In Defense of Slow Art
I remember when I first discovered Bob Ross. I would sit on the edge of my parents' bed and watch, dumbfounded, as little swipes of his brush turned into forests and swirls became white-capped waves. To me, this was fast art--something tangible and beautiful that came much quicker than I could ever replicate. This fuzzy-headed magician amazed me, inspired me, kindled my love for all things crafty. At the same time, I felt the stirrings of something else, a realization that good art, for me, wouldn’t come this quickly.
Today, Bob Ross couldn’t even compete with our culture’s quick pace. We do nothing more than tap our fingers on fiberglass, swipe to the right a few times, and we have a well-lit, captioned photograph. We flutter our fingers over a keyboard to write a story, press a few keys to compose a song. We do this again and again, never stopping to think about how wild, how impossibly simple and quick it is to create “art.” In mere moments, we can have our creations siphoned onto phones and tablets and into the homes of dozens (millions if our last names are Kardashian or Jenner) of people. This shouldn’t just make us shrug. It’s a big deal—a huge change for our world and especially for our art.
With all the benefits and opportunities, it’s hard to loosen our grip on creations that come quick. But doing things fast always has a price. We microwave the good stuff right out of our creative process and miss some of the most wonderful rewards the journey of creating can gives us. It’s time to slow down, or at least go back to the Bob-Ross-pace, and maybe recapture some of what we’ve lost.
Slow art shows us context.
We are a culture of ‘fly-over’ people. We hop into planes, fly over thousands of miles of land, wheel our dirty little carry-ons down the ramp and act like it’s nothing. We don't see the plains transform into desert, the black tree-packed hills morph into mountains. We miss out on the journey the land in between was begging to give us.
In the same way, fast art foregoes the journey for the destination. It nixes any chance we have of getting a glimpse into the context that helps us create well. When I type, I don’t even see my fingers move or have the notion of how one word fits like a puzzle piece into another. When I take a photo on my phone and swipe for a filter, I have no idea what kind of patience and dust and light it would take to actually take that photo with a camera. But slow art gives us the journey again, shows us what it really takes to get where we want to go. It forces us to wait for the right word, the perfect amount of pressure on the clay, the exact moment when the sun and moon are fighting for the sky, and the lighting is pure magic. This kind of context breeds appreciation, not just for our own art, but the work of others who have also opted for the long-haul, the packed and sweaty cargo van instead of the 747.
Slow art gives us an experience.
Pre-Instagram, a college friend of mine used to wake up before dawn for her craft. She’d drive to the lake in the moonlight and wait with the birds for the sun to first spill over the trees unto the surface of the water. Her photos were like nothing I’d ever seen. And the beauty was in more than just what she created. It was in her rosy cheeks and dewy hair as she slipped back into the dorms while everyone else was just beginning to stir.
Slow art did this for her. It does this for us; lets us experience the very visceral and physical nature of creating. We once again feel the pre-dawn air shift into warm morning, smell the paint mixing on the canvas, feel the lead break under the weight of our words. Slow art gives us permission to experience the creative process again and invite our senses back into our work. I believe this kind of creating not only invites us back in, but reaches out and invites others to emotively experience our work as well.
Slow art breeds authenticity.
We are a generation obsessed with authentic. Real leather over faux, whole foods over processed, distressed over clean cut. In reality though, most of our authenticity is contrived. Tees made to look white-washed, wood nicked and burned by machine, DIY projects that have been done again and again and again. And suddenly, actual authenticity becomes hard to find.
That’s because true authenticity comes with time. It can’t be fabricated or contrived. Slow art gives us that time, inviting our minds and hearts, even our hands, into the creative space. It lets us find the voice our work has been searching for, the passion hidden beneath all the pressure. If we want to continue to create instead of contrive, slow art is the only path. It’s arduous and sometimes maddening, but the result is actual authenticity.
Slow art isn’t always possible, and often might not be profitable, but it deserves a place in how we create. I can’t write out every article, story or idea by hand, but I can take steps to slow down. I can rock my babe to sleep and think about what I’m learning, then lay her down and write her a letter. I can pick up an actual camera and wait for the right moment, light, emotion and then take the shot. I can slow down.
When we take a step to slow down with our art, there is so much to gain: the context of what makes us create best, the sense-drenched experience of making, and the result— having created something that is truly great and innately authentic.