Slow Looking: An Exercise In Taking The Time To See

By Armelle Richard, UNMAM Student Advisory Board Member and UNM Class of 2022, graduating with a Master of Arts (MA) in Organization, Information and Learning Sciences.

Armelle earned degrees in Photography and French Language and Culture at the Pennsylvania State University and a Master of Arts in Organization, Information, and Learning Sciences at the University of New Mexico. Her art draws out the complexities of seemingly simple and mundane objects by exploring patterns and texture, shadow and light, typography and words. She has made it a practice to stop, slow down, and take time to really see. Armelle was born in France, grew up outside Philadelphia, and lived in Northern California for most of her adult life. She currently lives in Albuquerque, NM, with her husband, two children, and cats.

For the past two years, Armelle has been a dedicated member of the UNM Art Museum Student Advisory Board. As part of her MA degree requirements, Armelle recently completed a Capstone project in collaboration with the UNM Art Museum and Student Advisory Board to emphasize slow looking in museums and galleries. In this post, Armelle reflects on her experiences with the UNM Art Museum and Student Advisory Board.

Slow Looking Bookmark, designed by Armelle Richard for her OILS Capstone project. Available at the UNMAM front desk.

After delaying my post-graduate education for many years, I was finally able to begin my studies at the University of New Mexico when I was accepted into the Organization, Information, and Learning Sciences Program (OILS). OILS, an interdisciplinary Master’s Degree program, integrates adult learning and instructional design. I was excited to apply learning theories and design strategies within the framework of my passion, museum programming. Since the program is flexible, I was able to register for several Museum Studies classes, including Museum Interpretation where I met Devin Geraci, Manager of Communications & Audience Engagement at the UNM Art Museum (UNMAM).

Graduate school was going very well until COVID-19 hit. For some, life slowed down a bit, and we were able to breathe—just not in each other’s faces. We got creative about how we connected with people, mainly by embracing video conferencing. I felt like one of the lucky ones because I already worked from home and had my family and cats to keep me company as we isolated. Nonetheless, I still longed to interact with others. Through my connection with Devin, I learned about two programs sponsored by UNMAM. One was the UNM Art Museum Student Advisory Board (UNMAM SAB) and the other was a “Mindful Looking” online Zoom series led by Dr. Justine Andrews, Associate Professor in the Department of Art and Art History.

UNMAM SAB members share their paintings that utilize the Student Advisory Board logo colors.

Connecting with others who appreciated the Arts supported my well-being during lockdown. As I learned to navigate the pandemic, I appreciated the opportunity to pause in my overly-programmed and busy life to center and find peace. The UNMAM SAB, led by David Saiz at the time, presented interesting material every month. For example, I contributed feedback as a valued stakeholder to the pre-launch of Rose B. Simpson: Seminar, an online platform that allowed me to connect with artist Rose B. Simpson and my peers. I attended a virtual lecture given by Alejo Benadetti, Curator of Contemporary Art at Crystal Bridges in Bentonville, Arkansas. As restrictions eased and we were able to meet in person, socially distanced and masked, I got to meet colleagues that I had only known from the shoulders up. UNMAM SAB offered an intimate viewing of the Museum’s collection with Dr. Mary Statzer, Curator of Prints and Photographs, and a field trip to tour the Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera exhibit at the Albuquerque Museum.

Armelle and other UNMAM SAB members visiting the Albuquerque Museum.

As I approached the end of my graduate program, I needed to complete an internship project for my Capstone. I wanted to apply what I had learned about instructional design and learning theory to the context of museum programming. I was struck by the unfortunate statistic that, “the average person spends 17 seconds looking at a work of art in a museum” (Smith & Smith, 2001). This fact, coupled with my experience with Dr. Andrews’ slow-looking mindful meditations, inspired my Capstone project. Current UNMAM SAB president Jeannette ​​Martinez, museum director Arif Khan, and of course Devin, all embraced my ideas and have been incredibly supportive. Even members of UNMAM SAB influenced my research, especially the recommendation to read Visual Intelligence by Amy Herman (I highly recommend it).

Mindful Looking at the UNM Art Museum, led by Dr. Justine Andrews.

My Capstone project was multifaceted. First, I shared a short presentation highlighting UNMAM’s virtual exhibitionsand discussed Bridget Riley’s Hidden Squares (1961), one of my favorite pieces from Hindsight/Insight: Reflecting on the Collection. I conducted a short exit survey after a session of “Mindful Looking” meditation focused on artist Anila Quayyum Agha’s piece Intersections (2014), featured in Mysterious Inner Worlds. I created videos highlighting the elements of art (color, form, line, shape, space, texture, and value) to be featured on UNMAM SAB’s Instagram account. Finally, the piece I am most proud of is a bookmark that provides a visual aid for museum visitors to implement slow looking techniques, understand some basic foundations of art during their visit, and, I hope, look at the artwork for longer than 17 seconds.

This Capstone internship has been wonderful. I can’t thank the UNMAM SAB enough, especially Arif, Devin, and Jeannette for their support. Please consider following the UNMAM Student Advisory Board on Instagram @UNMAM_SAB.

Smith JK, Smith LF. Spending Time on Art. Empirical Studies of the Arts. 2001;19(2):229-236. doi:10.2190/5MQM-59JH-X21R-JN5J

The UNMAM Student Advisory Board is dedicated to inspiring connections between the UNM student community and the UNM Art Museum.

Highlighting student projects gives students the opportunity to show their work through another platform and opens the doors for more engaging conversations about what the museum offers.

– Jeannette Martinez, UNMAM SAB President.