Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A question about the Mona Lisa...

So here's one i've been waiting to write for a while.
I may be officially able to die in peace, because i've seen the mona lisa. I didn't have some longing to see it, per se, but it felt like one of the many things that one should do before senility sets in, or at least that's what we've been taught.
Now, to be clear, i really enjoyed seeing it. Really. It was exciting and beautiful, although small, and if i could re-live the experience, i would pick seeing it over not.


But the thing that stuck out to me the most, was the most exciting and horrible and interesting, was the crowd around it. Holy Shit. I can't even do this crowd justice describing it here (which is why i've included pictures). And more than the crowd itself, the feeling, the engineering of the build up of excitement. Interesting. Let me walk you through it.

When you go to the Louvre, you're going to see the Mona Lisa. It's already set in stone. If you're not going to see the Mona Lisa, then you are making a statement about your disinterest in or disregard for the Mona Lisa, and so your visit is still somehow in reference to the Mona Lisa. The Louvre knows this. So the second you walk in, there are signs pointing you towards your assumed destination. The Louvre is massive, packed ceiling to floor with paintings, impossible to see in one day. So no matter what you've planned, there's a sign - a picture sign that anyone can understand, it's important to note - redirecting you toward the x-marks-the-spot of the arguably most famous piece of art in the entire world.
The Mona Lisa is small. Very small, compared to most of the other paintings in the Louvre. It hangs solitary on a large white wall, which stands in the middle of the room, so that when you first enter the room, you must walk around to the other side of the wall to see the painting. As such, the first thing you see isn't the painting itself, but the massive massive crowd.

In front of you, held a good eight feet back from the painting by a moat of velvet ropes, is a noisy josteling crowd so multi-ethnic the united nations would be proud. Everyone wants a piece of this painting. This crowd is impressive, to say the least. All ages of people crane their necks and lift their children, just to get a glimpse of this magnificent illusive woman. People snap pictures and thrust video cameras over and over and over again, looking more through their viewfinders than their eyes. Everyone wants the experience, everyone wants a piece to take home. The irony of madly trying to capture this masterpiece, famous for its illusive and unprocurable nature, on homevideo (to take home and do what with, exactly?) seems to be very much lost on the crowd.

You have to see it to really understand, but i was very struck by watching this crowd. On one hand, here was art - not TV, not "entertainment", but art art getting more attention than i had ever seen or imagined. As someone who feels that the arts are constantly under funded and appreciated, i felt proud. I felt important to be an artist. On the other hand, there was such a gross feeling about how this art had been made into some sort of empty celebrity - a paris hilton or hedi montag - famous because it's famous but that's it. So what was is? How was i supposed to feel about this experience that was simultaneously such a triumph and travesty in my mind? I still don't know.

What i am more clear about is the questions that this experience brought up for me:

1. Is it important that art be important; in other words, does the promise of a small percent of "great art" being valued as highly important, or the idea that art is somehow of great value in our society in some way aid or promote the actual work? What does the end reception have to do with the making?

2. Is it a bad thing that people are so excited to see something, only because they've been told it's important? Is this "empty celebrity"? Is there any use for it?

3. Is there a way (and what are they) that PMD (or any art for that matter) can use the idea of creating some sense of celebrity/excitement/great-art-fame to gain viewers or support in a way that aids the art rather than depletes or overshadows it?

4. Are we better off not having a Mona Lisa of modern dance?

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