As I See It

John Constable, The Hay Wain, 1821, Oil on canvas, 51.3" × 73"

John Constable, The Hay Wain, 1821, Oil on canvas, 51.3″ × 73″

 The Rewards of Slowing the Pace

SusanEdwardsSusan H. Edwards, PhD
Executive Director & CEO
Frist Center for the Visual Arts

I shall be forever grateful for the opportunity to look at paintings by John Constable every day for three months while they were on loan to the Frist Center from the Victoria & Albert Museum, London. Afterwards, I traveled to the United Kingdom to visit “Constable Country,” where I found much of the countryside and architecture unchanged since the nineteenth century. Even the English weather cooperated by contributing a soft rain for atmospheric finish. It was impossible to take the natural beauty there for granted. Rather, I felt a connection over time to the people who had lived there, even Constable. Moreover, I was reminded of two things: how patient contemplation helps control the momentum of contemporary life and that I live in one of the most physically beautiful states in the union, one worthy of daily appreciation.

We think of vision as instantaneous, direct, and accurate. In our rapid-fire technological world we value quickness and spontaneity. But are we missing something? Perception changes with more focused attention. Details and relationships not seen initially come into view as we concentrate on what is before us. Last fall, Harvard Magazine published Jennifer Roberts’ much talked about essay “The Power of Patience,” in which the author discusses the merits of looking at a work of art for what seems like a tediously long period of time.1 The exercise is rewarding, in part because art is generally a repository of subtleties and depth. Importantly, Professor Roberts sees the lessons of art, vision, and prolonged looking as applicable beyond art history. Consider the rewards to you of investing more time with a cloud, a star, a poem, a child. Each of us is soldiering forth at a hectic pace in these times. My New Year’s Resolution is to slow the tempo and savor the beauty.

1 Jennifer L. Roberts, “The Power of Patience: Teaching students the value of deceleration and immersive attention,” Harvard Magazine, November–December 2013, 40–43.

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