Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More

Mona Lisa! Mona Lisa!

Musée Du Louvre, Paris, France

August 6, 2009

This essay, Mona Lisa! Mona Lisa!, is the second in a hexalogy on Art:
  1. Art Gallery: The Physics Of Creativity
  2. Mona Lisa! Mina Lisa!
  3. Performance Artists
  4. Don't Regulate The Tate
  5. Bronze Buddha
  6. Erasing The Constraints: Robert Rauschenberg Works
in that order.

It is also the first in a group of three written in Europe, August 2009:
  1. Mona Lisa! Mona Lisa!
  2. Further Than The End
  3. Skewed Since Antiquity
in that order.

I am indebted to Lisa Gherardini and to Leonardo da Vinci who inspired this conversation, and to my daughter Alexandra Lindsey Platt who contributed material.

Photography by Alexandra Lindsey Platt

taken from 50 feet away behind a throng of 2,500

Musée du Louvre, Paris, France

August 6, 2009
(blurred) The Mona Lisa (blurred)
Leonardo da Vinci
It's said many visitors to Paris France skip the Louvre museum, le Musée du Louvre  entirely because it's simply too overwhelming, because it's just too much. This isn't merely an art gallery into which you can walk, look around for an hour or so, take it in and leave having seen it all. To see the art collection(s) in the Louvre museum, to see it all (and by that I mean to do justice  to seeing it all) could arguably take you days  not hours. And to do that, you wouldn't walk a few yards around some hanging paintings and standing sculptures. In point of fact, you could walk miles and miles and miles  in the Louvre museum. And that's providing you're willing to take the short cut and bypass at least half of what's there to see.

It's estimated if you spend a mere ten seconds in front of each piece around the clock  without break for food, rest, or refreshment, you'd need more than a week to see it all. Bear in mind even a week at that breakneck speed would only allow you a cursory glance at each piece.

The Louvre museum opens its doors to thirty thousand visitors a day. They come to see art and sculpture collections from all continents and from all eras. The old masters  collections are the most heavily trafficked. There are about as many visitors at once passing through the floors of the Louvre museum housing the old masters collections as there are passengers passing through most United States airports on a busy day.

If you observe the Louvre museum's old masters collections without any already always listening, comparing, and interpreting history, and instead focus only on their subjects richly and lavishly depicted in oils on huge canvassas in massively ornate frames (which, by the way, are priceless works of art in and of themselves), you'd probably come to the conclusion there are only two kinds of originating incidents ie seminal experiences  which inspired the old masters of art. War is one. Religion is the other.

The art, simply breathtaking in its accuracy, beauty, majesty, size, and sheer grandeur, barely conceals the fact that its inspirations, war  and religion, are beyond doubt the most divisive, separatist, and sometimes even the most barbaric  (witness the Spanish Inquisition of yore as well as today's Jihad)  crimes against humanity mankind has ever foisted on itself.

That's the first distinction which I can take responsibility for spontaneously and originally bringing forth in the Louvre museum. And believe me, such is the awe one experiences inside the Louvre museum that at first, any original distinction has as much chance of spontaneously coming forth as a snowflake in a fully fired potter's kiln. I'd been strolling around the old masters collections for over two hours before I spontaneously and originally distinguished "Given the subject matter of their paintings, I finally figured out  what inspired these guys the most, what fired them up:  it was war  and religion!".

But only after I'd been strolling around the old masters collections for another hour, three hours in total, did I have my second pivotal  original observation which was this: "After miles and miles and miles and hours and hours and hours of old masters paintings (I know you get the reference to distance  and time  to convey the scope of paintings in the Louvre museum) it's interesting to notice no one in any of the paintings, no subject, not one  human being depicted is smiling!".

Who knows why. I wasn't there. So I can't say why for sure. Perhaps it was the style of the eras. Perhaps it was the artistic license. Who knows what it was. I certainly don't. Yet there it is, my conjecture, my plain simple truth: the old masters didn't depict anyone smiling in their work - which you can substantiate or refute yourself with a three hour eleven mile walk around the Louvre museum in Paris (yes, the abbreviated  tour).

