The Art of Slowing Down

Turning patience into a form of creative action

Christopher P Jones
7 min readAug 8

Detail of ‘The Age of Bronze’ (1875) by Auguste Rodin. Photo by Levi Meir Clancy on Unsplash

Is creativity a fast or slow process? According to the idiom, ideas strike, just like lightning. And when I think of some of the great artists from history and today, it seems that speed is sometimes essential.

When Jackson Pollock prowled around his canvas, dripping paint from a pot, he did so in a spirit of headlong spontaneity. It couldn’t have been possible otherwise. If paint is going to be sloshed, flicked and splattered, it has to be done with an assertive, insistent hand.

Likewise, when Jack Kerouac typed furiously on a single, unbroken ream of paper 120-feet long, the resulting On the Road was a stream-of-consciousness eruption.

Cold Dark Matter (An Exploded View) (1991) by Cornelia Parker. Image source Wikimedia Commons, by Caroliney76 CC BY-SA 4.0

Sometimes the explosion can be literal: in the early 1990s, the conceptual artist Cornelia Parker asked the British Army to blow up a humble garden shed, which she then partially restored by hanging the remains from an art gallery ceiling, as if the suspended space occurred a fraction of a second after detonation. In a sense, the artwork, Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View, took less than a second to make — followed by hours and hours of delicate reconstruction.

Screenshot from the film trailer for “Lust for Life” (1956) with Kirk Douglas and Pamela Brown. Image source Wikimedia Commons

In popular culture, movie depictions of artists tend to reinforce the idea that artists work with mad-capped speed at the mercy of their impulses. One can think of Kirk Douglas as Vincent Van Gogh roaming the Provence countryside in Lust for Life (1956), swept up by attacks of creative energy.

Slow Has its Place…

But not all films about artists are so frenzied.

A recent biopic of the artist Alberto Giacometti, The Final Portrait (2017), with Geoffrey Rush in the lead role, takes a much more sedate pace. Most of the film is about creative patience in its various forms: waiting, discarding, over-painting, re-modelling, hesitating, starting again, pondering, eating, drinking, beginning new…