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Slow. It’s a concept dear to my heart and the core idea behind the blogs I started several years ago. So when I found an entire series of slow vignettes in Best Life magazine, I couldn’t help but be intrigued. Hugh O’Neill has looked at how slow can be applied to everything, from investing to parenting to sex. Here’s how he describes this series of meditations on slow:
“Aha!” I muttered into the 2 a.m. silence. While reading Bob Dylan’s memoirs, I’d stumbled on something interesting. “I did everything fast,” wrote the troubadour of his early struggles to marshal his skills. “I needed to slow my mind down if I was going to be a composer with anything to say.” Earlier that day, I’d been in my car, tearing it up and singing along to a tune on the radio, when I noticed that I was always a shade too fast. The singer held each note a nanosecond longer than I did and waited just an extra half-instant before sliding into the next phrase. That evening, I’d also noted Letterman’s patience as he ambled through a scripted joke. His easy pace, his confidence, his willingness to meander toward the punch line seemed central to the mirth. All these years, I had been searching for the same thing every man desires: fast answers to all of my dilemmas. And therein lay the problem. Slower, apparently, is the secret to success.
The slow road I’ve traveled for the past few years has been less about savoring and more about succeeding. In search of more money, more muscle, more laughs, maybe even more satisfaction, I found that professionals across many disciplines had found that immense benefits accrue to those who ease off the accelerator. As I’ve slowed everything down—from slicing carrots, to storytelling, to golfing, to shaving—I’ve felt my serenity and, more important, my competence, growing. I’ve started to feel my new pace polishing up my life. Now, whenever I’m having a tough time with something, whether it’s drilling a pilot hole or getting a point across in a meeting, I just do it a touch more slowly. Invariably, improvement ensues. Not long ago, my wife, while naked, asked me to do “that slow thing you did last time,” and she seemed to enjoy it…several times.
This is how I left the hurried go-go-go path to which we’ve been habituated in search of the most highly evolved man I could possibly be…at any speed.
All of O’Neill’s segments are thoughtful, but it was this one on brainpower that I found particularly salient:
We’re encouraged to read fast. Those kids who zipped through the SAT got four years at palaces such as Princeton and Duke. But the best way to focus more effectively is to slow down. If you have some reading to do, make time for two passes. “The first read is to absorb the general themes,” says Barry Gordon, MD, PhD, professor of neurology and cognitive science at Johns Hopkins Medical School and the author of Intelligent Memory. “Once you have those organizers in your head, you’ll be able to store more details from the second pass.”
Think of making memories as a weaving process, suggests Dr. Gordon. “The more threads of cross-connections, the more context you can create for a memory, so the more durable it will be,” he says. Slowing down can also boost creativity. Dr. Gordon cites a famous film of Jackson Pollock at work, specifically moments when the artist pauses, seemingly to assess what he has done and to allow himself the time to “see” differently.
The article below from the Sunday New York Times caught my attention immediately. Slow blogging. But of course! As aligned as my blogging efforts have been with the relatively new term “slow”, I must admit I had not heard about Todd Sieling and his Slow Blog Manifesto before reading the article. So now I pass the idea along to you too.
When Barbara Ganley wants to collect her thoughts, she walks in the Vermont countryside, wanders home and blogs about it. In a recent post, she wrote about the icy impressions left in the snow by sleeping deer. In another, she said she wanted to commute by bicycle and do more composting.
If her blog, bgblogging.wordpress.com, sounds slow and meandering, it is. But that’s the point. Ms. Ganley, 51, is part of a small, quirky movement called slow blogging.
The practice is inspired by the slow food movement, which says that fast food is destroying local traditions and healthy eating habits. Slow food advocates, like the chef Alice Waters of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., believe that food should be local, organic and seasonal; slow bloggers believe that news-driven blogs like TechCrunch and Gawker are the equivalent of fast food restaurants — great for occasional consumption, but not enough to guarantee human sustenance over the longer haul.
A Slow Blog Manifesto, written in 2006 by Todd Sieling, a technology consultant from Vancouver, British Columbia, laid out the movement’s tenets. “Slow Blogging is a rejection of immediacy,” he wrote.
“It is an affirmation that not all things worth reading are written quickly.” (Nor, because of a lack of traffic, is Mr. Sieling writing this blog at all these days.) Ms. Ganley, who recently left her job as a writing instructor at Middlebury College, compares slow blogging to meditation. It’s “being quiet for a moment before you write,” she said, “and not having what you write be the first thing that comes out of your head.”
