Beautiful view for such a gloomy day: View of Placa de Espana from the MNAC

Diving into the heart of Catalonian culture, we visited the MNAC (the National Museum of Catalan Art) on Wednesday. Walking up to the MNAC, I was reminded of my first visit ever to an art institute, the DIA. The DIA (Detroit Institute of Arts) is an elegant, pearly white and soft gray marbled-jewel beset on Woodward just north of Warren Ave near Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. Detroit has some beautiful buildings in its downtown area, but the DIA takes the cake. The MNAC is more like a grand palace overlooking Placa de Espana, nestled amongst the foliage of El Poble-Se just west of the Mediterranean Sea. Both institutions are set in urban areas, but the MNAC feels like you stumbled upon a grand fortress in the middle of a magical forest, thanks to the Jardines de Laribal, a beautiful collection of gardens that surround the MNAC. If I lived in Barcelona year-round and needed a break from the bustle of the city, I would absolutely retreat to these gardens. There is a bus that drops you off right out front of the gardens, or if you feel up for some exercise, you could walk or run there. The best part is they are free to access, which allows an opportunity for everyone to enjoy some rejuvenation in the city.

“Retaule de Sant Pere Martir” by Anonymous

In our first exploration of the museum, we analyzed what an image conveys without knowing its context. Examining the picture to the right, we discussed as a group what we noticed about the picture. What story is the painting telling through its hues, tones and texture? The lines lines direct your attention first to the center of the image, but the details of the painting as a whole are not obvious at first. The frames surrounding the center image tell a story sequentially: In this case, it was the making of a Catalonian martyr.

This exercise was called “Perspective”. We took a picture of this painting, “Sant Miquel Arcangel” by Blasco de Granen at 25 feet, 15 feet, and then 5 feet to demonstrate how perspective changes depending on our position relative to it. The further away you are, the fuzzier the picture; the closer you are, the more clarity you get. What stops us from getting closer? An example in the art world would be the most famous painting, the “Mona Lisa“, which is in Le Louvre in Paris, France, has guards, a rope guarding her from the public about ten feet away, and she is surrounded by glass. (Though to a fault, this level of security makes sense because she has was stolen from Le Louvre in 1911! Thankfully, she was found in 1913.) In daily life, I think it is fair to say we are comfortable at a distance. The closer you get to something, the more involved you are in it. There are things we avoid for our protection, for instance avoiding areas we recognize as dangerous. It is quite a brave act to allow yourself to get closer and investigate. It also shows an element of curiosity you have – the closer you are, the more you want to know!

“Possession” by Joaguim Mir Nestor

In the last exercise, we observed how our mind creates expectations by relying on a group member (Courtney!) to describe this painting pictured to the left, called “Passion” while the rest of the group had our eyes closed. Courtney did an excellent job with her delivery of this painting, and the images she described were quite vivid in my mind. It was interesting to see how much or little our expectations mirrored what actually was. Before Courtney said the scene was depicted outside, I pictured this scene as two lovers on a sofa in a grand room with books lining the wall behind them. Funny where the imagination leads you!

A theme I took away from each of these exercises is that things are not always as they appear. At first glance, in all matters, there is an element of bias that intrudes upon our perception based on our prior experiences. With an bit of curiosity and exploration, you may discover what lies beneath the surface, beyond your expectations.