I went to SFMOMA today to check out the excellent Brice Marden exhibition. If you live in the Bay Area and like painting, do not miss this show. As I stood transfixed by some of Marden's amazing canvases, I saw people flying by, spending just seconds on each painting and it reminded me how much I need art on a regular basis.
Good art, like Marden's, slows you down. It forces you to really look at something - the details, the colors, the shapes - and to be sensitive to the effect it has on you. Marden's colors are so evocative of places and times and memories, but only if you give them a moment to work on you. If you walk by quickly, all you see are boring rectangles or lines of colors and the magic is lost.
The speed by which people passed by these quiet paintings was not surprising. Nothing about contemporary life is about slowing down, so when you're faced with something that demands sustained attention it's hard.
Nowhere is life sped up more than on the web. I was reading somewhere that a typical user spends five seconds in front of a new website. If they don't get it immediately they move on. I'm not criticizing - I do it too. As someone who is currently working on a website, knowing this fact forces me to simplify and clarify the user experience and that's a good thing.
The downside to all this rushing, however, is that it becomes harder and harder to slow down. And that's when we miss really special experiences like being mesmerized by great painting.