The coronavirus pandemic has caused an enormous amount of stress to sweep the nation, but University of New Mexico art history professor Justine Andrews has a solution that involves a combination of art and meditative practices.
Andrews has teamed with the UNM Art Museum (UNMAM) to host “Mindful Looking,” which will take place every Wednesday in July at 2 p.m. UNMAM’s website says it is “a series of guided exercises designed to help participants slow down, look closely and experience works of art in a whole new way.”
The series of events is open to the public, and no prior art experience or knowledge is necessary.
Andrews said this event is all about being in the moment and keeping your mind in one place.
“One way to define (mindfulness) is intentional awareness; so bringing your mind intentionally to a kind of focus point, and oftentimes that focus point is the breath or maybe even a feeling in the body,” Andrews said. “In this practice, it’s keeping that awareness with your eyes open, looking at the work of art.”
Andrews was able to host the first part in this series of events on July 8 over Zoom and said it went very well.
UNMAM collections associate Heather Kline selects the works of art for these events and aims for “really colorful and really engaging” pieces that are thought-provoking.
“It’s more about the looking process than the work itself,” Kline said.
Each event in July will be slightly different from the last, with a new set of questions and a new work of art to analyze.
According to Andrews, the inspiration for this event came from the slow art movement, which is an “international movement which encourages folks to sit and look at a work of art for an extended period of time, and then come together with a group of people and talk about what they saw.”
The event is structured with an introduction first, then a relaxed observation followed by a guided practice to maintain focus during the extended period, a discussion and finally an additional activity, such as drawing.
“This is just really a nice opportunity to slow down, breathe and look at something beautiful,” Andrews said. “Maybe if it’s not something you’re used to doing, just different enough that it gives your brain a little rest and a little fun in a time that’s somewhat wearing right now,” Andrews said.
This series of events started in person in the spring but came to a halt with the pandemic.
“Slowing down is so important,” Andrews said, commenting on how many people believe that the pandemic has caused them to reevaluate hectic lives. “I think it’s tricky, or deceptive, because your mind is still running really fast because there’s so many things going on, so many things to attend to: Your regular life, your children around, your work — ‘do I have my mask?’, do I have my hand sanitizer?’”
Both Kline and Andrews agreed that there is a drawback to doing this type of event online, which loses art quality and details that attendees would typically observe. However, both said that an online event also allows people that normally would not be able to take part to attend virtually, and has actually increased the number of attendees.
“The community was really hungry for this kind of programming,” Kline said.
Andrews’ experience with meditative practices started when she took classes and retreats with the Albuquerque Mindful Center, and from there she started exploring the benefits of mindful practice.
Kline said she hopes these events will inspire more people to garner an interest in art and attend UNMAM once it reopens. The goal is to “really bring something that you can’t get from other places in society, especially now.”
Andrews hopes to do similar events in the future, if the pandemic allows.
Megan Gleason is the culture editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @fabflutist2716