The 'Mona Lisa' is No Longer Art
The 'Mona Lisa' is No Longer Art
If an artist’s linguistic declaration can declare something art, can a declaration strip something of its’ art status? Does this power only lie with the artist whom created the work? Can I/we ‘un-declare’ Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa art?
The 'Mona Lisa' is synonymous with art, but does it accurately represent Art?
Why worship fourteenth century painting as paradigmatic of Art, when it no longer represents the current world of Art?
Why the Mona Lisa?
What it means to produce art has changed and involved throughout the centuries, but objects outside the current understanding of art, retain their artistic designation. What once was the embodiment of ‘art’ is often held with a greater prestige than more recent works, which represent the development of art. This is not true for other disciplines, such as Science. When a past scientific ‘fact’ is replaced with information that the scientific community believes to be more accurate; the former retains its history in the given field, but loses its’ scientific status.
In his 1923 essay, The Dehumanization of Art, Spanish philosopher, Jose Ortega y Gasset outlines the changes occurring in the discipline of Art. Gasset suggested that the realistic art of the past succeeded, because it creates the illusion of reality. This realistic aesthetic is pleasurable to the majority of people, because it does not require much of their mind, as it “is essentially undistinguishable from their ordinary behaviour” (Gasset, 325). Gasset stated that “art has no right to exist if, content to reproduce reality, it uselessly duplicates it” (331). Art’s mission is “to conjure up imaginary worlds” (Gasset, 332). The ‘new’ art of the twentieth century accomplish this conjuring. Did da Vinci do more than just “replicate life” in the Mona Lisa? It is said that he continued working on the painting long after working with its’ model; slightly altering features and adding shadows. With these alterations, is the Mona Lisa “undistinguishable” from ‘reality’? Does it require much of the viewer’s mind? Dose it conjure up imaginary worlds? It does not.
Despite these changes in the discourse of art, the objects that are given paradigmatic status are objects that reflect an art world that no longer represents the current field. One of the most famous of these objects, is Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. While Da Vinci’s painting is certainly a paradigmatic object, Thomas Leddy questioned “must we accept [it] as paradigmatic of art”? (267). Duchamp, himself questioned the paradigmatic art status of the famed painting, when he painted a moustache on a photo of the work (L.H.O.O.Q.) Many academic paintings of the nineteenth century have had their art status reclassified to craft or illustration status by art critics, such as Roger Fry and Clive Bell (Leddy, 268). If Fry and Bell can “reclassify” the status of nineteenth century academic paintings, why stop there? Why not re-valuate all that is ‘art’? Why not re-valuate the Mona Lisa’s place in the world of art?
Sourcing the insights of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations, McEvilley states “if something is contextualized socially as an art object, then it must be an art object, at least for that society at that time” (27). It is no doubt that the majority of global society contextualize the Mona Lisa as art. This vast acceptance of the painting’s art status, cannot simply be linguistically declared changed by an individual. Such a reputation must be challenged on a larger scale.
To attempt to change the societal context of the famous painting, I have created an online petition. The petition’s goal is to convince enough of the world’s population to join me in declaring da Vinci’s Mona Lisa no longer art. It is of course, unlikely to receive signatures from the majority of the world’s population. In the event of failure, it could be argued that the Mona Lisa was never art to begin with. One of the ways Duchamp declared his Readymades art, was by signing them. Leonardo da Vinci never signed the Mona Lisa, there is no record of him declaring the painting art. If an artist makes something art by declaring it so, what does it mean if there is an absence of a declaration?
Gasset, Jose Ortega y. “The Dehumanization of Art” Art in Theory 1900-2000: An Anthology of Changing Ideas, edited by Harrison, Charles and Wood, Paul. 2003, pp. 323-332.
Leddy, Thomas. “Rigid Designation in Defining Art” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism Vol. 45, No.3, Wiley on behalf of The American Society for Aesthetics. 1987, pp. 263-272.
McEvilley, Thomas. “Kant, Dada, and Duchamp”, The Triumph of Anti-Art, Kingston Ny: McPherson & Co., 2005, pp. 15-35.