On her blog, Ms. Ganley juxtaposes images and text as she reflects on the local landscape. She tends to post once or twice a week, but sometimes she can go a month or so without proffering something new.
Some slow bloggers like to push the envelope of their readers’ attention even further. Academics post lengthy pieces about literature and teaching styles, while techies experiment to see how infrequently they can post before readers desert them.
This approach is a deliberate smack at the popular group blogs like Huffington Post, the Daily Beast, Valleywag and boingboing, which can crank out as many as 50 items a day. On those sites, readers flood in and advertisers sign on. Spin and snark abound. Earnest descriptions of the first frost of the season are nowhere to be found.
In between the slow bloggers and the rapid-fire ones, there is a vast middle, hundreds of thousands of writers who are not trying to attract advertising or buzz but do want to reach like-minded colleagues and friends. These people have been the bedrock of the genre since its start, yet recently there has been a sea change in their output: They are increasingly turning to slow blogging, in practice if not in name.
“I’m definitely noticing a drop-off in posting — I’m talking about among the more visible bloggers, the ones with 100 to 200 readers or more,” said Danah Boyd, a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Berkeley, who studies popular culture and technology. “I think that those people who were writing long, thought-out posts are continuing, but those who were writing, ‘Hey, check this out’ posts are going to other forums. It’s a dynamic shift.”
Technology is partly to blame. Two years ago, if a writer wanted to share a link or a video with friends or tell them about an upcoming event, he or she would post the information on a blog. Now it’s much faster to type 140 characters in a Twitter update (also known as a tweet), share pictures on Flickr, or use the news feed on Facebook. By comparison, a traditional blogging program like WordPress can feel downright glacial.
Ms. Ganley, the blogger in Vermont, has a slogan that encapsulates the trend: “Blog to reflect, Tweet to connect.” Blogging, she said, “is that slow place.”
Another reason some bloggers have slowed down is sheer burnout. Siva Vaidhyanathan, a professor at the University of Virginia, shuttered his popular blog, Sivacracy, in September, in part because he was exhausted by the demands. “When you run your own blog, there’s a lot of imaginary pressure to publish constantly, to be witty, to be good, and nobody can live with that,” he said in an interview.
These days, he fires off short, pithy comments on Twitter, but has another blog that he says is “more of a specialized project for in-depth thought.” Here, he shares ideas for an upcoming book, which posits that Google has infiltrated our culture to a worrisome extent.
Andrew Sullivan, perhaps the world’s best-read political blogger, talked about the burnout factor in an article in November’s Atlantic magazine called “Why I Blog.” He said in an interview posted on the magazine’s Web site that during the election, his readers became so addicted to his stream of posts that he sometimes set his blog to post automatically so he could go to lunch. When he took two days off to make sense of “the whole Sarah Palinthing,” his audience flipped, thinking he was dead or silenced.
“You can’t stop,” Mr. Sullivan said in the online interview. “The readers act as if you’ve cut off their oxygen supply, and they just flap around like a goldfish out of water until you plop them back in.”
Slow blogging is something of a philosophical rebuttal to this dynamic. While some bloggers may just be naturally slow — think of the daydreaming schoolmate who used to take forever to get the assignment done — others are more emphatic about the purpose of taking their time.
Russell Davies, a new media consultant in London, has started what may be the ultimate experiment in slow-blogging: Dawdlr. He has turned the instantaneousness of Twitter on its head by asking readers to send him snail-mail postcards answering the question posed to Twitter users, “What are you doing now?” He scans the postcards and puts them up, once every six months, on his site, dawdlr.tumbler.com. A recent postcard contained whimsical line drawings of cats and the words, “Trying not to look back.”
Mr. Davies said his goal was to see if slowing down promoted a greater thoughtfulness. It did, he said, but then again, because Dawdlr is updated so infrequently, few people have heard of it.
“It is an investigation into the Internet’s attention span,” Mr. Davies said by telephone.
Even Mr. Sieling, the writer of the Slow Blog Manifesto, gave up his personal blog because he felt no one was reading it. “I called it the Robinson Crusoe feeling of blogging,” he said by e-mail, “and I think it’s common.”
New York Times
How refreshing to find an art “feel good” counter story in the New York Times, especially one that offers pre-coverage of the ever contentious, rhetoric-infested, “I can’t wait to hate it” Whitney Biennial. This piece made me feel hope, like someone opened a window in a stale, stuffy room with tired furniture and too many people talking loud.
