|twelve Mona Lisa pins|
These pins don't even show the whole painting, just a close-up of the woman's head and chest. The colors aren't quite right, either -- the greens of the landscape behind her are too green, the red of her bodice and lips too red. In fact, it's hard to know how many generations this image is removed from Leonardo's famous painting. Someone must have photographed the original at some point, but how many copies of copies were made before this garish imitation found its way to a factory in Hong Kong?
|paintings, prints, and photographs in my office|
I did see the real thing, once. It was protected by bulletproof glass and velvet ropes that cordoned off the crowd of people pressing as close to it as they could. The crowd was oblivious to the other not-as-famous paintings in that large room at the Louvre. Meanwhile, I gaped in astonishment at familiar sights from my art-school days, now vividly real on the walls around me.
What I learned that day, or maybe re-learned, was that looking at a reproduction is no substitute for seeing the real thing. Paintings that I never before had understood or cared about when seen as slides or photographs in books suddenly came to life. In one painting after another, I saw the painter's hand, the sheer size of the canvas implying the physical movement of the artist. I saw how changes in thickness of paint, or changes in the angle of vision, changed how the image appeared. I saw details that had always escaped me as my eyes slid over the homogenized surfaces of prints and posters. In that company, the relatively small, over-publicized, much-admired Mona Lisa couldn't really command my attention.
The twelve, small reproductions on my bulletin board, however, manage to do just that. As the imitation jewelry twists and turns on its flimsy, cardboard support, the cheap, cheesy copies ask me to think about the value of art, the value of history, the value of fame. It often seems that Mona is smiling at me at as I work, sometimes with a smirk, sometimes with compassion, and at other times with simple amusement. I look up from the words shimmering on my computer screen, stretch my back and rub my eyes, and just smile back.