The Mona Lisa Effect and a weekend without it

The Mona Lisa Effect:

There is an unwritten challenge to “do” the Louvre as fast as possible. Many people seem to think that the Louvre has three important pieces, La joconde (the Mona Lisa), Le venus de milo, and La Victoire de Samothrace (The winged victory). With some hilarity and some disgust, I’ve heard frequently about the race to see the three as fast as possible. Having been to the Louvre, I guarantee that it is no small feat, yet it apparently has been accomplished between 4 and 6 minutes multiple times. On the English version of the Louvre’s website, they list ten must see works, the three above and a collection of David, Ingres, Delacroix, Gericault paintings, as well as a few other pieces.

It is absurd to me to limit yourself to this. The Louvre is giant, and I’m thankful I can see it all it a vast number of trips, unlike most tourists. But to choose three must see things is absurd. It causes something that I have come up with, The Mona Lisa Effect. When works of art get too celebrated, they lose their artistic value for the general viewer. To see something such as the Mona Lisa becomes more about checking it off the list, and saying that you saw it, rather than appreciating it. I doubt 1% of viewers at the Louvre have truly appreciated their viewing of the Mona Lisa. When you fight to get close with hundreds of people, only to be stopped by three feet of space, then a wall of bullet-proof glass, it is difficult to really get acquainted with the painting.  There are hundreds of Italian masterpieces in proximity to the Mona Lisa, which are much more beautiful in my opinion, and they hardly get a passing glance.

For example, on the opposite side of the wall that the Mona Lisa hangs on is Pastoral Concert, by either Titian or Giorgione. Its a masterpiece without doubt, and is incredibly beautiful. Yet despite being so close to the Mona Lisa, I easily had five minutes to stare wondrously at it, without interruption. From my art history education, I understand the paintings beauty and importance, but I guess the rest of the world doesn’t. Pastoral Concert didn’t have the Mona Lisa Effect on me, because I took something away from seeing it, I felt inspired by the Renaissance masterpiece, rather than granted myself the ability to brag about seeing the Mona Lisa.

Titian / Giorgione

It comes down to one’s motivation for doing things. I like to stress the importance of doing what I like, and also of modesty. People don’t travel (or at least they shouldn’t) to say that they went to Paris and climbed the Eifel Tower, they should do it for enjoyment, or to grow. The Mona Lisa Effect gives so-called bragging rights about doing things, while sacrificing individuality. Should someone who hates art see every museum in Paris on a vacation? Not a chance, although I do believe everyone should have more art in their life. You can look at as many guidebooks with recommendations, but you’ve got to do you. When I travel, I like to see places through their bike culture. I love checking out street bikes, and going into foreign bike shops is one of my favorite things to do ever. I travel in a way that makes me happy. Fortunately, I also enjoy looking at paintings and buildings.

At the same time, there’s a lot to be said for going out and trying something new, which I highly encourage. The art hater should go to one or two museums, maybe he’ll see the Neo-Impressionism at the Orsay and realize there is paintings he does like. It is the spray-lord, bragging behavior thats disappointing. It doesn’t matter how epic something was if you didn’t enjoy, regardless of how good the story sounds.

Epic Weekend (Without the Mona Lisa Effect)

Thursday night I got lucky enough to go see a Balanchine ballet at Garnier’s Opera. I’ve written about Cathedrals being massive multimedia works, and the same goes for performance halls. A good enough show can take place anywhere, but a beautiful space does add a great effect. I haven’t been to the ballet since elementary school when I hated The Nutcracker, but I knew the name Balanchine as a master, so I was excited. It was in three parts, with music by Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, and finally Prokofiev. The first was a very melodic beautiful peace, with many dancers out at once. The second seemed almost to be composed of vignettes, with two or three dancers out at a time, very large crescendos and some very stataco music. The final part was epic, it told a story from antiquity of a prince who lost everything. The level of skill was so high, the dance was beautiful and the music superb. Go ballet. The ballet was totally augmented by being able to go into the Opera house for the first time. It is such an ornate, classy, beautiful building. The Opera used to be about seeing and being seen, and it is definitely the perfect place to do that.

In the Opera House

Friday night I met my buddies Eric and Patrick from UPS and craziness ensued for the next two days. Friday night we went to Oberkampf, a good nightlife area with plenty of real Parisiens. The adventure really started in earnest Saturday morning, when we began our unbelievable traverse of Paris. Sharing stories the whole time, we pretty much took in the whole city. We saw the Eifel Tower, St. Michel, Sorbonne, Hotel de Cluny, Notre Dame, Hotel de Ville, the Louvre (including the famous paintings and obscurities), the Tuleries, Madeline, Garnier’s Opera, The Arc de Triomphe, the Champs Elysse and Montmartre and the Sacre Coeur. It was a lot of walking and being impressed at the wonderful city, but to appreciate some fabulous things with great friends was totally worth it.

We could brag about how many things we saw, or just pass the time being happy we were so gifted by the beautiful city. I’ll choose the latter any day.

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