Relaxing places & spaces: Peace of Art
I’ve chosen to include art galleries in my list of relaxing places and spaces, as even if you are not particularly interested in art I think walking around a gallery can be very relaxing and calming.
The fast-slow balance
If you haven’t already seen it, before you read on you might wish to have a read of my introduction to this collection of blog posts ‘Relaxing Spaces & Places: The Fast-Slow Balance.’
The relaxation factor
I find art galleries can be relaxing places and the act of walking around one at your leisure, paying attention to what you can see, can be calming. I do have a keen interest in art, influenced by my parents’ passion for this and my own creativity. I enjoy seeing work by famous artists, as well as that from local or emerging artists, and of a variety of genres. What I’ve reflected on recently though, is that a key draw to going to a gallery is not just the interest in the art itself, but the experience. As much as I’ve been fortunate over the years to see lots of wonderful works of art that I’ve admired and appreciated, I have seen plenty of art too that I’ve felt was quite insignificant, unattractive or unimaginative. I’ve also seen the same or similar work by particular artists on multiple occasions from making repeat visits to galleries or because exhibitions move around, with it not seeming quite as interesting a second time around. None of this necessarily means I haven’t gained value and enjoyment from the experience. In fact, I can’t remember exactly what I’ve seen at many of the galleries I’ve been to, but I can remember the experiences.
The positive impact on wellbeing on art and cultural activities is becoming increasingly understood too in the arts sector. In an article titled ‘The holistic case for art and culture‘ the Arts Council England state “Participation in culture is strongly associated with good health and high life satisfaction. Alongside this positive impact on general wellbeing, there is growing evidence on the benefit that art and culture can have on specific conditions.” I will be discussing other arts and culture activities in future posts, including the relaxing benefits of listening to a musical performance in a concert hall.
Exploring mindfully, with an artists eye
What I enjoy about being in an art gallery is that, providing it’s not really busy and full of groups on visits, they are usually quite peaceful places. They are places you can explore mindfully (I will cover mindfulness in another blog post soon) but in short they provide an opportunity to focus on your senses and disconnect for a time from the stresses and strains of everyday life. I enjoy how I can walk around at whatever pace I’m comfortable with, pausing – and sitting if seats are available – when and where I wish to look at something for longer. I can focus on what I can see – the colours, shapes, images, textures, detail. I can contemplate my thoughts about the artwork – the effort involved, how it was created, the meaning and artist’s message, and how it makes me feel. I can tune in to my movement, how I’m walking, the feeling of my feet and footsteps. These sensory experiences bring me more into the present to enjoy the here and now.
An extension to art galleries are sculpture parks. Here the sculptures are placed in an outside area, typically set amidst beautiful and interesting scenery. A visit can give you the opportunity to enjoy both fresh air and art at the same time, and you are also likely to come across larger scale pieces that can sometimes be pretty impressive. My favourite sculpture park is the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP) as it is set within 500 acres of beautiful, historic parkland which include a woodland and lakes. T
here are outdoor sculptures spread out around the site meaning your viewing can be combined with a decent walk and there are multiple inside galleries to visit too, helpful if the weather isn’t so good. YSP also feature an article on their own blog about mindfulness and art, in which they mention how research has shown visit to a gallery can measurably reduce the stress hormone cortisol in the body.
A learning opportunity
Most exhibitions include information about the artists and their work on walls, panels and leaflets. This gives you the opportunity to learn about, for example, an artists’ life, the history of a painting, the story behind a photo, or how a sculpture was created. If there’s a very comprehensive amount of information (some places can go a little bit overboard with the text!) you might just want to focus on the overall experience and being in the moment. I used to feel I should read everything about every exhibition I looked around. I’ve realised though that this can detract from my enjoyment as I start to feel I have a task to complete, so now I just read whatever I’m curious about.
Sharing an experience with others can increase its joy, so if I’m visiting a gallery with family or friends I may like to chat with them about the art and see what they think about it. In fact, it was a recent conversation with my mum whilst at a gallery that got me reflecting on the relaxing and calming benefits of walking around one.
Visiting a public art gallery
Public art galleries are open to all and there’s no need to have any artistic skills or knowledge to appreciate them, just go with an open mind and curiosity. Entrance to larger galleries is quite often free or just requires a small donation. Once inside you can usually go at your own pace, look at whatever interests you. Some galleries have seating so you can really pause and look at the work. Many galleries feature more than just drawings and paintings, they may have exhibitions of photographs, prints, sculptures, ceramics, jewellery, needlework and other crafts, or audio and visual installations.
You will also find that galleries are often housed in historic and beautiful, or modern and impressive buildings, sometimes combined with a museum. In many cases the building itself forms part of the art so be sure to look around in all directions!
Finding a gallery local to you
If you do want to try enjoy a relaxing, mindful visit to an art gallery, you’ll find galleries in towns and cities around the world. I suggest searching online on the tourism websites for your local area or place you are visiting, or popping in a library or tourist office to pick up leaflets. Here are some online websites and articles you might also find useful:
- Timeout – Provides guides to many cities around the world with an ‘Arts and Culture’ section for many featuring guides to the city’s top galleries and exhibitions. timeout.com
- Culture Trip – Lots of articles about the best galleries and sculpture parks to visit and top exhibitions to see in locations around the world. theculturetrip.com/art
- Art Fund – Find listings for art exhibitions, museums, galleries and historic places to visit across the UK and view an art map. artfund.org/what-to-see
- Britain’s Finest – Has a museums and art galleries section under ‘Things to do.’ This features places you can visit around the UK, including numerous art galleries. britainsfinest.co.uk/museums
In this relaxing places and spaces collection I will soon be adding more posts including parks and gardens, spas, concert halls and more…!
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