Art is long…and slow?

I’ve been meaning to write about the link between slowness and art for ages and this blog entry is only a very patchy first volley. I love art, and love wandering round galleries. I don’t paint or sculpt or do anything art-like myself (apart from with my children), but as a writer I know that time is an essential ingredient of the creative act. You don’t hurry Hemingway. You don’t rush Rembrandt. Many works of art can be created quickly, or at least with great dynamism – think of Jackson Pollock attacking the canvas. But others need more time, from conception through to execution. The idea of Slow is rippling through the art world at the moment. Robert Hughes, the doyen of art critics, has called for more Slow Art (clickHERE). The Royal College of Art in London is currently hosting a series of lectures on slowness (I gave one of them) and you can find out more by clickingHERE. Almost every week I hear of another exhibition somewhere in the world organized round the theme of slowness. One example is the Plymouth Arts Centre in Devon, England. A group of artists and art dealers in New York has even signed a Slow Art Manifesto. This debate raises some fascinating questions, starting with: What exactly is slow art? Sadly I don’t have time to answer that right now because I have to get back to writing my next book, but I will be returning to this theme again. And I welcome any thoughts you want to share on the subject…

What is a slow city?

I’ve just arrived in Lisbon to give a talk to a group of business people. My hotel is in the Bairro Alto, the old quarter where narrow, cobbled streets trickle live rivulets of water down the hill to the sea. It is hard to get anywhere in a hurry, and you wouldn’t want to anyway because the architecture is so beautiful. It’s all a million miles from so much of North America, where the roads are laid out so that cars can hurtle through, and the functional, disposable buildings offer nothing to arrest the eye or make you want to linger. When it comes to slowing down, Europeans, with their wonderful, old cities, definitely have an advantage…Now I’d better hurry up and rehearse my speech….

The Red room

I was in Sweden this week doing media interviews. I also gave a talk in what may be the most romantic venue I’ve encountered so far. It was inside the Berns Salonger, an elegant 19th-century hotel–cum-restaurant-cum-bar on the edge of the water in central Stockholm. The main hall is all dark wood and leather, with vast chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. The talk was in a small space upstairs, just off the balcony that looks down onto the main hall. It turned out to be the celebrated Red Room, setting for the eponymous novel written in 1879 by Augustus Strindberg. In the book, the hero hangs out with bohemians in the Red Room. I spent the evening with businesspeople. But in the end we probably ended up in the same state anyway: well-fed, well-watered and wondering how to change the world.

From the beach in Bahia

I lived in Brazil long ago, and even then felt a strong pull to visit Bahia. Spicy food, colonial architecture, colourful folkloric dress, music everywhere – my kind of place. The Bahian people are also famous for being friendly, relaxed and unhurried – for being the slowest people in Brazil, in other words. At the moment, I’m at Praia do Forte, an eco-resort in Bahia, telling a gathering of Brazilian CIOs why they need to slow down. Maybe it’s the warm wind blowing in from the sea, maybe it’s the steady stream of caipirinhas, or maybe it’s something in the Bahian air, but they seem to like the idea.

We DON’T need that yesterday

The Slow philosophy seems to be making inroads in the corporate world of the Baltic states. Before my talk yesterday in Riga, Latvia, a manager from UPS, the delivery company, told me that businesses in the region no longer insist on shipping everything as fast as possible. In the 1990s, demand for late-night and weekend deliveries was brisk. But now most UPS deliveries occur during normal working hours. His conclusion: Baltic companies have realized that many shipments can wait till tomorrow, or even till Monday. Staff are also less willing to put up with work hassles outside the office. Amen to that.

My final Baltic talk is this afternoon here in Tartu, Estonia….

Baltic slow

Just arrived in Vilnius on the first stop of a talking tour of the three Baltic states – Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia. This part of the world is racing along to catch up with the rest of the West. Everyone is in a hurry and schedules are packed to bursting point. One of the first ads I saw screamed: “I love life in the fast lane.” Yet already the idea of putting on the brakes is catching on with the locals – even the most impatient ones. I have been invited here to talk about the Slow philosophy by an organization called….

Iceland takes the plunge

I’m in Iceland at the moment singing the praises of slow. This may be a small country – the population is about 300,000 – but the virus of hurry has entered the bloodstream here, too. In Reykjavik people race around in their cars jabbering into mobile phones. Everyone has a packed schedules and the working day is long. But at least Icelanders have an antidote: soaking in the outdoor pools that dot the country. In one complex near my hotel in Reykjavik, people of all ages, shapes, sizes and income-brackets come to soak in the warm water underneath the northern sky. There are no Plasma screens showing CNN, no speakers pumping out muzak or MTV and everyone leaves their mobile and Blackberry at the door. You just relax, let the mind wander or chat quietly. The best kind of slow.