How Long Should You Look at a Work of Art?

How Long Should You Look at a Work of Art?

A few years ago, while working as a Gallery
Guide, I learned about a metric museum professionals use to evaluate how long visitors spend looking
at works of art. It’s called Sweep Rate Index and it’s
calculated by dividing the square footage of the exhibition by the average total time
visitors spent. The lower the sweep rate, the more time visitors
spent in the exhibition. It’s a metric, in combination with other
data, that tracks the attentiveness and level of engagement visitors have with the exhibition. There are different types of engagement and
they all have their value – maybe you spent more time reading labels, listening to the
audio guide, following a tour, or talking to a friend about what you thought of the
show. All of it can be good ways of seeing and analyzing
art. But it got me thinking, how long do people actually spend looking at individual works of art? According to a study conducted at the Metropolitan
Museum of Art in 2001 by two professors at the University of Oregon – people spent a
mean time looking at a painting for 27.2 seconds, a median time of 17 seconds, and with the
longest time of 3 minutes and 48 seconds. In 2016, they published another study that
tracked more artworks and more people at the Art Institute of Chicago, which had similar
results of 28.63 seconds mean time looking at an artwork, and a median time of 21 seconds. These result revealed that in general, a typical
museum visit is comprised of brief looks at many works of art – rather than long looks
at a few works of art. Additionally, the similar results decades
apart suggest that the age of smartphones, with people taking art selfies and photographically
documenting their visits acts which I approve of by the way – but they haven’t really
changed the amount of time we spend looking at works of art. Of course, there is no right amount of time
to look at an artwork. Some artworks are small and simple in nature,
some are large and complex. Some artworks may personally interest you,
some you may find boring. Some offer explanatory panels or audio guides
while others are self-explanatory. So it is natural for us to spend more time
looking at certain artworks than others. However – it does appear that most art gallery
visitors do not spend extended periods of time looking at a single artwork, and that
most of us rather see an abundance of everything in quick succession rather than intensely
observing a few individual artworks Large, well known institutions like the MET
tend to attract tourists, who generally like to see as much as possible. I’m definitely guilty of this myself. When I’ve visiting a large gallery for the
first time, I get the urge to just want to see everything! I’ve definitely spent 8 hours in one museum
before, which I know is something most people don’t do – as museum fatigue is definitely
a thing. However when I spent an entire day looking
at everything I can possibly absorb in an art museum, I wonder – how much did I actually
see? If I went to the library and spent most of
the time glossing over the spines of books, could I actually say to people – I read 100
books today?! In recent years I’ve tried a different way
of seeing art – going to a gallery, maybe a small one, or just going to a small show
within a large institution, and just look at maybe 4-5 pieces of art, but observe them
in detail, and spend as much time as possible looking at each one. After doing this, you may discover not only
all the details you may have missed, you also get an intangible amount of beneficial cognitive, and even for some people – therapeutic results from doing so. According to researchers at University of
Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center, looking at a work of art for 20 minutes or
more “not only enhances one’s appreciation of art, but can also have the same beneficial
effects as meditation.” Doing this is not easy of course. It’s easy to get bored, and want to move
on. Perhaps you can try doing this with a friend, as you can spend time discussing the work with them. You can contemplate the visual elements of
the artwork – its colours, lines, shapes and analyses how the work is composed. You can connect it with other artworks you’ve
seen, or think about what things in life the artwork reminds you of. And of course you can ponder about how the
artwork makes you feel. Luckily there are a lot of resources on how
to observe and analyze art. I’ll leave some in the description below. April 6, 2019 is also Slow Art Day – a day
that was founded in 2008 where you are encouraged to go to an art gallery, pick 5 pieces of
art, observe them for 10 minutes or more, and then meet with others to talk about the
experience. Hundreds of art institutions around the world
officially participate in Slow Art Day. I’ll leave a link in the description as
well. But you can basically do this anywhere, from
any gallery. Even if you have artworks hanging around your
house – you can do a slow art day with that. In the comments below please tell me what
artwork you think you can spend more than 20 minutes with, and let me know what your
observations are. Thanks for watching! If you liked this video, here are some more
like it, and don’t forget subscribe and hit the bell notification icon so you can
stay up to date on future videos.

