Book Review: "Seeing Slowly: Looking at Modern Art" by Michael Findlay

Santa Fe New Mexican, April 13, 2018

In Seeing Slowly: Looking at Modern Art, art world veteran Michael Findlay posits that the question often asked by viewers of 20th-century and contemporary artworks — “Is it art?” — is the wrong thing to ask. His position, which forms the thesis of Seeing Slowly, seeks not to ponder the nature of art but to examine its essential value. “There are no codes to crack,” he writes in his introduction. He suggests we spend altogether too much time approaching art as though it were an enigma, when more simple pleasures can be derived from seeing, just as with reading a novel, watching a movie, or listening to a song. His intent is to share the joy of looking at art. 

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  Crowd of tourists trying to see the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci at the Musée du Louvre, Paris.  (photo: Iain Masterton / Alamy Stock Photo, courtesy Prestel)

Crowd of tourists trying to see the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci at the Musée du Louvre, Paris.
(photo: Iain Masterton / Alamy Stock Photo, courtesy Prestel)


Is There a Right Way to Look at Art?

Hyperallergic, January 8, 2018

I — like you, dear reader — am no stranger to museums, often excited to trek to faraway places, like Western Massachusetts, to see the latest exhibitions. Yet sometimes, like when I find myself sprinting through a gallery of Franz Kline paintings, I wonder if there’s something I just don’t understand in the works I so hurriedly run from. Call it imposter syndrome, but I’m always searching for guidance on how to really “see” art, particularly in cases where no amount of background knowledge proves sufficient. I’ve always enjoyed the philosophical ponderings on art of people like Walter Benjamin, John Berger, and Charles Baudelaire, but maybe it was time for something a little more concrete. This was my reasoning in picking up veteran New York art dealer Michael Findlay’s Seeing Slowly: Looking at Modern Art.

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Must-Haves for the Art Lover on Your Gift List

Domino, December 11, 2017

Chances are, your art-obsessed BFF spends a ton of time visiting museums and checking out the latest new exhibits.  The best way to get the most out of those constant gallery visits? A book that explains the best techniques for art viewing - and this modern art-focused option is one of the most informative we've found.

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  A woman looks at ‘Mural’ (1943) by Jackson Pollock at an exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts last year.     PHOTO: ALAMY

A woman looks at ‘Mural’ (1943) by Jackson Pollock at an exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts last year. 


No Photos. Ignore Labels. Just Look.

The Wall Street Journal, Sunday, November 19, 2017

Review: The Secret to 'Seeing Slowly'

By numeric measures the art world is thriving as never before. Museum attendance is up—more Americans visit museums in a year than go to all sporting events combined—and the art market is booming. Just 15 years ago to pay $100 million for a painting or sculpture was unthinkable; now something sells at that level several times a year. This week a Leonardo sold for $450 million.

Yet ask any collector, dealer or curator who measures the health of the art world by something other than just dollars and crowds, and you are likely to get a worried response. The sheer scale of activity is transforming museums and the market and driving out the fundamental pleasures of looking, thinking and feeling that draw us to art in the first place. At the Vatican and the Louvre, crowds are so large that entire rooms become impassable; other popular institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art also have worsening problems of crowd control, even as they continue to expand. Few in the crush and noise can pause to consider what they are seeing.

According to multiple studies, museum-goers usually spend only about 10 seconds on any work they look at—and that time includes reading the wall label. In museums where photography is permitted, some visitors pass more time taking selfies with their backs to the pictures than they do actually looking at the works. Like fast food, art is becoming a product for rapid mass consumption.

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This is How to Look at Art (Spoiler, Put Away Your iPhone)

Introspective Magazine, July 31st, 2017

If art dealer Michael Findlay had his way, smartphones would be banned from museum exhibitions. So would audio guides, wall labels and maybe even docents. “It all just gets in the way of what you’re seeing and depletes the experience of looking at art,” he says.

In his forthcoming book, Seeing Slowly: Looking at Modern Art (Prestel), Findlay, a director at the venerable modern and contemporary Acquavella Galleries in New York since 2000, tackles a widespread phenomenon we might call Art Attention Deficit Disorder: the inability to cut out all the noise, inside and outside one’s head, and have a purely visual experience of a work of art. The point of having such an experience? Pleasure.

“Our culture condones and even applauds men as well as women getting ‘carried away’ by music and even food, yet draws the line at art,” he writes. “It simply is not cool to get agitated in the presence of art. At least not in America.” The Scottish-born Findlay got his start in the 1960s in downtown Manhattan trying to convince collectors that Pop and conceptual art mattered, going on to run the department of Impressionist and modern art at Christie’s New York through the ups and downs of the 1980s and ’90s.

In 2014, he published The Value of Art: Money, Power, Beauty (Prestel), which took on the tricky subject of art’s true worth. In advance of Seeing Slowly’s September 15 release, Introspective sat down with Findlay to discuss his pet peeves about museumgoers, how price tags cloud our vision and why art can make us happier if we just spend some time with it.

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