Depending on where you get your information, it is posited that the average length of time a viewer spends in front of an artwork is somewhere between eight and thirty two seconds. Apparently, the length of time spent in front of the famed Mona Lisa averages out at only fifteen seconds (although the queues pressing from behind may affect that). I have even seen two seconds put forward as a statistic. Regardless of the actual number, and the particular artwork being viewed, it seems like a pretty poor return for the time put in by the artist.
So, what makes some art require, or demand more looking? I have done a great deal of thinking and talking about this recently but I’m not sure I’ve come up with any great answers. Is it layers of paint that peek through the upper surface? Is it visual spaces in the work that invite the audience in? Is it ‘slow lines’ – broken, bent or curved – that prevent the eye slipping out of the piece?
What I DO know, though, is that, in order to command more looking, a painting must provide reward. Details, surprises, hidden gems, unexpected textures and the like need to be offered to the viewer who takes longer. Their giving of time and value to your work should give to them, in turn, a richer experience.
Easy to say, difficult to execute in a way that isn’t tokenistic. Like so many aspects of art-making, though, it’s a worthy goal. Paintings should tell their story slowly. They should craft it, weave it and the ending, if there even is one, should be a ripper.