Cure for distracted mind: Stare at a painting
Jennifer Roberts, a professor of the history of art and architecture at Harvard, thinks she has a fairly simple solution to help her American art history students appreciate the act of focusing: They must pick any painting, sculpture, or object made by an American artist and stare at it — for three hours.
“They’re usually skeptical at first,” she told me, “but afterward, they tell me the process was really astonishing, enabling them to see things, make observations, and develop original ideas about the work that never would have occurred otherwise.”
Roberts, herself, has seen the payoffs of strategic patience after her own close analysis of John Singleton Copley’s 1765 painting “Boy With a Squirrel” (inset). After spending an hour with the painting, she noticed echoing patterns in the shapes of the boy’s ear and the squirrel’s ruff. After two hours, she got a different insight: that Copley is likely to have thought about the impact that his work would have on the London art world when he was painting it.
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