monday–Wednesday and Friday-Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. On Thursdays, the exhibition will be open 1-7 p.m. in connection with the Pomona College Museum of Art’s Art After Hours program. On Sundays, the exhibit will be open 12-3 p.m.

Story quilting expands on traditional textile-arts techniques to record, in fabric, events of personal or historical significance. Through the accessibility of their colors, patterns and symbols, the quilts of ”American Spring: A Cause for Justice” relate narratives that enable conversations about sensitive topics from our national history, furthering the discussion of racial reconciliation in America. This exhibition is curated by Theresa Shellcroft and is organized by the Fiber Artists of Hope in Victorville, Calif.

The quilts have been exhibited to the Congressional Black Caucus, in Atlanta, Baltimore, Little Rock, Los Angeles, Marion (IN), Philadelphia, Victorville and Washington, DC, among other locations.11-quilt-shie

Associate Dean Jan Collins-Eaglin saw the quilts at the African American Quilting Guild meeting in Los Angeles last year. “Each quilt tells a story,” she says. “They’re very evocative and interpretations of what happened. I really wanted our students to be able to see them. Then there were the shootings of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in New York.

“Through art, we can heal, and this has that power. We can begin to talk about what these artists hope for, and what we hope for. There are so many little details in the quilts, and as you look at them more closely, you begin to talk about them.”

—Cynthia Peters

Big Laughs for Joel McHale at Little Bridges

mchaleblog2Comedian Joel McHale entertained a packed house of Claremont Colleges students at Little Bridges on Saturday night.

McHale, who is the host of “Talk Soup” and stars on the sitcom “Community,” did his research, commenting that Claremont is like Tolkein’s Shire and ribbing the audience on the differences between the colleges. From his time hosting E!’s “The Soup,” McHale shared stories of angering reality TV stars like Tyra Banks and the Kardashians, as well as shared a tribute joke for Joan Rivers, before segueing into stories about raising young sons.

He even took a crack at Pomona’s beloved mascot: “Cecil the Sagehen is not very intimidating. It’s like, ‘We’re gonna beat you… if you were to eat us and we were undercooked. We’re gonna salmonella you all over the field!’”

The event was co-sponsored by the CUC Holmes Fund; Bridges Auditorium, which produced the event; and Bridges Hall of Music, which hosted the event. Each of The Claremont Colleges received a set amount of free tickets, distributed through the respective college’s student affairs staff.

Pomona College often hosts top-bill comedians, including Wanda Sykes, Eddie Izzard and Aziz Ansari in recent years.


New CD from Professor Tom Flaherty

looking1Music Professor Tom Flaherty has a new CD out, Looking for Answers, from Albany Records featuring chamber music recorded in Pomona’s Little Bridges.

“I have been long been fascinated with how the meanings of simple things can be transformed when they are juxtaposed in interesting ways,” writes Flaherty.” Colliding meters, tempos, modes, levels of dissonance, and the like permeate my recent music, and are often the focus of its progress.”

The CD features six pieces, written over seven years, and “all inspired by and written for friends, family and admired colleagues.”

A Look Inside Pomona’s New Studio Art Hall

drawingstudioEarlier this week, we took a hard-hat tour of the Pomona’s under-construction Studio Art Hall, set to open in fall. Pomona’s web will be reporting more about the innovative design, environmental features and creative spaces in coming months, but here are some quick takeaways from our tour:

The building’s layout – described as four structures under one roof canopy to create an “art village” – has no interior hallways, leaving plenty of open spaces for students to gather or work on their art.

Those include a large terrace on the northeast corner of the second floor and a covered open-space area beckoning from the southeast corner, with the rustic oaks of the Wash only a stone’s throw away.

Expect plenty of natural light: More than half of the exterior of the building will be glass. Upstairs, Professor Mercedes Texeido’s drawing studio will be lit with help from gill-like skylights (see photo.) The painting studio on the north side of the second floor looks out at a sweeping view of the San Gabriel Mountains.

Along with spaces for painting, sculpture, drawing, metal work, a digital studio, a wood shop, photography, a computer lab and more, the building also includes a lounge with a kitchen, adjacent to the artist-in-residence space.

The grounds of the large courtyard – another distinctive feature of the building — are starting to take shape. A cork oak has been planted, and faculty from both the art and geology departments have selected boulders that will be placed in the courtyard and used for both casual seating and for instruction by geology classes.

The art-geology connection is just one example of the interdisciplinary aims behind the new building. One purpose for of the open-air gathering spaces is to allow students in different artistic disciplines to work side by side, and junior/senior studios also will be shared between disciplines.

There could even be some unplanned interdisciplinary interaction between art and athletics: the balcony and terrace on the northern end of the upper floor offer a view into the outfield of Pomona’s baseball field.

Photo by Laura Tiffany