Your brain has likely processed more visual images in a morning than Degas did in his lifetime.

That harried pace, moving your eyes from one browser tab to the next, from a monitor to a tablet to a TV to a smartphone, might seem like it helps you keep up on what's happening.

It won't help when you step inside an museum and try to take in a painstakingly created work of art.

An international movement called Slow Art Day aims to correct that by encouraging people to look at a piece of art for 10 distraction-free minutes.

"Slow Art Day is cutting through the visual noise that exists and establishing a connection between you and the singular piece of art," said Jessica Vizzutti.

Vizzutti serves as programs/publications and fiscal coordinator for the Montana Museum of Art and Culture, which will take part in Slow Art Day on Saturday.

Participants will take a guided tour of its exhibition, "Art of the State: Celebrating 120 Years of the MMAC Permanent Collection."

The 120 pieces on display include works from local, regional, national and international artists.

The tour will focus on six pieces that are layered with visual cues and opportunities for interpretation, said Brandon Reintjes, MMAC curator.

They include a Degas etching from the 1800s, a brightly colored Jim Denomie oil painting from 2000, a John Fery landscape of Gunsight Pass from 1913, an eight-piece ceramic by UM art professor Beth Lo from 2006, a circa 1700s etching and engraving by Giovanni Battista Piranesi and a 1992 John Buck print of a butterfly superimposed over a landscape of structures fantastical and real.

Vizzutti, who organized the local event, said museum officials hope that people will participate and develop a habit for future art experiences.

We're inundated with visual messages, she said, and so it seems like it's a luxury to take time. And the experience of physical, visual art can be a restorative counterpoint to the backlit screens that fill our days, she said.

Reintjes, in his sixth year as curator, said he sees nothing wrong with people snapping smartphone photographs of artwork in museums.

"It's a way of flagging the experience to remember," he said.

It's only a problem if people allow it to interfere with their experience of looking at the art, such as taking a picture and moving on, taking a picture and moving on.


Christopher Comer, dean of the University of Montana’s College of Humanities and Sciences and professor of biology and neuroscience, gave a talk recently on the subject of how the human brain processes art.

"It's fair to say that visual artists going back to Leonardo have been on their own in figuring out how to tickle our brains," he said.

It's only in the past 10 to 20 years that neuroscience has begun to unravel the process.

Studies have focused on the way we look at art.

"If you track somebody's eyes, we do some really interesting scanning of art," he said.

It's very selective, a matter of sampling and resampling small details over a three- to five-minute period.

"You look at things in little discrete samples and stitch it all together in the mind," he said. "That gives you a sense of the nuances of the picture."

And as "curious primates," we're immediately drawn to any human forms, he said.

First we look at the eyes for any social cues such as eye contact or pupil dilation.

After focusing on human forms, the eye begins to look at negative spaces in a picture, such as backgrounds.

Nor are digital reproductions a substitute for the art.

Reintjes said the physical objects are laden with cues about the artist – whether there's a hair from a brush embedded in the paint, a smear from the artist's sleeve and more.

Visiting and revisiting a particular piece has merits as well.

When he was studying at the Art Institute of Chicago, he looked at a particular piece, abstract painter Hans Hofman's "The Golden Wall."

You wouldn't expect repeated visits to bear fruit, but one day "it jumped off the wall" at him.

Your interaction changes, he said, as you continue asking yourself questions about a particular work.