Having grown up in New York, I have been to the Metropolitan Museum of Art more times than I have fingers and toes. So many rooms, so much art, yet such limited attention span. Each room seems to be overflowing with art or artifacts. Without exception, I always feel overwhelmed. As a result, each visit, I would gravitate to the same few rooms. My sense of art appreciation amounted to “I like this” or “I don’t get it.” During my senior year in college, having completed all of the requirements for my major, I ventured out of my comfort zone and took an art history course. I learned enough to wax poetically about a minute number of artistic elements. Honestly, it did not do much to increase my museum attention span.
I have three kids. In attempt to make them worldly, cultured individuals, I have schlepped them to a requisite number of museums throughout their youth. My kids had minimal interest in art and even less insight. My son, a total jock, has played soccer since he was three. Fast forward, almost twenty years and he was the captain of his college soccer team graduating from college. His graduation present was a trip to Spain with the highlight being El Clasico (FC Barcelona vs. Real Madrid.) My son chides me that we did not really go to Spain only to see soccer games. Of course not! We spent five days in Madrid and five days in Barcelona with so much more to see than just futbol (soccer) games.
How can you go to Madrid and not go to the Prado? But I knew that my gang was going to be less than excited. After some research, I found Madrid Museum Tours (Madridmuseumtours.com.) Let me preface my comments by saying that I have absolutely no relationship and receive no financial benefit from Madrid Museum Tours. I booked a 2.5 hour private tour of the Museo de Prado called “The History of Spain as reflected by the Prado Masterpieces.” Our guide, Irina, an engaging art historian with perfect English, captivated all of us with the art of the Prado. She was able to show us seemingly hidden symbols in each piece. The two and a half hours flew by as we were mesmerized by the history of the Spain. Rather than struggling to hear the guide, the six of us were able to engage in a free-flowing dialogue. The entire experience brought my appreciation of art and going to museums to a whole new level. One revelation–I enjoy art much more when someone is actually interacting with me to help me understand/interpret what it is that I am seeing. Second, there is no reason to think that I can see (and absorb) every piece of art in a museum. Really taking in the key pieces in context is far more meaningful to me than seeing every piece in the museum. Third, my personal attention span is no longer than three hours. This particular realization is such a relief–no longer do I feel the pressure to spend all day in a museum trying to see every piece only to leave frustrated and tired. Lastly, sometimes the private tour is no more expensive (or sometimes less expensive) than a group tour. The cost for the private tour of the Prado was 158 Euro for 1-7 people.
Now, when my kids hear that we are going to a museum, they ask whether we are getting a guide. The moral of the story is that, unless you are an art historian, in order to fully enjoy and appreciate art, consider a hiring a personal guide to give you the most insight in the least amount of time. And, as with our tour of the Prado, if you decide you want to stay longer or come back later in the day with the same admission ticket you can.