We Invite You To Stop and Stare

A recent article in the Boston Globe draws attention to our propensity for distraction by our bustling, buzzing, electronic modern world. The article cites a study that found “students, when left to their own devices, are unable to focus on homework for more than two minutes without turning to Web surfing or e-mail. Adults in the workforce can make it to about 11 minutes.” (Ahem: are you supposed to be working right now?)

But good news! There seems to be a cure for this:

Jennifer Roberts, a professor of the history of art and architecture at Harvard, thinks she has a fairly simple solution to help her American art history students appreciate the act of focusing: They must pick any painting, sculpture, or object made by an American artist and stare at it — for three hours.

That may sound intimidating, but the students reported noticing details they never would have otherwise seen. “What I like so much about this assignment is that it goes right to the heart of the belief that you’ll feel bored if you pay attention to one thing for so long,” said Daniel Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia. “A lot of time when we turn away from things, we’re missing stuff that will give us a richer understanding of the world.”
Why not try it for yourself? The UMFA has no shortage of paintings you could spend that much time with:
Dance Around the Maypole. Pieter Brueghel the Younger. Flemish. 1625-1630

Dance Around the Maypole. Pieter Brueghel the Younger. Flemish. 1625-1630

The article also mentions that this is a form of meditation, which science has already proven can change the brain (both physically and how emotional responses are registered). There seems to be a never-ending list of benefits that come with giving yourself permission to take a little time for yourself. In fact, we talked about this exact thing in a post about how awesome loitering in a museum is (museum myth monday: it’s weird to come alone / a museum is no place to just hang out)

Well, we hope this has provided a delightful online distraction for your day. Now… go look at a painting!


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