The values in this article mirror many of my own. And since this point of view typically doesn’t get much air time, I am savoring this rare expression of authenticity and stand alone integrity. It also draws a sharp contrast to Terry Teachout’s recent piece in The Wall Street Journal about artists who lose their gifts when they get caught up in self-importance. (An excerpt of Teachout’s piece can be read on Slow Painting.)
I’d like to think that this point of view is the bellwether for a new and more meaningful set of art signifiers.
Fritz Haeg is not the best-known artist in the Whitney Biennial, opening next month. He has not had a breakout solo show at the Zach Feuer Gallery. He is not being wooed by Larry Gagosian. His prices at auction are nonexistent.
“I don’t even sell work,” he said with a laugh.
But in an art world growing jaded with such signifiers, Mr. Haeg, an architect by training and a landscaper by nature, may end up the surprise star of the Whitney show. Among the “homes” he designed for 12 “clients” are a beaver lodge and pond for the sculpture court, an eagle’s nest over the entry and other cribs around the museum for a mud turtle, mason bees, a flying squirrel, a bobcat and other critters that once lived on the Upper East Side.
Given that Madison Avenue is one of the world’s fanciest shopping streets, you would think Mr. Haeg is casting stones. In 2005, for his first nature-ruption series, “Edible Estates,” he replanted front lawns in places from Salina, Kan., to London, with vegetable gardens.
But his work is more than simple eco-commentary. From his Los Angeles home (a vintage geodesic dome), Mr. Haeg has carved out an intriguing niche within modern architecture, performance art and eco-activism.
This is clear even with his new “Animal Estates,” as the Whitney installation is called. The beaver lodge, for one, will be stained black. “It’s going to look as if Marcel Breuer had designed a beaver lodge,” he said.
Mr. Haeg grew up northwest of Minneapolis, near St. John’s University, with its buildings that, like the Whitney, Breuer designed in the 1960s. St. John’s, a Roman Catholic university run by Benedictine monks, made an impact on the young Mr. Haeg, whose father graduated from the school. “The Abbey Church there is burned into my subconscious,” he said.
Today, even as Mr. Haeg is putting his beloved geodome on the market and deaccessioning unnecessary objects, there is one thing he is hanging onto. That is a teapot made in the late 1990s by Richard Bresnahan, who since 1980 has run the St. John’s pottery program, working only with local materials, from clays and glazes to wood for the kiln.
“It’s one of the only things I’m keeping,” he said. He bought the pot, a traditional Japanese double-gourd shape, a few years ago on a return visit with his father to the campus. “The first time I visited Bresnahan’s studio, I was blown away,” he said. “This is a part of the art world that’s really been marginalized: handcrafts and the stories of how things are made. I don’t think many artists think about where their materials come from.”
The teapot meshes not only with his ideals equating art’s ends and means, but with his retro ’60s aesthetic, a blend of pop-kitsch and eco-sincere. “It reminds me of my geodesic dome a bit, the way it’s this sphere up on three feet,” he said. “And the glaze — it’s very hippie, like it’s still forming itself. And there’s a nice conversation between the light, handmade cane handle and this big orb that’s solid and made of clay.”
And despite the exalted pedigree of the piece, he uses it all the time. “I drink a lot of tea,” he said.
Though Mr. Haeg calls himself a lapsed Catholic, the teapot reminds him of his admiration for the integrated way of life observed by the Benedictines at St. John’s: praying, teaching, farming, hiring high-modern architects.
“They really believe that everything matters,” he said. “There’s something so simple and primitive in the best possible way of what the life at St. John’s is and what the clay pot represents. It’s sort of a reminder that design isn’t just about physical acquisitiveness. It can be a means to a more fulfilled life.”
If it doesn’t make you embrace the Benedictine creed, it at least makes you think about switching to tea.
New York Times
The lead article in today’s New York Times, House & Home section, above the fold: The Slow Life Picks up Speed, by Penelope Green. Of course I love reading that the concept of Slow is viral and infectious in the best sense, extending beyond just food, cities and design into other areas of our lives. The creation credo of this blog is a memorable quote from art historian Robert Hughes (you can read it by going to the About page on this blog) and I continue to be inspired by what slow art can mean.
