How the National Gallery of Art introduced mindfulness to my day

Meme. Pretty photo. Bad News. Weird News. Funny video. Party invite.

That sums up the stream of information I receive, at least through Facebook. I scroll through multiple times a day and see all the same things, for the most part. But, the posts I look forward to the most are ones from the National Gallery of Art.

For example, I just saw their post on Joseph Decker’s “Green Plums”. It asks, “What do you see? Described as Decker’s “hard” style, we notice crisp edges, a close-up, cropped view, harsh lighting, strong colors, and an absence of soft shadows. The paint is applied in a practiced, easy fashion”. It then goes on to provide a short paragraph describing the artists life, the medium used, and whose collection the painting belongs to.

It says “we notice” — but did you? It requires a moment of your attention to decide if you agree. And that moment is when mindfulness occurs.

“Green Plums”, by Joseph Decker — National Gallery of Art

Crisp edges, Cropped view, Harsh lighting, Strong colors, and an absence of soft shadows.

Huh, well I guess those are crisp edges. It doesn’t seem like harsh lighting to me, but there is a contrast between the white of the cloth and the darkness of the surface. Those shadows do not read as soft to me. So, that’s what a “practiced, easy fashion” painting looks like? These are a few thoughts I had as I paused to reflect.

Sure, in the end, it’s a painting of a basket of plums on your phone. But, like everything else you experience that day, you are emotionally filtering that experience.

Most things on the internet are demanding a response of you. Read this, buy that, click there, sign up here. Art is art, for you to consume or disagree with or ignore.
You process it exactly as you’d like, on your own time. For me, that is the definition of serene.

At least in Washington DC, having a serene moment with a piece of art can sound like it’s close to impossible, since for most of the year we surrender our best collections to confused, tired, and exasperated tourists. Even when it’s quiet, art museums can be overwhelming just due to the sheer size of the galleries they have to offer. How many plaques do you actually read while you’re there? How long do you actually spend looking at each piece?

You might lose out on some things, like experiencing the scale of the painting, viewing it from different angles, appreciating the brush strokes up close. But as I mentioned before, I’m skeptical most people who visit are doing that anyway.

In contrast, when it’s on your phone, you can actually take a moment to appreciate it. And, the National Gallery of Art gives you the tools and vocabulary to do so. Instead of giving it a passing glance, I’m tracing the edges of the plums with my eyes, my brain repeating those words to remember what I’m looking for — crisp, harsh, strong, soft.

Does anyone know of other art museums that do something like this? Has anyone had the same experience with including art on their feeds, or perhaps know of a mindfulness app with a similar function? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!