Slow Looking Activity

Studies have found that museum visitors spend an average of 8 seconds looking at a piece of art.

Slow looking encourages viewers to spend more time with an artwork – whether that is 15 minutes or an entire afternoon. This allows us to better know an artwork’s intricacies and can help us form personal connections with art.

You can #museumfromhome and practice slow looking wherever you are. Explore these ideas in the activity below and scroll down to download the pdf for printing.

As you contemplate this scene, what elements do you notice?

“If, then, it is indeed true that the contemplation of scenery can be so abundant a source of delight and improvement, a taste for it is certainly worthy of particular cultivation; for the capacity for enjoyment will assuredly increase with study and knowledge.”

–Thomas Cole, Lecture on American Scenery, 1841

Thomas Cole believed meditating upon landscapes could increase one’s happiness. We encourage you to spend time with Cole’s painting Catskill Scenery, 1833, in the collection of the Saint Louis Art Museum. This painting is bucolic and peaceful – the sky is bright blue and clear of storm clouds, and the wooded hills are lush and green. If one looks closely, however, much activity occurs in this seemingly static scene.

What are your immediate feelings or emotions as you come to this painting? Are you feeling stressed, calm, happy, sad? Make a note of this emotion.

Hover over or tap the detail to reveal a description

In the sunniest, brightest spot in the scene, cows and sheep sprinkle a grassy hill. A couple of log houses, with smoke rising from their chimneys, peek out from the rolling hills.

On the left side of the painting, we see a man in a red vest and straw hat on horseback. He emerges from a valley along a dirt trail and is illuminated by a ray of sunshine.

In the center of the painting, two small figures find themselves on a bridge over water. A male figure dressed in red sits on the edge of the bridge to fish. A female figure begins to cross the bridge on foot.

In the lower right corner, cows of various colors find refreshment in the shores of the Catskill Creek. A rower has just disembarked and travels with supplies in his canoe.

Directly above, a couple of log buildings stand on the edge of the Catskill Creek. Small figures move about outside, and smoke emerges from one of the buildings.

Above and to the left, a horse-drawn cart moves away from us, soon to disappear into the wooded hills of Catskill.

In the background, the Catskill Mountains emerge in purple and gray tones. Miniscule figures, identifiable by blobs of red paint signifying clothing, travel on the paths.

What else do you notice?

After spending time with this work of art, how do you feel? How have your emotions changed from how you felt at the beginning of the activity?

You can practice slow looking with our VIRTUAL GALLERY of Thomas Cole’s paintings on our website Pay attention to the details that emerge and your feelings as you commune with the work. You may just discover a deep connection to a new favorite work of art!

Download Activity PDF

This activity was created by Amanda Malmstrom, the assistant curator at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site.

Olivia LichensSlow Looking Activity