Slow Looking Art: Mindful, Artful Study Breaks Aim to Reduce Stress

Thoreau said, “The question is not what you look at, but what you see.” This semester, the MIT List Visual Arts Center offers a series of Slow Looking Art Workshops designed to harness the natural ability of art to provoke reflection and contemplation. The next workshop, which will be held on February 25, focuses on Anish Kapoor’s 2010 sculpture Non-Object (Plane), on view in the Ray and Maria Stata Center lobby. Participants will be guided by museum staff to quite literally “look closely and reflect upon (and within) the artwork,” according to the event website.

On a cold dark IAP evening, January 21, workshop participants looked at Sol LeWitt’s installation Bars of Color within Squares (MIT) in Building 6C. Kelli Xu, an MIT graduate student who attended the workshop, said “The event had an intimate feel. Attendees were a good mix of staff and students, with varying art interests.” Lu said the small group of about 10 participants “explored the unique space that the floor installation occupies and how the piece interacts with its surroundings.”

After about 30 minutes of slow looking, attendees at each Slow-Looking Art Workshop take part in a guided sketching activity using the artwork as inspiration, and using high-quality art materials provided to participants for free.

The List was awarded funding for the workshops through the MindHandHeart Initiative Innovation Fund this fall. In the Innovation Fund grant announcement, Courtney Klemens, campus and community outreach coordinator for the List Center, described Slow Looking as “a movement in museums that fosters a deep engagement with a work of art through close observation and conversation.”

Regularly taking the time to slow down and process can have a big health benefits. Slow reading, for example, has been shown to improve the ability to concentrate, reduce stress levels and deepen the ability to think, listen and empathize. The Slow Looking Art Workshops invite students to take time to pause, refresh, and restore through observation, discussion, and drawing. Each piece of art is considered for a half-hour or more. “We ultimately want to create a mindful, powerful experience with art that allows students to experience their world in new and unexpected ways,” Klemens said.

So far, two Slow Looking Art Workshop study breaks have been held since the Innovation Fund Grant was awarded last Fall. In December, the workshop focused on works in the exhibition Rosa Barba: The Color Out of Space, and in January, Sol LeWitt’s installation. Participation has ranged from 5 to 15 attendees. An experienced facilitator and guest co-facilitator lead participants in a group discussion of one or more carefully selected works of art, followed by guided sketching.

Three more workshops are scheduled this year, as follows:

  • Thursday, Feb. 25 (6−7 p.m.) focuses on Anish Kapoor’s 2010 sculpture Non-Object (Plane), on view in the Ray and Maria Stata Center lobby (Bldg 32G).
  • Thursday, Mar. 10 (6−7 p.m.) focuses on works in the exhibition Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige: I Must First Apologize…, on view at the List Center (Bldg. E15 Atrium level, 20 Ames Street).
  • Thursday, Apr. 14 (6−7 p.m.) focuses on Matthew Ritchie’s complex, coded installation Games of Chance and Skill (2002), on view in the Zesiger Sports and Fitness Center (Bldg. W35), 1st floor hallway.


The MindHandHeart Innovation Fund was created in the spirit of service to the MIT community. It supports projects, presentations, activities, events, or campaigns that promote mental health and wellbeing at MIT.