We can obtain a lot of information instantly. We can check email, find the weather forecast, take a photo, make a purchase, all in a matter of seconds. The rapidity of modern–or digital–life is convenient; it makes us more efficient and frees up time to accomplish other things. It’s hard to believe that there might be negative effects to something so useful.
In her New York Times article, “The Art of Slowing Down in a Museum,” Stephanie Rosenbloom describes how living rapidly has changed our museum experience. She writes, “the average visitor spends 15 to 30 seconds in front of a work of art, according to museum researchers.” What can you gain in 15 to 30 seconds? Not much. Transformative experiences take pondering which takes time. In her article, Rosenbloom relates the suggestions of James O. Pawelski, the director of education for the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Pawelski admonishes his students to slow down: “If you have an hour [Professor Pawelski] suggests wandering for 30 minutes, and then spending the next half-hour with a single compelling painting. Choose what resonates with you, not what’s most famous.”
Stepping inside a museum gives us license to experience art at a different pace. Slowing down encourages contemplation rather than consumption. A true understanding of art or any aspect of the Humanities takes patience and time, skills that are becoming more and more scarce in our rapidly accelerating world.
What may be especially interesting is that this skill applies to the market as well as to the appreciation of museums, or of the arts more generally. A recent study by the Association of American Colleges and Universities shows that the skills developed by Humanities graduates are not only valuable for well-being or personal development, but they also have a big financial payoff. Though the Humanities have been accused of producing low-earning grads, the AACU’s study proves otherwise.
According to the study, soon out of college, Humanities grads do earn less than their counterparts with vocational training, but, “at peak earnings ages (56-60 years) workers who majored as undergraduates in the humanities or social sciences earn annually on average about $2000 more than those who majored as undergraduates in professional or pre-professional fields.” Hence, the same skills of deliberate contemplation which, Rosenbloom writes, “increase well-being” also help generate, in the long run, financial success. Think about that the next time you spend additional time in front of a painting.