Here’s a few excerpts from Green’s article if you are new to this way of thinking:
The Slow Food movement…essentially challenges one to use local ingredients harvested and put together in a socially and environmentally responsible way. Above all it emphasizes slowness in the creation and consumption of products as a corrective to the frenetic pace of 21st-century life. “Good, clean and fair” is the Slow Food credo, and it has — rather slowly — begun to make its way out of the kitchen and into the rest of the house…Slow Food is now in its third decade, an established global movement with an official manifesto and about 85,000 members in over 100 countries…
Slow, as Carl Honoré, a Canadian journalist living in London, pointed out, is sometimes just a state of mind. His 2005 book, “In Praise of Slow: Challenging the Cult of Speed” (HarperOne), collected all manner of slow movements, from tantric sex to Slow Food to the Society for the Deceleration of Time, a civic group based Austria that once called on Olympics organizers to award gold medals to athletes who had the slowest times.
“Sometimes it’s more of a click in attitude than anything else,” said Mr. Honoré, who once got a speeding ticket on his way to a Slow Food meal in Italy, where the movement was born.
Slow is also an idea, it seems, whose time has come. “When I was researching the book,” he continued, “if you Googled slow movement, there wasn’t anything. As a growing cultural quake it just wasn’t there. Now, of course, there are hundreds of sites, and every week I get an e-mail from a student wanting to write his or her thesis on slow cities or slow design.” As a result, traffic and queries at inpraiseofslow.com, Mr. Honoré’s blog, are overwhelming him, and he’s handing off his slow duties to Slowplanet, a Web site that he and Mr. Berthelsen are setting up together. “The time is now ripe for trying to formalize this slow revolution,” Mr. Berthelsen, the founder of the World Institute of Slowness, an advocacy group based in Kristiansand, Norway, said…In his lectures to corporate Europe, Mr. Berthelsen, urges workers to work smarter, not faster or harder, and to become more aware of the process than the product. “I always lived under the mantra that the fast will beat the big … but the slow will beat the fast.”
In a world on hyperdrive, science is proving him to be right. A 2005 study sponsored by Hewlett-Packard showed that the I.Q.s of workers who responded quickly to the constant barrage of e-mails they received during the day fell 10 points, more than double the I.Q. drop of someone smoking marijuana.
“Fast isn’t turning us into Masters of the Universe,” Mr. Honoré said. “It’s turning us into Cheech and Chong”…
“Slow is just a new word to understand old problems,” Mr. Honoré said. “It’s a re-freshening of ideas that have been there since time immemorial. But there’s a new appeal about the word slow. It’s pithy, it’s countercultural.”
But it may not be American. Mr. Honoré’s publisher in the United States couldn’t get a handle on the word. “They thought it was ungrammatical or something,” he said. Which is why in this country his book is titled, “In Praise of Slowness,” much to Mr. Honoré’s amusement. “Slow is the word that’s escaped from the Anglosphere and attached itself to everything going,” he said, listing a few examples, like Italy’s Slow Cities and Japan’s Slow Life movement, “whereas Slowness hasn’t.”
In any case, evangelists for the movement are coming to New York, America’s fastest city, on Feb. 25. On that day, members of the Art of Slow Living, an Italian civic group, will be handing out symbolic speeding tickets to frantic pedestrians, said its organizer, Bruno Contigiani — that is, if he can get a permit from the Parks Department to organize in Union Square. Feb. 25 falls on a Monday, which, as Mr. Contigiani pointed out in an e-mail message, is a hard day to slow down.
I think that art should be allowed to go private. It should be a matter of one-on-one. In the last few years, the public has only heard of art when it makes record prices at auction, or is stolen, or allegedly withheld from its rightful owners. We need to concentrate more on art that sits still some place and minds its own business. We all hope for a strong response from art, but the kind of buzz that we have to live with nowadays is the enemy of art. Quietness and slow time are its friends. Let’s hope that their turn will come.
–John Russell, in conversation with Jason Edward Kaufman
This quote captures the essence of the idea behind Slow Art and the reason I started blogging over a year ago. Russell’s advocacy for a more personal one-on-one art experience–an art that has gone “private”–runs against all the tendencies of our culture.
The sentiments Russell expresses remind me of one of my culture heroes, Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist.org. Even as his social networking site is valued in the billions of dollars, he is not interested in selling out. When asked why, this was his answer:
“Who needs the money? If you’re living comfortably, what’s the point of having more?”
He has talked about starting the site in his spare time as a service to the community, and it just kept expanding. “I believe people are overwhelmingly trustworthy and good.” By taking that approach, the site has become a massive force of its own.
When something authentic and powerful goes against the drag-it-down current of conventional wisdom, who knows what will open up? I long for these new points of view, new ways of thinking, a shift in the consciousness.
Thank you Elatia Harris for finding the quote by Russell and sending it my way.
