The Big Pictures (Issue 924)

In which we consider our occasional roles as sales “tour guides” for beginners.

We arrived at the Prado museum at around 2:00 pm. There was a bit of a wait to get in, but nothing like what we’d seen the evening before when the line to get in (free after 6:00 pm) stretched more than 150 yards down the Paseo del Prado. One of the most frequently visited sites in the world, considered one of the greatest art museums in the world, the Museo Nacional del Prado’s collection includes over 20,000 individual artifacts, roughly 1,300 of which are on display. Thirteen HUNDRED pieces!!! HUNDREDS of artists!!!

No problem… Our impassioned art history expert guide, Cecilia, that morning prepared us well, for two hours revealing and reweaving threads of Spanish history into a clear tapestry of Spanish art with particular emphasis on the Spanish Golden Age (primarily, Velasquez), Goya, and Picasso through tales of kings and queens, artists and nobility, depression, brilliance, conquest, retreat, incompetence, inspiration, and madness. Riveting…

“This morning, I will introduce you to the most important works in the Prado,” she began “and we’ll go to see them this afternoon.” And we did, her 90-minute in-museum narration connecting the works to each other and the threads she’d shared in the morning. She was brilliant and, when she had finished and returned us to the entry lobby, I was ready to keep going.

“I have two hours. What do you recommend?”, I asked. “Bosch,” she replied. “And Reubens. And Goya on the second floor.” And, off I went, objectives clear.

Could we have done this on our own, without Cecilia?

 Of course.… One could have taken a “History of European Art” course in college (one didn’t) or online before the trip (one didn’t). One could have read some of the recommended readings before the trip. (One didn’t). Or one could have reviewed websites recommending with brief descriptive captions the finest works in the Museum (good idea and, once again, one didn’t). No bandwidth. Got to the plane on time. That was it.

And, in retrospect, one is glad one didn’t. Cecilia infused “vigor” into history, life into people and paintings through 500 years of Spanish history. Inspiring! Riveting!  And, when I return to Madrid, I will be looking for Cecilia.

Sometimes, we meet clients who, like many of us at the Prado, are just beginning their discovery journeys. “We’re just starting our research,” the say. “We haven’t had time to look.” At that point, they don’t need deep detail about brush technique and pigments. We don’t need to make art history experts of them. They have neither time nor attention to absorb it. They need a place to start – the big pictures, the most iconic pieces. A frame of reference through which they can browse on their own… and that will bring them back to us when they’re ready for a more serious look.

Nick Miller assists banks and credit unions to develop healthier relationships with and sell services to business clients through better sales strategies, training, and execution. He is President of Clarity Advantage based in Concord, MA. Additional articles on Clarity’s web site.

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