There are many answers to this question. As long as you like, is one. Longer than you think,
is another. Everyone has their own opinion about it. Kenneth Clark, famous for the BBC
documentary series Civilisation
, has his own theory. He claims that the time it takes to look at
a picture properly is roughly the time it takes to peel and eat an orange.
There is some evidence of what most people actually do in practice. In summary, if museum-
goers are eating oranges, they’re eating them really fast. The Louvre found that although an
art lover can spend much more than 30 minutes in front of the Mona Lisa, an ordinary visitor
looks at it for about 15 seconds. New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art found that on average
people look at each work for 29.5 seconds. Another study, conducted by Rutgers University,
found that the average time spent on each work of art was 17 seconds. On the universal
fruit-attention scale, this is less than dealing with an orange but a little more than the time taken
to eat a grape.
There’s another point, too: it’s not just a question of how long we look at a painting, but of the
quality of that attention. This is, of course, much harder to quantify. But there’s a profound
belief that over the past decade this has changed for the worse.
It is technology that mainly gets the blame. The rise of social networks and the smartphone
have allegedly made us fatally incapable of concentration. Nowadays we are more interested
in telling people what we are doing than doing it. So, we share our dinner with others on the
Internet, instead of with our date. Our novels go unfinished as we flip through 140-character
tweets. And when we go to a gallery, we don’t look at the art: we take a selfie with it. Even if
art leaves you cold, this argument matters, because if it is true, then so is the broader claim
that the 21st
century is leaving us incapable of deep engagement with anything.
adapted from https://www.independent.co.uk