Written by Essay, First Person, Visual Art

Seventeen Ways of Looking at the Mona Lisa

We asked writers and artists to show us what the ‘Mona Lisa’ means in today’s selfie-seeking, Kardashianized world.

Editor’s Note

No matter how many times I’ve seen the Mona Lisa, every time I’m in Paris I go back. I visit not because I think it will ever be gone, but because I know I will.

When I visit notable art, I try to have a moment alone with it, often by getting to the museum at the opening or hanging around despite guards’ increasingly harsh reminders about the museum’s closing time. But I think of the journey the art has been on, from the hand of the artist, to all the others who have viewed it, to me. I become part of the story, unwittingly or not. When I’m alone with the art, for that one moment, I think the artist made it just for me.

I fully recognize this makes me seem like an egomaniac.

I’ve never had that moment with the Mona Lisa. But there’s something fitting about this. The Mona Lisa could never be mine. It’s all of ours, one of the few things we all share in as humans as an emblem of beauty, of achievement, of life on earth.

When I’m in the room with the Mona Lisa and I see the crowds with their phones, I’m not disgusted by their lack of admiration for the intricacies of the painting. I can’t help but smile about the fact that they made it too, from wherever they were coming in the world. Whatever successes and failures that led them to that moment, they felt that seeing the Mona Lisa was important to do.

We received far more essays than we expected. I think it’s because the painting is so engrained in our lives or whether you think you have something to say about the painting or not, you can. No one remembers learning about the Mona Lisa. It has always been there, in your life, and seemingly will be forever.

Many essays lamented the size of it, or were captivated by the gaze and the smile—that is, if they could even see it amongst the crowd of selfie seekers. Others made comparisons to the Kardashianized world we live in. Some disliked it, some raved about its beauty. The best ones transcended the oils on the wood encased behind the glass, mixing their life with the painting. These eight are those essays.

Leonardo, for all his far-fetched dreams, eccentricities, and procrastinations, was deeply fascinated about the world we live in. If he knew about our desire to seek out the Mona Lisa 500 years after his death, he would smile to see we still continue his interest to share, to feel, to live.

And there would be nothing enigmatic about it.

– Scott Bolohan, Literary Editor

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