Creativity comes from trust. Trust your instincts. And never hope more than you work.
–Rita Mae Brown
These days I’m filling life with a lot more silence than is usual for me. Just a single thought or insight seems food enough for a day in the studio. And each morning begins by breaking everything apart and starting new (“If you want to have clean ideas, change them as often as you change your shirts.” See posting on Picabia below.)
This morning I love this quote. Creativity. Trust. Instincts. Hope. Work. Big ideas, each.
Elizabeth Bishop. I’ve written about her and her poetry many times before on this blog. But her effect on my interior landscape is like frost heaves, pushing up vertically through the thickest pavement and foundation stone.
It is not just her final poetic product that captivates me, but also the way in which she went about creating her work. As described by Dan Chiasson, “the placid surface of her poems conceals a severe and variegated subaqueous terrain…the facts about Bishop’s life, though well known, are by and large absent from her work, which set beside Lowell’s or Anne Sexton’s or John Berryman’s, seems reserved and cryptic, even self protective…hers is an art of relation, of perceptual nuance, of points of view, rather than an art of factual substantiation.” Chiasson goes on to describe how Bishop’s approach of “seeing things freshly depends on seeing them rigorously, as the events that make up the activity called ‘sight’ are slowed down, isolated and identified.”
Visual artists talk a lot about the difference between looking and seeing, of how malleable sight actually is. Part of my attraction to aboriginal art is the ability to view—and portray–a landscape from so many dimensions at once. Seeing in that manner is not part of our cultural inheritance; the Western bias leans towards that which can be analyzed and measured. Like Bishop’s approach to poetry, my art making has been my way of acquiring a compound eye.
Todd Gibson, speaking about Agnes Martin (and in particular, his favorite Martin, Milk River, at the Whitney Museum):
Some paintings make for great public lecture material. Others are best used for quiet, personal contemplation. Martin’s work from the 1960s never fails to bring me to a place that even other great artists who strove to give the viewer a transcendent moment (artists like Rothko, for example) can’t reach. And as much as I would like to think that I can help people see depth and meaning in art that they at first perceive to be inaccessible, I don’t think I would be able to communicate that experience effectively to a large group of museum visitors. Sometimes things are just better seen and felt rather than analyzed and described.
Just naming a painting Milk River invites an honorific silence and contemplation.
The enemy of the sublime, it turns out, is “the rush that is modernity.” There’s no time to sit and stare. “Blue Arabesque” bemoans our mortal need for industry, the demands made by flesh for food and shelter, the mind’s need of occupation. Eternally dissatisfied, caught in the relentless march of time, humankind is always becoming and never being, and to see requires cessation of movement. Bit by bit, our hungers have led us to make our world ever more ugly and frantic. So what’s an aesthete to do?
Kathryn Harrison, reviewing Blue Arabesque by Patricia Hampl
What are we really hungry for? I understand the seduction of efficiency, the addiction to multi-tasking, the intoxication with the illusion that we control our lives, our tasks, our relationships. Those are appetitive urges, but there is a deeper longing that has something to do with just being still. Sitting. Looking. Listening.
There are impulses in us that speak with a timbre so soft they cannot be heard above the ambient noise of the quotidian. Those impulses are running in undertone throughout the day. I pay more attention to them in the studio, but the fragility of that melodic line is daunting. Part of me longs for that haunting and mysterious leitmotif, but that search is so easily upstaged by the high drama gnawings of the practical.
Tyler Green writes:
As I walked through the Corcoran’s new permanent collection installation, I bumped into an old friend. Up on the second floor I found Anne Truitt, twice. One was magnificent: 1962’s Insurrection, a vertical plank, painted red on one vertical half and pink on the other.
Like all the best Truitts its beauty was a product of its subtlety. When Truitt entered her mature period in the 1960s, such subtlety was out and had been for a while. Abstract expressionism? (Glug glug.) Pop art? (Bam!) Subtlety was not something admired at the Cedar Bar.
That’s part of the genius of Truitt. She is the slow food of art; you have to stand in front of her painted sculptures, for a minute, maybe two, to feel what there is to see.
Anne is on my list of Caretakers of the Subtle. Of course there are many others. Truitt was insistent in her desire to not be positioned as a minimalist.
“I have never allowed myself, in my own hearing,” she told the Washington Post in 1987, “to be called a minimalist.”
I make things by hand, she’d say, a key difference between minimalism’s sleek absence of human touch and a pursuit of hand wrought subtlety.