Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Real Mona Lisa, or is it Really?

I went on a trip to Paris, France this the summer and the discussion we had in class today about Baudrillard’s “simulacra & simulation” made me think about the time I first saw the infamous “Mona Lisa.” The experience was very similar to the barn tourism attraction example from the novel “WhiteNoise” by Don DeLillo.

For instance, the barn tourists went to the barn to go there but really just "to go there" because its where tourists are all going. And when you get there all you see 20 people taking pictures of a barn, same thing happened when I went to see the Mona Lisa. I was so looking forward to seeing this one painting in Le Louvre, the world’s largest museum, but when I finally reached it I could barely even see it. I was a bit disappointed to say the least by the size of the painting, and lack of visibility. Even being 20 feet away from it I still couldn’t tell you if it was the real thing or not.

Here is what my actual view was to the thing, and I swear I tried to get close, but I felt after fifteen minutes of standing in that room that the crowd of people in front of me were getting paid to stand there, I mean how many pictures could you possibly take of a picture? It was insanity at its finest.

How would you even know if what you are seeing is the “real” thing? It makes me question if the Mona Lisa I saw (barely) was actually the real thing. I think (from a modernist's lens) that unless you saw Leonardo da Vinci literally paint the portrait and hang it on the wall in the Louvre it probably isn't the real thing. Whereas a post-modernist would assume that since there are signs leading up to the Mona Lisa (singling it out) and hundreds of people taking pictures of it behind a red rope that this painting must be the real thing. If the painting were not real then it wouldn’t be inside one of the most famous art museums in the world and be hung up on a wall with a red rope guarding it.

I would say this overall experience fit into Baudrillard’s second order of simulation because I could not decipher the paintings authenticity, it wasn’t obviously artificial. I had to assume it was artificial because it was in a famous museum, and it was the museums biggest attractions. Who’s to say it was artificial? I couldn’t tell if it was different than the original otherwise I would have been in that room for over six hours waiting to get close up to it enough to compare it to an image I found on Google images (again, who’s to say the images on Google are the real thing?). I could be wrong on what order Baudrillard would categorize this experience as, but I wonder what other people think about this.


  1. One of the things I enjoy about art museums and tourist sites is the way that they tell us what is "art" and what is worth "touring." My standby example of this has to do with the fields of Gettysburg. If I took you to some random field in another state and told you all about the famous Civil War battle that had taken place there, couldn't I pretty easily convince you that you were at Gettysburg, even if we were someplace 20 miles away? Mostly it's the markers and signage that tell us what is "real" history or "real" art or worth looking at. And that is ironic and postmodern, since the authenticity of what we are looking at is coming from the SIGNS, not from the objects themselves. And this Mona Lisa example is perfect. What makes this the "real" Mona Lisa is the number of people looking at it. If the real one is actually in the Louvre basement, well, we don't really need to see it now, do we?

  2. Let me just say, I love that picture. You captured 2 cultural phenomena: gawking, and a herd of sheeple exercising their seemingly inalienable right to raise their black rectangle and validate a moment of their life.

    That last part could perhaps be less snarky through a Baudrillardian lens (well, at least it could be interesting snark, so I'll have at it), In Baudrillard's order of simulacra, I agree Ali that this could be the second order because, when those tourists get home, what are they going to say when they sit down their friends and family and force them to look at their pictures? THAT THERE IS THE MONA LISA. The symbol is taking the place of the symbolized.

    Often, the act of taking a picture seems to function as a personal simulation of "reality." It is not purely representative, because it is not a simple picture of the painting itself, but of the tourist's experience of the piece that they will forever define to themselves as the piece.

    I wonder if they even saw the painting with their own two eyes, and not exclusively through their camera lens. It is their need to recreate the person's seeing (shouldn't the point of art be to see it, not to capture and file it away for yourself?) of the painting that makes it simulation, and that likely caused that huge wait time to approach the piece near enough to see it properly.


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