Dereck Turner

45 thoughts on “How Long Should You Look at a Work of Art?

  1. E. V. Martinez says:

    Van Gogh because I like yellow!

  2. JBL Creations says:

    Any of the abstract artists.

  3. xja85mac says:

    A snap went missing…

  4. OpalFalcon says:

    Barnett Newman – Midnight Blue. I saw it in Cologne when I was there and I don't know it kinda just entranced me.

  5. mr. master says:

    I was just at LACMA the other day and thought about the exact same thing. Like how artists can spend years on one painting just for people to look at it for thirty seconds

  6. Дмитрий says:

    In Kiev’s Pinchuk art was a competative exhibition. There was a work “me, myself and I”.
    There was a bot with a video projetion of a woman constantly rearanging stuff on the floor…her actions appeared pointless but jist sat there to make sense pf it. People were freaked though, because the bot was small ot must have looked like a boy staring into cupboard while sitting on the floor…I wonder if anyone’s mistaken me for a performer, that’d be funny.

  7. aguti1111 says:

    Most Caravaggio paintings — the lighting amazes me every time

  8. Dorrit says:

    Since I have my exams fast approaching, I will pick 5 from the comments section below and stare at them for long hours of time. Somethings better than not.

  9. Art Cream says:

    Very interesting channel! The Art Cream videos are a bit same topic maybe you will find it interesting as well? I think there should be more channels about Art on You Tube <3

  10. yourcurtainsareugly says:

    There are TONS of pieces of art I could – and have – spent many hours with, in some cases hundreds. None of them are paintings, photos, or sculptures.

    Personally, the draw of static art is very limited. In general, I don't spend a lot of time with esthetics and try to deemphasize them in my life. I don't believe I've ever purchased something for myself for purely esthetic value, and I've commented on earlier videos how much I enjoy modernist ideas, particularly that form should follow function and eschew ornamentation.

    That said, I do value experiences, so I spend a lot of time with multimedia, and interactive media (e.g. games) specifically, especially VR.

    You might think me narrow-minded for, say, not caring if all these museums suddenly disappeared, but I think it's telling that a video on the consumption of works of art solely focuses on paintings, photos, and a few sculptures – your standard museum stuff ("fine art") – when there's a whole world of movies, video games, music, performance, and beyond out there.

  11. Razz says:

    The Garden of Earthly Delights

  12. Threefive Nine says:

    I follow intuition instead of trying to force interest, which means I can skim a lot of paintings and then fall in deeply with one or two. Most recently I was absorbed by an Alice Rich painting, a spring toned semi-abstract landscape of clouds reflected in smooth water, with strips of black interrupting, hinting at telephone poles.

  13. KhAnubis says:

    One thing that‘ll definitely hook me into a painting is if it tells a story, or paints a picture (literally) of what life was like in the time it was painted. Though this is definitely good advice, as I plan to meet up with a couple other YouTubers at the Portland Art Museum tonight.

    By the way, glad to see you upload again! I was getting a bit worried, if I‘m completely honest.

  14. Clifton Fowler says:

    narcissus by Salvador dali.

  15. 385x01y says:

    Yay 😊 you are back. After that tweet I was afraid you would quit making videos. Make them at your own pace, don't force a schedule, btw I just realised i really have no art pices in my house, unless you consider everything to be art, then I will look at my plush toys and pretend they are sculptures.

  16. Stefan Milo says:

    Do you think there's a market for micro gallery showing just one painting?

    Slow art day sounds like a good idea too.

  17. Mara K says:

    I think I could spend 20+ minutes contemplating a single piece of Magic: the Gathering card art. Right now, I’m looking at Ryan Pancoast’s art for the soon-to-be-released card Tolsimir, Friend to Wolves, which depicts an armored elf and wolf fighting their way through a horde of zombies. There’s so much wonderful detail in the armor, the subjects’ emotions are readily accessible (more so at large scale than at the size of a trading card), and even the blurry background has color and tone details that mesh with the rest of the set.

  18. Corporis says:

    I spend the longest looking at art on beer labels. Over the course of any given introverted night, I'll probably spend 5 minutes staring at the label as I pick and peel it apart from the bottle. Thing is, a lot of the time, these labels are AMAZING

  19. City Beautiful says:

    Love this video! I'm always more inclined to take a long look at a piece of art if it has a bench in front of it. I guess I'm lazy!

