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.