Art and Classism: Why it’s okay to not visit the Prado

Author: Leah Pattem

Many have audibly gasped when I’ve told them I’ve never been to the Prado. Instead of ask me why, the response is often:

You need to go.

There it is: that familiar feeling of being shamed and told that I’m wrong to reject high culture (which I also sometimes call “frills”). I must now take a deep breath and decide which course of action I’m going to take next: I can either explain why I don’t want to go to the Prado, which, in short, is because I reject its elitism. Or, I can smile and say “I know,” just so I don’t have to have that conversation.

It’s the exact same feeling I get when someone asks me what language my father speaks, then having to come clean that I wasn’t raised bilingual.

What! That’s such a shame. Why?

The answer to that deserves its own article.

I wasn’t raised speaking Telugu, or to appreciate high culture, and I certainly wasn’t raise to be ashamed of either situation.

My journalism paints me as cultured and informed and, actually, I love art – modern and classical. I visit galleries monthly – big and small. However, I have no interest in seeing what’s inside the Prado because I have no interest in a collection of the elite. I mean, have you seen the name of my blog?

Just because we’re now (finally) allowed to see the High Art collection commissioned and selected over the years by Spain’s elite, and just because the government pays for it to be housed, it doesn’t mean it’s ours or that we have to be proud of it, or that we have to learn about it, like it or even see it.

The reality is that High Art can be dangerous – it distorts history, it’s allowed to be offensive to minority groups and, contrary to popular belief, High Art doesn’t represent or portray the people – quite the opposite: it appropriates and romanticises the struggle of vulnerable groups and tells the rest that they don’t exist. The Prado wins awards every time they hammer in a nail for women artists, or for the odd painting using brown as a skin tone, or for a bourgeois piece romanticising the struggle of the poor. But shouldn’t art displayed in such a world famous gallery be held to higher standards?

In a world dominated by elitism and elitist assimilation, rejecting High Art by shunning galleries such as the Prado, the Tate and the Louvre and – most importantly – admitting it, is a powerful stand against classism. The next time someone tells you that they’ve never been to the Prado, instead of telling them to go, ask them why they haven’t been.

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