  20. Augustin says:

    I think that one of the work of art I can spend most time looking at it is the denderah zodiac in the Louvre Museum and, already in France, in the national architecture museum (cité de l'architecture) in the rooms where facsimile of most beautiful romanese painting of french church are installed

  21. Symbioticism says:

    I've passed some seriously worthwhile time staring at a Rothko, Pollock, or Bacon. Not how I always deal with an art gallery, but never disappointing.

  22. Jasminesocool says:

    Ur back!!! Makes me so happy:) great vid as usual!!

  23. Matthew H says:

    Yay you're back!

  24. Jacob Stillwell says:

    Hello, I’m hoping that you’ll read this because I’d like to help you out. I love your channel! When you are editing your videos make sure that you get your Decibel to -1.0 or so so that when they get compressed by the YouTube compressor they don’t come off too quiet. If you would like to increase the volume of your videos, you can use a simple program like audacity to increase the gain or something like GarageBand to apply a compressor and increase the gain on the signal. I love your videos, but I’d like to hear them too! 🙂

  25. abstractheory1 says:

    As long as you want. This art world and so called "artists" are so fuckin pretentious now. I loved my time in school studying art and art history, but shit like this, that's crammed down young inspiring artists is just nonsense and complete bullshit. "how long should you look at art" fucks sake, get over yourself.

  26. anne g says:

    Van Gogh's self portrait (1889). I had the privilege of seeing it in person a couple of years ago and spent several minutes with it. I drifted through delight, awe, sadness, etc. I loved and explored the brush strokes (especially in the background). There were a couple others that I paused in front of, but this was the only painting that I really spent time with. Slow art day sounds like an interesting idea. I'll try it.

  27. Menstrel says:

    Théodore Chassériau – Deux Soeurs. The Two Sisters is an 1843 oil painting on canvas by the French romantic artist Théodore Chassériau. Most old paintings were of the same old boring [email protected]…. ugly and often old pompous rich people, and the same religious scenes or icons. Sometime you have the 'Instagram hotties of their day' captured by men of talent, but this painting is special. The man of talent managed to capture family and classy beauty in one go. I gave it three rounds of 10 minutes each.

  28. 12tone says:

    Very cool video! This is something I definitely struggle with at art museums: I enjoy being there, but I find that I move through galleries a lot faster than most of the people I'm with. I'm not really sure why, and there's definitely times where I find one piece that just captivates me for a long time, but it's something I wind up thinking about a lot so it's cool to get some more perspectives on it.

  29. Langus langus says:

    Grohar is the best. Look @ Grohars work for long

  30. elad lerner says:

    I spent a huge amount of time looking at every detail of the works at the M.C. Escher Museum in The Hague. Because, well… It's M.C. Escher! He purposefully filled every corner of his engravings with little hidden gems. Seeing is for myself for the first time not on a low qaulity print or digital version made me appreciate all his work even more.

  31. Rhys E J Danino says:

    Does anyone know what the picture is at 1:24? The one with the umbrellas? I really like it.

  32. LapTop006 says:

    I will probably enjoy slow art day tomorrow, just at a computer museum, not a gallery. Industrial design totally counts right?

  33. MsDafiM says:

    As to me, the answer is simple, I can look at a Mark Rothko painting for twenty minutes without even noticing. I get completely lost inside the colors and the emotions they evoke.
    And i'm totally guilty of trying to see too much in a museum when i visit – I usually try to pick the exhibition I want to see most and give it as much attention as I can, but most of the time I try to squeeze in a bit of other exhibitions, too, especially if they seem interesting.
    I had no idea that was an actual metric for such a thing, thank you so much for this video! It was really interesting and educating.

  34. the 1annex says:

    Often I "move on" even when I would like to keep on looking. I often feel "in the way" of other visitors.

  35. the 1annex says:

    Artworks that I can spend a lot of time with are usually highly detailed or interactive pieces.

  36. Brandon JS Lea says:

    What I like about modern mediums is that they have ways of being much more naturally captivating.

