Defacing Mona Lisa

mona lisa

In a school, the students were given paper copies of the Mona Lisa, and were then apparently told to spruce up her face with cutouts from magazines. Upon passing these projects hanging in the hall, I was privy to this exchange:

Elementary/Primary School Teacher 1:  “I can’t believe they’re defacing the Mona Lisa like that.”

Elementary/Primary School Teacher 2:  “I know. It’s a disgrace.”

Elementary/Primary School Teacher 3:  “It’s a complete disgrace.”

All right, first we will enjoy a hearty chortle, and then we will get down to business…

My first reaction is to offer any one of these teachers a dollar if they can tell me who painted the Mona Lisa, what year, or where it currently resides.  One dollar, no smart phones.

My next impulse is to find the art room and tell the art teacher.  Perhaps start a district-wide campaign for intelligence via the arts – educating the educators, as it were.  But that’s silly.  I don’t even go to this school.

I was finally struck by the root of the problem.  What those teachers thought they were doing was expressing an opinion respectful of history and society, but what they were really doing was making an expression of ignorance.

First of all, if we’re going to have a problem with this project, shouldn’t we have a greater problem with the fact that we’re Xeroxing historical art, rather than pasting a clipping of Bill Clinton’s nose cut from an old Newsweek Magazine onto it?  It’s a classic dichotomy between making fine art accessible and cheapening it with mass production of duplicates.  Let’s have that conversation.

Additionally, “defacing” art to make art is, within itself, a form of art.  I have two words for you, Elementary/Primary School Teachers 1-3:  Marcel. Duchamp.  Dude took a postcard version of Mona Lisa and drew a moustache and beard on her.  Now it’s famous, international, historical art. Boom.

Lastly, and certainly most importantly, let’s talk about what these kids are learning, simply by pasting Rambo’s headband across the dainty forehead of a da Vinci.  Here is the Mona Lisa – a form.  A construct.  A paradigm of society.  And now cut random shit from a magazine and paste it on her face.

Maybe it seems like a simple project, but what it’s really doing is forcing the students to break down ideas they may have about social construct and how it’s supposed to work.  Today they’re pasting Snooki’s obnoxious cleavage on La Gioconda, tomorrow they’re reconstructing congress in such a way as to serve their people in a more utopian way.  Because you never know what an open mind might lead to.

Or maybe when they go to sleep tonight they will dream about a highly-cleaved Mona Lisa shooting up the school with her John Rambo machine gun and wake up tired in the morning.  It could really go either way.

Of Course You Use Algebra, Liar


The above e-card is traded among internet users like a steamy hot potato of mirth.  “Haha, Math Teacher,” you say as you post it to your Facebook wall, “look.  Teenage me was right!  I said I would never use this, and I never do.”

It’s okay – you may not be a liar.  You may just be confused.  Maybe you’re blinded by lingering disgust with your algebra teacher.  I’ve seen him, I get it.  No one should have that much exposed chest hair.  And who is he kidding with that gold chain and faux skinny jeans?

But that doesn’t change the fact that, like it or not, you use algebra every day.  No matter how resistant you are, it’s an omnipresent function in your life.

Let’s start with work; it doesn’t matter what your job is.  If you’ve ever sat and wondered how many hours you would have to work before you could afford a whole ounce of pot, you were using algebra:


The argument that people make here is always this:  “Yeah, but it’s not like I’m sitting down with a piece of paper and figuring this out.  I’m not really doing algebra.”

Of course you’re not using a pencil – this is really easy math.  You don’t take out your notepad and perform long division every time you want to know how many dimes are in a dollar fifty, but you’re still dividing.  This is how your lounge-lizard of an algebra teacher got his job in the first place.  Yeah, he’s probably as dumb as you thought.

So, when you were surmising how many days it would take to watch all seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in a row, you were using algebra.


When you are trying to figure out what the MPG is on your Volkswagen Beetle in an effort to convince your girlfriend to let you trade it in for a motorcycle, you were using algebra.


You were futilely using algebra, because buddy, that is a pipedream.  Your best bet is to go back in time and keep her from convincing you to buy the thing in the first place.  In fact, your best best bet is to go back and get the motorcycle before your meet her at all.

And to posit the claim that you “didn’t use algebra once” today, you would, in fact, have to use algebra to assert that claim in the first place.


Algebra is probably the most useful math you’ve ever learned, once you could multiply and divide.  But you can throw away your protractor because, geometry?  You’ll never need that.