Manchester Art Gallery

Take notice: art and mindfulness

Cathy Fortune, Mindfulness teacher and artist, shares her thoughts on the gallery’s Take notice workshops.

Noticing our tendency to want to quickly skip from one thing to the next is a common enough experience for all of us. Modern technology is designed to let us skip from one interest, issue, friend, gripe, to the other. And this is fine. But in the Take notice sessions we are inviting people to stay put for a while and be with the experience of just looking at a painting.

The first thing we might notice about looking at a painting in a gallery is whether we like or dislike it, it reminds me of… therefore I… In an instant we have labelled, assessed and categorised a piece of work and we can move on to the next. But what happens if we resist the urge to move on for just a few more moments?

When we do stop and anchor our attention to just one thing, we often become aware of a jumble of other things that are likely to be vying for air time. Maybe the irritation of loud voices echoing through the gallery space (yes, it’s often not quiet) or feelings of interest, boredom, peace, anxiety, relaxation, tiredness. Or the sudden and commanding thought that I could be somewhere else instead…why aren’t I?

In these sessions we are not trying to create a particular experience. We don’t want to sell the work, sign you up, or change your opinion. We are simply offering a space to just be with your experience, as it is. And each time we notice our attention has drifted onto other things we are invited just to make a brief note of them and then come back to the painting. This also applies to the person delivering the practice. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have thought “hurry up, they’re getting bored” or “Oh no, she looks really irritated, do something different,” etc., only to hear the same people give a detailed and rich description of their experience afterwards and how useful they found it.

The sharing of people’s experience in the discussion afterwards is valuable and as important as the practice itself. It not only reminds us that we are not alone in our: irritation, boredom or even amazement at what has previously gone unnoticed, but also that there are as many ways to respond to any given moment as there are people. It reminds us that there isn’t a right or wrong way to look at a piece of art. It reminds us that our experience is changing all of the time; we are usually just too caught up in our heads or the rush of daily life to notice. At its best, it reminds us that we are good enough as we are.

So take a breath, settle down and see what you can see.


Cathy Fortune delivers Take notice at Thursday Lates

Third Thursday of every month, 5:30 – 6:30pm