  37. SKPjoe Coursegold says:

    that was my guess…….30 seconds. and that's what i'm pretty sure i do. most of the Hudson Art i'll view much longer, 3 minutes maybe.

  38. Mikearoniandcheese says:

    Welcome back Betty, missed your lovely face.

    Let's not forget that throughout history, it has been common for rulers, the elite, and the church to commission public art as a means of demonstrating power and wealth, or even for specific propaganda purposes. But art was also used to tell a story…known as 'Narrative art'. The artist would have the power to tell a story and control how we feel, but the artist would also educate people because most common folks were illiterate, during the classic times. I can speculate that during the Renaissance people had more time to view pieces of art than people do today because of the short attention span, always on the go, and distractions of a saturated modern world we live today. Most Christian churches have stain glass windows that depict the events in the Bible especially referencing Jesus. Again telling the story through a visual interpretation at the same time educating the people.

    Some pieces of art have enough detail or hiding messages left by the artist that one can spend hours if not days just trying to figure what they are trying to say. Then there are other pieces of art where one can just be in awe of the beauty of the work, fine lines, delicate stokes, the use of color, or even just the subject matter.

    I was like you when visiting a museum or new exhibit, I used to rush through the exhibit or halls and I would try to make a second pass to encase I missed something. Now I try to take more time and let my brain enter bliss.

    Two exhibits that stand out and I had the pleasure of seeing in my home town. Was the Frida Kahlo exhibit at the SFMOMA which included approximately 50 of her paintings. Yes you can say I spent more the 20 minutes slowly inhaling the hauntingly seductive and often brutal self-portraits. It was kind of hard not be drawn into each piece of work. The other exhibit was the 'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer at the de Young. I was in a state of art nirvana. Like a beautiful girl in front of me…I can't think, I can't speak..I just stared and stared. I am not sure how much time I spent in front of that piece but it was no less than a hour. It was exquisite, the beauty of the lines, the attention to detail, the soft strokes used on the delicate soft luscious and kissable lips and the lighting providing a soft edge of shadow across the angelic face was way to mesmerizing. Kinda like watching you in your videos.

  39. Devin du Plessis says:

    Aaah yes 💪🏻 thought you’d stopped making vids. Thankfully I’m subbed because I love these. 👌🏿

  40. saammmy7 says:

    I often wish I had more time to look at individual pieces of art. But usually I visit art museums while travelling and don't have enough time for multiple visits and don't know when I'll be in that city again so I don't wanna miss out on anything. Usually I compromise by doing a quick walk through and then going back to the pieces that really grabbed my attention. I envy everybody lucky enough to live near a big art museum 🙂

  41. Sergio Longoni says:

    Recently I have visited the Scrovegni Chapel – one of Giotto's masterpieces – in Padova. Due to conservation issues, you are allowed to spend only 15 minutes in the chapel with a small group of visitors. Before you enter you get a video of 15 minutes that explain the artwork and point out a lot of things to look for in your visit.

    15 minutes for such a complex series of frescos are not as nearly as enough: you could literally spend hours

  42. YI JIAOYUN says:


  43. Layila Faon says:

    the time you need to understand this work :))

  44. rodney blair says:

    How long I look at art?Old Masters 1450 to 1799: 15 to 20 works an hour.1800's:18 to 24 an hour.1900's:20 to 50 an hour.2000's:Don't engage with it,art has been hijacked by the Marxist-Feminists,it's mostly garbage now.

  45. christian devey says:

    Probably the art that I pay most attention to is album cover art for music. I often don’t look at the covers with too much detail (partially because I only see them on Spotify where the picture is small), but sometimes I will spend time looking at the art and realize a detail I hadn’t noticed before. It took me longer than I’d care to admit that the cover of Led Zeppelin III has a bunch of drawings as opposed to colours splattered across a white background (in my defence there is only one song I listen to from that album)

    I think that I won’t be interested in art unless it is connected to something I’m already interested in. Other than album covers, I also look at flags and maps. I am interested in countries so I like flags, however they are usually quite simple and don’t have much detail to analyze so I don’t spend a long time looking at a single flag’s detail. With maps, I think that many old maps are beautifully drawn; however I am able to appreciate them more if I am seeing the map in person rather than a picture online.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *