Before visiting cousins and grandparents in London several years ago, my family travelled to Spain for a week. It is well known among us that I will throw a fit if the art museum is not our first big stop when we are on vacation. So, naturally, on the first morning in Madrid, we spent three hours or so at the Prado. I couldn’t have asked for anything more and it remains my favorite museum to this day. However, it was what happened after our siesta that same day that truly reminded me of the magic and power of art.
My siblings have never been as into art history as I have, and they were still sleeping. The entire city, in fact, was just waking up from its siesta and the sun was starting to go down. I can’t remember if it was my dad or mum, but both of them knew that El Prado, for the miles and miles of art it had, didn’t have Picasso’s Guernica. That was down the street from the Prado, in the Reina Sofia. One of them came to me, and offered to sneak out while my siblings were still asleep to walk—or run—all the way back to where we were that morning, just to see this one painting.
In retrospect, maybe it was the mischievous adventure of the event, maybe it was the attention I received in that moment over my sibling rivals, but every moment, out the door of the apartment, down the streets, into the museum’s elevator, and from one end of the massive painting to the next—I think we looked at it for 20 minutes, and even that felt rushed—was magic. I never felt my feet touch the ground and I only kept flying afterwards. It doesn’t matter how many others were in the gallery. I didn’t care that we had to wait for the elevator on the way down. Seeing one of the greatest paintings of all time was a religious experience for me.
That being said, I have matured as a student, art lover, and socially-aware person. I am now more cognizant of Picasso’s personal faults, and the quasi-dogmatic dialogue around his genius. But that doesn’t preclude me from loving Guernica; I cannot deny the fact that that afternoon in Madrid, art allowed me to feel more connected to the universe—to history, the world, humanity—than I can put in words. In fact, art is about the objective, universal truths that can’t be explained, and no one has a monopoly over that.