Slow observation – Time and slowing down to notice in Creative Arts
Despite technology being positioned as an enabler to modern life, it can often seem as if time and demands on our time have increased and sped up broadly in line with each technological innovation. Studies including the 2019 International research published in World Psychiatry suggests that the Internet and smart technology is changing our brains and cognition in ways that are as yet little understood, but point towards a reduced ability to hold a real focus on one activity. Many artists use digital technology within their practice, but here I am thinking more about where smart phones and screen time can start to form interruptions in finding and maintaining a focus on making in the studio, on finding a sense of creative ‘Flow’ (Csikszentmialyi, 1992).
It is perhaps interesting then, to pause, reflect and think about how we find ways to slow down and (re)engage with our surroundings and making, giving it the space and time it needs to develop and grow. The slowing down and noticing links to ideas around the Slow Movement with strands of Slow Eating and Slow TV alongside Slow Creativity – and the surprise television successes of the Norwegian Broadcaster’s 168-hour Reindeer migration in 2017. This links back to a paper Creative Arts Programme Leader Doug Burton wrote in 2018 about the role of Slow Creativity within the OCA Distance Learning Framework and how this framework allows the time and distance to support a creative approach that can enable us to slow down and make space for a greater depth of focus over time.
Rebecca Solnit’s article A Fistful of Time is a useful way to think about how we incorporate the digital into our creative practices (or perhaps actively chose not to) and the assumptions made around the digital as ‘progress’, alongside the idea of time and actively choosing to slow down as a way to notice. I find her writing particularly helpful and something I return to often when thinking about my studio practice, and the work I make outside of the studio through repeated walks, as she says:
“Ultimately, I believe that slowness is an act of resistance, not because slowness is good in itself but because of all that it makes room for, the things that don’t get measured and can’t be bought.” (2007)
Slowing down to notice the overlooked, often aspects of our daily lives, is an interesting creative strategy. Tacita Dean’s writing about time, and the role of time and its relationship with place in her work is a nice example of where close observation and slowing down can be explored – alongside ways of working that are deliberately open-ended so that the work itself dictates the outcome and not the other way around. Visiting her 2018 exhibition at the RA gave a chance to see her life-long collection of four-leaf clovers, which holds within it both the idea of time in terms of a prolonged line of enquiry, but also time in terms of slowing down, detaching from the digital virtual worlds that surround us and actively engaging in something that requires absolute focus and a child-like glee, to notice these rare specimens underfoot. As she says of this process in the 2018 Imagine interview with Alan Yentob, the more she has found, the more she has developed an ability to find them, so close observation has honed her sense of perception – her ability to notice.
Even the unfixed precarity of the surface of her large-scale chalk drawings offers a sense of the ‘now’ in which we experience this work and the pace at which this work was and had to be created, both in terms of a slower engagement with time and with the time and space allowed for her creative processes. As Tim Marlowe says of her work:
“If there’s a straight path between one point and another, she’ll question why it’s necessary to take that journey, and will find a different way to it, and will find interesting things along the way.” (2018)
The role of Time and Place continues to form a central focus in the Creative Arts course. As we look to develop Creative Arts Group Work sessions linking to walking and creativity – and slowing down as a creative strategy, then perhaps only by taking the less direct path can we find things along the way that we neither planned for nor could have expected. These unexpected discoveries can make us stop, notice, observe and respond in a way that speed and technology may interrupt, honing a sense of perception and creativity along the way.
Burton, D. (2018) Distance Learning in Creative Arts Education: understanding the benefits of time and distance in the delivery of HE at the Open College of the Arts. JUICE: Journal of Useful Investigations in Creative Education. https://juice-journal.com/2018/10/24/distance-learning-in-creative-arts-education-understanding-the-benefits-of-time-and-distance-in-the-delivery-of-he-at-the-open-college-of-the-arts/
Csikszentmialyi, Mihaly (1992) Flow: the psychology of happiness. London: Rider, random House Ltd.
Dean, T. and Millar, J (2005) Place. London: Thames & Hudson
Firth, J, et al. (2019) The “online brain”: how the Internet may be changing our cognition, World Psychiatry Journal. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/wps.20617
Griffin, J (2018) Tacita Dean: “I don’t care about the long run. I care about now.” https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/article/magazine-tacita-dean
Guardian (2017) The ultimate slow TV: a 168-hour show on reindeer migration
Solnit, R., (2007) A Fistful of Time, Orion Magazine. https://orionmagazine.org/article/a-fistful-of-time
BBC Imagine… (2018) Tacita Dean: Looking to See https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0bczlrw