Every Christmas my Dad gives the three of his children a reading challenge. Last year it was Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig. According to many, it is one of the best philosophical studies of the 20th century. According to me, it is also the most difficult to get into. So, needless to say, the three of us have all read at least the first chapter and are considering it more of a five year assignment rather than a one year.
Exasperated by the failure of the 2016 Christmas challenge, Dad decided to step it down a notch. As I suspect the reading challenges have been set up as a way for Dad to recommend life lessons without giving direct advice, this year’s book was one that was more palatable, but also teaching on one life lesson that Dad (and the author) thinks is essential to success and happiness. The book is called The One Thing by Gary Keller . The life lesson, as far as I understand it, is that people who choose their “one thing” in life and become an expert in that will see the most fulfillment and happiness from their life.
In the days after Christmas and while traveling to Barcelona from Nebraska, I began to read the book. Unbeknownst to me, reading the book before going to Barcelona was like pre-reading for a biology dissection class. First you read about the anatomy, but it isn’t until you are actually dissecting that you feel that all of that reading can be applied to the real life situation. It turns out that going to Barcelona was the most perfect supplemental learning material my Dad could have asked for because in doing so, I ran straight into two of the most celebrated finders of that one thing, two men who were proof of the theory. The first is the Spanish painter, Pablo Picasso and the second, is the Catalonian architect, Antoni Gaudi. These two men’s lives and work came to life for me in Barcelona, and parallel to my Christmas challenge reading, gave me a perspective of their work and their passion which I can appreciate so much more.
I’ve never loved Picasso. I’m more of a Van Gogh girl and visited the MOMA in New York over and over again just to make straight for the floor with Van Gogh and stare for long periods of time into the depths of his paintings. I’ve always found Picasso’s work ugly and uncomfortable, and would never linger for long at one of his paintings.
The Picasso museum in Barcelona not only brought the painter to life for me (by showing the things he loved like the guitar and bull fighting), but demonstrated to me that whether I liked his art or not, he had found and mastered his “one thing”. When Picasso was only 14 years old he was already producing paintings I would buy on the street if I saw them. Many painters would have stopped there and many have. They paint the same bridge or cityscape over and over because people liked what they paint and thus buy the paintings. Not Picasso though.
The first room is full of beautifully painted landscapes and extraordinary portraits of people demonstrating that he had mastered the technical aspects. But as you continue on through the exhibit, the portraits of people start to slant and break. The colors of reality are replaced with the blues that characterize so much of his work. Work by work you watch a master become the only one in the arena. You marvel as his paintings evolve from great, to totally original, to what they are known as now, which is simply, Picasso.
One room particularly stuck out to me. This is a room full of paintings from dates that follow each other in day-succession. August 6, August 7, August 8 and so on. These paintings are different depictions of the same scene, which was the view from his studio as he painted one his most famous assignments, Las Meninas. I realized that these were paintings done on his “break” from Las Meninas, but they were still masterpieces in themselves! At this point he had become such a master of his “one thing” that it had become a part of his being– his work was not work, it was him being himself.
My last note on Picasso is that this exhibit truly moved me. I felt like I was given the opportunity to glimpse into a life that was the perfect example of finding a person’s “one thing”. In another word, the gallery is a living reminder of what human fulfillment looks like. Pictures of Picasso as an older man are displayed at the end of the exhibit, surrounded by the things and people he loved. I will never see him the same again and I am grateful for what he taught me through the evolution of his life’s work and my own search for my “one thing”.
Gaudi, like Picasso, is a person that found his one thing and went for it. Gary Keller writes, “Believing in big frees you to ask different questions, follow different paths, and try new things. This opens the doors to possibilities that until now only lived inside you.”
Gaudi’s work is the epitome of “believing in big”. In 1900, his futuristic architecture is something that could only be dreamed up from a mind free from restrictions and limits. In 2018, his buildings in Guell Park look like something out of a sci-fi film or a movie created from graphic animation. In 1900, Gaudi had no such inspiration and drew almost entirely from the nature all around him. He incorporated the biological building structure into his man-made creations.
Walking into the Sagrada Familia actually took my breath away. The basilica, which was the capstone of Gaudi’s career and his most crowning achievement, is a testament to human’s limitless capacity for creation. Unfortunately, he died before the completion of the building, but I believe he must have died a man totally invested and possessed by the challenge of creating one of the most fantastic buildings in the entire world. Pictures do not quite capture the magnitude and beauty of what it feels like to be inside the Sagrada Familia. Huge stone pillars soar high above you and gather like treetops among the brightly lit ceiling designed specifically to let natural sunlight in. Everywhere you can find Gaudi’s inspiration from nature. Like Picasso, he went above and beyond mastering architecture, and became an architect in a class all his own.
I will stop gushing about Picasso and Gaudi now, as well as about finding the “one thing”, but I would highly recommend going to Barcelona and making the Sagrada Familia, Guell Park, and the Picasso Museum “must dos” on your trip. Maybe if you do, you could also check out the book, The One Thing, for your airplane reading. I know that I’m thinking a whole lot differently about life these days thanks to a few great men– Picasso, Gaudi, and my dad, of course.
Traveler tip: Book your tickets online and in advance! They are usually sold out on the day and are cheaper online.