From mindless to mindfulness in Madrid!


As I stood in awe looking at El Bosco’s “Garden of Earthly Delights” in The Prado, Madrid, I realised that something had changed. Not in the painting but in myself.

Nine months earlier I looked at the Mona Lisa in The Louvre and thought “isn’t it a bit small”? Six months earlier I sat on a bench surrounded by The Slave Epic in Prague and thought “these are far too big to take in”!

My brain was acting in its hard wired way with immediate sensory perception overwhelming any ability to perceive anything else. This is what happens when we taste coffee with added sugar and think “sweet”, or touch a radiator and sense “heat”. It happens when we see a field of sunflowers and only perceive “yellow” before moving on without seeing how they face in one direction, their regimental lines, that there is as much green as yellow ……… But what I saw and felt in The Prado showed that this “hard wired immediate sensing” could be bypassed because now I was seeing and understanding the relationship of the three triptychs, the message across the whole piece of art, marvelling at the construction of The Tree Man and the weird interpretations that could be made.

The Tree Man in The Garden of Earthly Delights

A few hours later I sat in the Plaza Mayor, Dr C with her latte and me with my Ribera Del Duero seeing MORE than just buildings and people. The stonework, tiles, variety of colours, ironwork, balconies, people on rooftop gardens, the different light and shadow on each side of the square. Had I gone mad? I got up and wandered around the four sides of the square and stopped behind two artists sitting together chatting but not painting anything. Strangely I found myself going behind them to look at whatever they were regarding and discussing, it was the building you see in the photo below with fantastic symmetry of the architecture, a wonderful colour, shimmering almost blinding reflected light, and ironwork carefully blending with the form and structure of the masonry.

Later that evening we sat in a nearby restaurant and talked about what I had seen and felt that day, sadly Dr C wasn’t party to all of it as she wasn’t well enough to visit and walk around The Prado. Suddenly I noticed the detail of the décor in an adjacent room and went to explore. I took a photo which as shown below ISN’T what the camera saw, it’s what I perceived and thought about the scene, removing all colour except the striking red.

There is no doubt that personally I had changed in how I perceived everyday things around me. Maybe it had come about because across the year we had travelled to many European cities, visited many art galleries and museums, sat in squares and plazas of varied architecture. Maybe there is a strong connection between visual art and appreciating a scene indoors or outdoors, in a city or the country and that they enrich each other.

And so maybe this enhanced sense of beauty also influences where we would like to travel to and what we do when we get there to be much more mindful of our surroundings. I need to work this out!

18 thoughts on “From mindless to mindfulness in Madrid!

  1. This was such an interesting post. We felt the same way about the Mona Lisa 🙂 We really enjoyed the Garden of Earthly Delights at the Prado too and spent a few minutes trying to explain it to a 4 and 6 year old at that time. I can imagine that visit will be quite different now with a tween and a teen. Sitting in Europe’s squares really makes for some great reflections.

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    1. Thank you Mary, similar tastes it seems! I have just visited your site and followed you on Twitter and a Google+ (which I struggle with using) but I don’t see a Follow button anywhere?

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  2. Big and small – I had never stopped to consider. Opposite the Mona Lisa is a painting easily a thousand times larger. (Probably more!) It’s also more colorful and lively, depicting a wedding party (Les Noces de Cana). What struck me is that the stories were just as deep: One captured a day in a life, filled with characters; the other a life filled with character, captured in a day. Now I wonder if I would have thought the same had I been at the Louvre years earlier…or later. #TheWeeklyPostcard

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    1. That’s very mindful! But it IS a very big canvas, larger than anything in the Slav Epic collection by as much as a metre on one side.

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  3. I remember visiting the Mona Lisa and thinking “That’s it!? It’s so small!” And the same with the Las Vegas sign! Sometimes because of technology, we expect things to be bigger than they really are and then are let down when it is not how we imagined. Thanks for linking up with #TheWeeklyPostcard!

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    1. Hopefully I’m now moving beyond the big-small categorisation of artwork, but it’s been a lifetime journey. I do like the Postcard idea and am thinking of doing a linkup myself too but wonder if I should start alone or with another collaborator? I’m sorry I don’t tweet more but I do get mixed up whether I’m retweeting, tweeting or mentioning 😂😂

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  4. One of the great challenges of life is developing our artistic tastes, which often means losing the security blanket that we felt for previous works. What we really connected with was the experience attached to our understanding of the piece and the virginal nature of this realization.

    But as time goes on, we should develop our affinities (as you appreciation for the Plaza Mayor illustrates). It was symptomatic of your development as an individual in your ability to appreciate a complex piece of architecture.

    Appreciating a new piece of art is, on some level, a death as well. For you’re losing a previous worldview that you once valued. It’s like a child that, one day, is unable to smile and laugh at his favorite cartoons.

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      1. I was considering buying a ticket to Roger Waters recently (he’s doing a tour of The Wall again). I remember being 19, sitting in my Datsun B210, getting high, and listening to “Comfortably Numb.”). It was an ethereal experience.

        Then I thought…do I want to spend $200 to listen to Roger play slow songs all night and make Palestinian liberation comments from the stage? Eh…that’s a no.

        It’s ironic (or sad) that something that once was so important to us can become so unappealing later in life.

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        1. I guess our filters change over time. I used to admire Richard Branson for his business approach but now he undermines our Brexit every day I can’t stand the man. There are others who I have turned away from too

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  5. As a lover of art and someone who studied art history I found this blog very interesting.
    And really my thought on it is very simple/basic. I know you and Dr C have led very busy professional lives with a strong scientific and business background. So could it be that you haven’t changed at all? It is just that now you feel you can both relax and stop and stare? And this in turn has opened up the bit of mind that was locked due to your very commited professional interests?

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    1. Mel, that is certainly a possibility, but you need more information. When I finished my Masters and Doctorate I felt surprisingly relatively narrowly educated. While Dr C and I were in laboratories till midnight, friends were reading and writing essays related to literature and sociology related degrees. So, I devoured the works of Zola, Dostoyevsky, Priestley, Virgil, Homer, in my quest for “education “. It worked, I became extremely literate and could quote pieces from everywhere. But art? Nah! I couldn’t really see or understand anything. But, in 12 months my science trained mind has explored Impressionism, Surrealism, Modernism, etc etc and got me to where I am.

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