The country’s most important art center, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, is located a mere 45 minutes away from my home. Every year, the Met receives around seven million tourists; people travel from across the globe to visit the big apple and the Met.
You’d think that living so close, I’d take advantage of this temple of art, culture, and history and would be, or should be a frequent visitor.
Over the last few years I’ve thought so long and hard about going to the Met and taking my children on occasional Sundays, that sometimes, I’m convinced that my family’s cultivation depends on a visit to the museum.
And then, reality kicks in: going to the Met doesn’t necessarily mean absorbing it all. My children get bored to the bones, and my husband always finds a way to receive a phone call from that college friend he hasn’t spoken to in years. And there I am, desperately trying to belong to a tribe of personally cultivated people, mobilizing my family and making efforts in this direction.
We browse through the exhibition halls, stare at the most important paintings in the world, try listening to the audio and share my learnings with the rest of the family. Picture the scene:
Me: “Wow, Van Gogh was born in 1853 and didn’t start painting until his twenties. Isn’t that fascinating? “
My children: “Yes, it is. Can we go eat now?”
Our last visits were great attempts of culture lessons. Sure. Only to be surpassed by the happiness of a plate of Roasted Carrot Salads at ABC Kitchen, or Ricotta Dumplings at Estella, or a Megamouth Sandwich at Superiority Burger.
The ungarnished truth is that living a life around food, I’ve created such enthusiastic foodies for children, that when it comes to other types of culture, nothing seems to match the excitement of food. At least when coming from me. Until I took part of the International Highlight Tour at the Met with Sheila Neilinger.
Sheila was born and raised in São Paulo, Brazil, and started studying arts while in college, later graduating with a major in Visual Communications and a minor in Graphic Design. In 1996, she moved to New York City to study Buying and Merchandising at FIT. In the years since, Sheila has gone from art admirer to art educationalist, inspiring people who visit the Met not just to look at the most impressive amazing pieces of art in the world, but also to learn about art in a different way, with a focus on fewer pieces at a time, but a deeper understanding and analysis of each one of them.
In 2015, she applied for a tour guide position at the Met, which requires year-long training. Since then, the art connoisseur, who splits her time between Connecticut and New York, finds inspiration in new pieces, each time focusing on a different work of art, so that she can keep a constant self-learning rhythm during the tours.
“It’s all about the teachings of Buddhism in this huge mural” said Sheila of “Paradise of Maitreya” by Chinese artist Zhu Haogu, the first painting on the tour, projecting her voice at the perfect volume for our group of 15 people.
We continued to a gallery nearby and learned about “Pentimento”, a technique used by artists to “remove” an image from the painting, as is the case in “Esther Before Ahasuerus” by Italian artist Artemisia Gentileschi. “In this painting, the intention was to create a bigger tension between the king and the queen”, featured on this priceless work.
At a time when technology has invaded the biggest part of our lives, going back in time remains one of the most interesting trips for the mind, I realized while enjoying the tour.
“The Harvesters” (1565) was pained from a top angle, as if the artist Pieter Bruegel The Elder (Netherlands, 1525-1569) was positioned in a higher ground than the objects. A man standing with legs apart, forms a triangle shape. A woman bending down, forms a triangle shape. The entry way to the path, is also in the shape of a triangle. Three triangle shapes “hidden” in a painting. Did Bruegel paint like that on purpose? Can this painting really be 455 years old? How can it be so well conserved? Just some of the many questions I asked myself while participating in the tour.
The weather, hazel and humid, are also references on“The Harvesters” featuring a cloudy grayish sky, that once again, I’d have never noticed unless highlighted. What was the artist feeling when he painted this art? What was in his mind? What was he trying to convey? Did he know he was creating a magnificent work of art that all the money in the world could hardly grant ownership of?
Sheila is the last person to think of art as a commodity. Not at the Met. But she is the first to select the work she wants to surround herself with and bring her “students” along for reasons of sensibility, cultural interest and excitement. Her enthusiasm for each painting gets clear and clear as we enter each different gallery. The fact that such incredible names are featured in this museum feels increasingly like an invitation to come again, to take another tour, learn more, learn all, learn everything, and learn constantly.
Claude Monet (French, 1840—1926), painted Garden At Sainte-Adressein 1867, capturing a very specific moment, reflecting light and nature. Now let’s get candid. We all know this painting; we’ve seen it a million times in photos, books, postcards and video. We are talking here about one of the most important, most well-known paintings in the history of the world!
When would I stop to examine the light and nature of that painting? The moment reflected on the painting! The blue sky! The many tones of blue! He was just 27 years when he painted this historic piece of art, second only to Mona Lisa, perhaps?
“Art has to pacify our eyes” said once Henry Matisse’s (French, 1869—1954) when he painted “Nasturtiums With the Painting Dance” in which he creates subtle illusions. Are the flowers inside the vase? Or are the flowers painted outside the vase? Notice how the bench has two legs on the ground and one leg on the mountain? Is that supposed to be a mountain? Notice how all the heads follow the shape of a leaf. Matisse’s intentions of ambiguity are well expressed here. I can finally understand that.
See the pattern? Art provokes thoughts, and feelings, and ongoing conversations. It highlights an ambition-stoking view, enlarging a huge exchange of ideas about art’s potential. About life’s potential! Observing things that are right in front of us, but we just can’t see them. What a metaphor!
Is it not the ultimate educational program to visit the Met and appreciate art as it deserves to be appreciated? Especially when accompanied by mother and daughter, who tuned in into in the same spiritual mood.
Speaking of my mom, Selma, who is Brazilian, there is all but one Brazilian artist represented at the Met, and it’s included in almost every tour—for Brazilians at least. My mom was in an elevated state of mind throughout the entire tour. But when we visited Cat and Turle by Brazilian artist Vicente do Rego Monteiro (1899—1970), ah, she reached paradise and felt really proud.
It is likely that people visit museums since museums exits. Society has been studying painting, sculpture, and music forever. While my main work is mostly around food & media, I love to understand these other art forms, which in most cases I know nothing about, so that I can find patterns that can relate to my own world. After this experience, the Met became so close, so tangible, and so understandable! I’ll visit again—on a tour, of course!
At the moment, there are 8 Brazilians who work as tour guides at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The International Highlight Tours at the Met are available Monday through Friday at 12pm and it lasts about 1 hour. There is NO extra charge to participate in the tour. It’s included in the price of admission. The Met also offers tour guides in 9 other languages: Chinese, Korean, Japanese, German, French, Arabic, Spanish, Italian, and Russian.
If you’d like to visit the Met and participate in the International Highlight Tour, you can find more info below. If you have friends, family, acquaintances who would enjoy a guided tour of the Met, please share this article with them.
New York, NY 10028
Tel: (212) 535-7710
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