Slow Looking, Virtually

Birds of a Feather
Meagan Estep, National Gallery of Art, USA

As recent trends show, the in-gallery museum experience (either facilitated or self-guided) is often visitor-centered and inquiry-based. In the galleries, the art museum educator is trained to lead a guided, open-ended conversation about a work of art. These conversations take cues from visitors and are quickly tailored to preferences, interests, and needs. What's the goal of this offline approach? To get our visitors to slow down, engage with an artwork, ask questions and have fun through a stimulating conversation--ultimately provoking interest that fosters a personal connection. The effects of emerging digital technologies are becoming an integral part of the museum professional's understanding of the walk-in visitor. But, what about the virtual visitors? How does a visitor engage with a work of art through a virtual platform? What happens when a work of art is experienced on iPhone screen or seen through Google Glass? Can this slow, intimate experience often created during an in-person experience also occur? Can a virtual museum visitor slow down, sit with one work of art, and have a similar experience in front of a screen, or is being in a museum setting necessary for this process? And finally, what is the place for the museum educator to facilitate an online interaction? The virtual museum experience is a much-discussed topic; it's time for a 2015 update focusing on the visitor. This talk will reexamine what it means to experience a work of art digitally, from a museum educator's perspective. Taking into account the plethora of high resolution resources and collection databases, as well as works of art that are born digital or mobile, let's discuss what the slow looking experience is like for the virtual museum visitor.

John Falk, Identity and the Museum Visitor Experience (2009)
John Falk & Lynn Dierking, The Museum Experience Revisited (2012)
Stephanie Rosenbloom, "The Art of Slowing Down," from The New York Times (
Mia Ridge, "Does Slow Art Day Work Online?" from Open Objects (
Mike Murawski, "The Moon Belongs to Everyone: Embracing a Digital Mindset in Museums," from Art Museum Teaching (
Ed Rodley, "How to View Critics Telling You How to View Art in a Museum," from Thinking about Museums (
+ more to come.