There's one exception to this in all the old masters collections in the entire Louvre museum, one exception made all the more remarkable simply because it's the one exception in the entire Louvre museum, and that's the most famous painting hanging in the Louvre museum, the most famous painting in the world in fact, which is Portrait of Lisa Gherardini.

Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, known as The Mona Lisa, also known as Monna Lisa, La Jaconda, and La Gioconda  was started by Leonardo da Vinci in 1503 and completed in 1506. In it Lisa Gherardini is smiling ... or  ... is  ... she?  Or is she about  to smile? Whatever the truth behind the enigmatic not smiling / smiling Mona Lisa is, there it is: the semblance  of a smile, arguably the only thing coming even close  to an authentic smile in all the collections of all the old masters collections in the entire Louvre museum.

Compared to many other (if not most)  paintings in the old masters collections, the Mona Lisa is tiny - a mere thirty inches high by twenty one inches wide. Other than her enigmatic semblance of a smile (that, plus the fact that it's the most famous painting in the world), two things make the Mona Lisa immediately and noticably unparalleled.

One, it's the only painting in the Louvre museum, possibly in the entire world, behind bulletproof glass. If you've ever wondered how far we've gone in confusing our symbols and icons with what's real, consider for a moment that someone might try to assassinate the Mona Lisa. No kidding! Really. And it's three inch thick  bulletproof glass to boot. But that (confusing our symbols and icons with what's real)  is a subject for another conversation on another occasion.

The other is you can't get near the Mona Lisa!  There's a throng of close to three thousand viewers in front of her at any given time, standing thirty deep in rows. The closest I could get was fifty feet away - and I could only get so close  because I got there early. People just stand and look in silence and awe and stand and look some more, still in silence and awe.

What attracts this kind of adulation, this reverence, this worship  to a work of art? It's just another old masters painting, of which the Louvre museum houses thousands and thousands and thousands. What makes it so special? It's not very big. It's subject certainly isn't war or religion ... but I assert in and of itself, that isn't significant. It's not a nude. It's just Lisa Gherardini sitting there. That's all it is. So what could it be?

Here's my take, my opinion  on this phenomenon.

The Mona Lisa's smile is the single, unique indicator in the entire Louvre museum collection of old masters collections which captures (brilliantly, I might add - Leonardo da Vinci is a genius) presence of Self. Lisa Gherardini is smiling. She knows who she really is. Amidst all the stoicism of her era five hundred years ago, in spite of the as yet rampant un-broken through male chauvinism  of her time (which makes it all the more remarkable), Lisa Gherardini knows who she really  is. And it shows.

That's it. And that's all. And people flock  to see it - in droves.

Now, listen: I'm not saying that's exactly what they'd tell you if you asked them what enthralls them about the Mona Lisa. This is just my opinion, remember. They might not even know  what enthralls them about the Mona Lisa other than the fact that they're enthralled by the Mona Lisa!  However, having said that, I assert of everything there is to see in the Louvre museum, there's one thing people the world over really want to see ... AND  ... unknowingly or knowingly really want to have in their lives, and that's presence of Self. And Lisa Gherardini got it. And Leonardo da Vinci got that Lisa Gherardini* got it. And because he's Leonardo da Vinci, he captured it perfectly in oils on canvas, one shot in a million, amidst all the war and religion, five hundred years ago.

And the rest, as they say in the classics, is history.

I didn't visit the Louvre museum expecting to find transformation. But what really got  me, the one thing that moved me to tears in the midst of all the awe, splendor, beauty, and history was watching people getting what they got from the Mona Lisa. There's a word for what people get from the Mona Lisa, and the word is transformation.

Again, that's just my opinion. People, if asked, may not identify what they get from the Mona Lisa as transformation. They just know they get something je ne sais quoi, something indefinable, something they can't easily put words to, some enigmatic quality in whose presence the quality of their life is raised, forever altered. And that's transformation, I would add.

But if you want to be sure, you're going to have to ask Lisa. And Leonardo. Yourself.

*   Gherardini
      is spelled
            G ... herard ... ini
                  which becomes
                        G ... erhard ... ini.

Mona Lisa! Mona Lisa! "Gee, Erhard in I.".

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