Recent experiments show that long forgotten prolonged observations can help us regain the virtue of patience.
Can art teach us to be patient? /
Patience, in classical terms, refers to the balance between extreme emotions and a middle ground; Aristotle called this “metriopathy”. It was because of this balance that people were able to overcome strong emotions caused by misfortunes, or were able, like Penelope, to recover from the loss of mariners at sea. Patience however, changed over time. In modern times we use the word to allude to our ability to deal with pain, as well as the capacity to sit down and read a book, listen to an entire album, or observe a painting thoroughly.
Our instant existence has given us plenty however, it has also stripped us of some of our most essential values, and among these lies the original meaning of patience. This situation is particularly evident when we relate it to the sphere of art, especially if we were to argue that ‘patience’ is synonymous with ‘peace’. Surveys have shown that the average time of observation per painting in a museum is merely 17 seconds. The Louvre estimated that visitors spend an average 15 seconds gazing at the Mona Lisa, one of the most enigmatic portraits on Earth. This is obviously a consequence of our biological clock, which is used to devoting short periods of time to a single thing and spreads our attention over a large number of different things at once. So, can art teach us how to be patient?
In an article recently published by the University of Harvard, Doctor Jennifer Roberts argues that art does not only require patience, but it can also teach us the ‘power of patience’. The only way to ‘release the richness’ held by a painting is by observing it for the time it requires, she points out, until something about it physically fills you. The historian David Joselit has described paintings as deep reservoirs of temporal experiences, like ‘time batteries’ or ‘exorbitant stockpiles’ of experience and information.
Thinking about a painting, for example Van Gogh’s Wheat Field in the Rain, or the Portrait of Vsevolod Mikhailovich Garshin by Ilya Repin (which seems to hold all the sadness in the world) as ‘time batteries’, objects that wrap us up in a timeless capsule where the aesthetic experience takes place, is to resurrect the purpose of art. Because art, also, offers comfort. As an assignment, Roberts asks her students to visit a museum without their mobile phone and to remain there until one of the paintings moves them so much that they want to write an essay about it.
Apparently the results of this experiment have been magnificent. Students have said they ‘understand’ something within art that they’d never imagined before, and many of them made a habit of this practice. This entire exercise comes down to single essential recommendation using prolonged observation, we can experience that ancient and forgotten virtue: patience.Tagged: patience, Vital Tips, art, benefits of art