To 'Get' a Piece of Art? Maybe 20 Minutes
Jack Herrera

10 March 2017

Isaac Kaplan, a member of the editorial staff for the art site Artsy recently took up a deceptively simple question: how long do you need to look at a piece of art to get it? 

“The answer is highly subjective and dependent on the work of art, as well as how well-versed one is in parsing visual images,” he writes. “But it is safe to say that, generally speaking, we’re not looking at works of art for long enough. The exact numbers vary, but studies have determined that the average time a person spends gandering at a piece in a museum is between 15 seconds and 30 seconds.”

Kaplan interviews a few experts to get their opinions. James O. Pawelski, the director of education at the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center, asks his students to spend 20 minutes contemplating a single work of art.

Phil Terry, the founder of Slow Art Day, tells Kaplan about his “mind-blowing” experience spending a full hour observing a single abstract painting.

However, Kaplan knows from experience than spending that long looking at art can lead to what’s called “museum fatigue”—not to mention back pain. He leaves the question of how much time to spend looking at art open.

How long do you think one should spend with a piece of visual art? And what does it really mean to “get” a piece of art? What is art doing for us? And what explains the feeling of understanding art? 

Read the whole article:

Image credit: Painting by Keith Haring. Photo by Jack Herrera.