close up detail view of a bee on a white flower in a bouquet next to pink and red flowers

6 Tips for Savoring a Painting

Slow Down & Look Closely

The Denver Art Museum’s galleries offer a feast for those with a hunger to explore. On any given day you may flit around the galleries, taking in a sip of a Renaissance painting, a quick taste of an ancient Mayan sculpture, or downing the all-you-can-eat buffet of a special exhibition.

Benefits of Slow Looking

I am the first to admit that I don’t always linger in front of works of art when I am in a museum, and that’s okay. It’s great fun to hop from painting to painting, briefly pausing before moving on to the next work on display, or avoiding those that don’t interest me at first glance. Studies show that museum visitors spend something like 15 to 30 seconds looking at a work of art, and that includes reading the label. However, recent trends in “slow looking” and my own experience in our monthly Mindful Looking program suggest slowing down. I must admit it becomes seductive once you give it a try.

Bouquet of Flowers in a Vase by Maria van Oosterwyck
Bouquet of Flowers in a Vase, about 1670, by Maria van Oosterwyck. Oil on canvas; 29‑1/2 x 22‑1/2 in.  Denver Art Museum; funds by exchange from T. Edward and Tullah Hanley in honor of longtime director Otto Bach and his wife Cile Bach. 1997.219


So how do you slow down to look—to really see—a work of art? What are we looking for, exactly? Here are a few ideas for extending that quick glance into a lingering look, using Maria van Oosterwyck’s Bouquet of Flowers in a Vase as an example. (Click on the image in our online collection to see close-up views.)

1. Scan the artwork. Move your eyes from left to right, top to bottom. Where do the eyes want to settle? What pops out of the picture as your eyes wanders? Do you notice anything different about the work when you slightly squint?

2. Get close, step back. What do you see when you are within arm’s reach of the work versus a few feet back?

3. Check out the material. Do you see any trace of the artist’s brush on the canvas? What textures do you notice?

4. Consider color. How many colors can you pick out in the bouquet and its setting? Are they true-to-life?

5. Seek out details. How many little critters can you find buzzing, flitting, or resting in the painting? What about those dew drops that look perfectly poised to roll off of impeccably painted leaves?

6. Fire up your senses. Imagine what it would feel like to touch the different flowers, stems, and surfaces depicted in the painting. And what would you smell if you were to step into the picture?

Whether it’s an itty bitty critter or carefully applied brush stroke, the delight is in the details. You might be surprised at what appears before your eyes when you linger, look, and savor for a single minute, two minutes, or (I invite you) even five.

Molly Medakovich is a teaching specialist for adult programs in the learning and engagement department at the Denver Art Museum. Molly has been at the DAM since 2012, and her favorite painting in the collection is Gustave Doré’s The Family of Street Acrobats: the Injured Child.