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Why see the Mona Lisa?

Fun topics lately including CJ’s post about Surprises. The Mona Lisa and the size of the painting was a popular answer on that post. I replied that I’m surprised the Mona Lisa is famous. Admittedly I haven’t done much research into the painting, however, over the past few months I have been taking a closer look into art to determine if its something I want to dedicate more time to while I'm on vacation. As part of that, a few months ago I asked a question about the Statue of David https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/italy/david-why-see-it. I received answers ranging from ‘just look at it and you’ll get it’, to accusations that my high school teachers let me down. I’m going to ask the same question about Mona Lisa, what should I be looking at when I’m looking at the Mona Lisa?

Posted by
2516 posts

Honestly, I don’t quite get it either. I mean, it’s a great painting. In a museum with thousands of great paintings, so I don’t know why this one is the “must see”. da Vinci experts can tell you some details about why it’s great, but as far as I’ve ever heard there’s no secret factor that makes it so much more worthy than the rest of the louvre.

I think for 95% of the people who see it, it’s just because it’s famous it’s famous because it is famous (it was stolen, it went on tour to
the US with promotion by Jackie Kennedy, it’s on the cover of many books on art or France or travel or museums...)

Honestly, if you aren’t really into it, I’d skip it because of the crowds and the fact that you can’t really get to it to see it very well. If you were an expert or just loved the painting my advice would be different.

I think the Louvre should create a “Mona Lisa pavilion” and sell entry to it separate from the rest of the museum, with its own entry. Perhaps timed entry. People who just want to see it can do so in a more organized environment and they don’t have to go to the rest of the museum if they don’t want to. Lowering crowds in the rest of the museum, and giving the Mona Lisa fans an easier experience.

Posted by
21243 posts

This almost falls into the response category of --- If you have to ask the price, you cannot afford it. It is like all art, it is a combination of subject, technique, color, history, etc. For me most art is simply the skill required to do the painting. Something I totally lack. And generally I either like it or I don't. Not sure I can explain why. Nor do I feel a need to do so. For me the Mona Lisa is not my favorite painting but was interested in see it for what it represented.

Posted by
510 posts

You ask a good question. I am learning that it helps me to have guided tours, either in person or via audio, when I go to museums. It helps me to have perspective that I might not otherwise have about a painting, sculpture, etc.

Posted by
1683 posts

Because, uh, you're supposed to?

I feel like even more of a hick when I don' t "get" some artwork. With modern art I sometimes wonder if my dog could do a better job.

Posted by
19175 posts

As a frequent visitor to art museums, I'm very much in favor of Mira's idea of putting the focus(es) of all those selfies in a separate area to make life easier for those who want to see it/them and reduce crowding in the rest of the museum for those of us with broader interests. From the standpoint of a museum curator who feels an obligation to provide an educational experience to visitors, however, I imagine that would not be a popular concept. In any case, I don't see how they could move the Sistine Chapel out of the Vatican Museums!

Posted by
4770 posts

First, while it's one of many great Renaissance paintings in the Louvre and elsewhere, I think the biggest Leonardo fan would agree that its popularity with visitors is way out of proportion to its relative merit. It's very good but not so much better than others as to attract the crowds it does. I like the idea of a separate pavilion, which has been discussed on this forum, but I wonder where it would be and what it would look like. The controversy over the pyramid shows the risks of adding something to the Louvre (I like the pyramid btw).

As for Mona's merits, all I can say is look at the face, especially the eyes following you, the enigmatic smile, and also the hands. Consider that she's not a Madonna like almost every other such female figure up to her time. Look at the intriguing distant background and the use of perspective. This from my sophomore art history course and a couple of past visits. Then add the history -- stolen and recovered, the visit to the US (JFK called her "the Moner Liser"), etc.

Another way to look at it -- would you rather have all those people crammed into one room looking at one painting (which you don't have to see), or filling the other Louvre galleries which are already full enough at busy times?

Another thought re the Sistine Chapel -- before visiting Italy two years ago I went to an exhibit here in WA state that projected photos of Michaelangelo's paintings onto a series of screens arranged like the actual ceiling and upper walls, but lower down and with very good signage. Obviously it wasn't the real thing, but I learned a lot from it and I was better prepared for the real thing when I got to share it with hundreds of people in Rome at a much greater distance.

Art books and reproductions may not fully substitute for the real works, but they can do a lot to prepare you, and maybe even adequately substitute if the real works are too hard to appreciate because of crowds and distractions.

Posted by
1911 posts

I think the Louvre should create a “Mona Lisa pavilion” and sell entry
to it separate from the rest of the museum, with its own entry.

That brings up some interesting questions.

  1. If it was a stand-alone exhibit, would the rest of the Louvre suffer from lost revenue?
  2. Does Mona need the Louvre or does the Louvre need Mona?
  3. The Louvre is full of treasures, but is the general population interested in paying for them without Mona?
Posted by
6063 posts

Allan, my flippant response to your question ". . . what should I be looking at when I’m looking at the Mona Lisa?" is: don't worry you wont get close enough to see any details anyway. I'm not much interested in art either, but I wanted to see it because I am interested in history, and I wanted to see something directly connected to one of the greatest persons ever to have lived. If you look at the Eiffel Tower and say, "looks like an oil derrick in Alberta" well, OK 🙂. Seeing the ML wont change your life, or teach you something about painting, but it has a place in western culture, whether everyone agrees or not.

Posted by
1911 posts

You ask a good question. I am learning that it helps me to have guided
tours, either in person or via audio, when I go to museums. It helps
me to have perspective that I might not otherwise have about a
painting, sculpture, etc.

I have the same opinion. In 2014 I booked a tour of the Vatican, not because I thought it would enhance the experience, but because I found it confusing navigating the website for advance tickets. As it turns out, it was my 'aha' moment on the value of a tour. I can't name a piece of art I saw that day, but I can tell you stories of the history behind the art.

Posted by
64 posts

In the interest of full disclosure ... I am not an artie (nor am I a foodie ... I just don't see the point of waiting forever to get into the latest trendy spot just to eat something I never heard of that will take me 3 bites to finish and cost me almost the equivalent of a car payment ... but I am a trekkie ... original series of course) so I don't really know what you should be looking at. I've seen Mona, David, Venus, the Sistine Chapel, the Pieta, the Last Supper, and countless other masterpieces and, although I have no clue what I should be looking for and can't comment on the styles, meanings, expressions, etc... of their artwork, I want to see them just so I can be in awe of their work (probably because I can't do it ... I'm lucky if I can draw a stick figure). For me personally, I prefer the work of the greatest artist of them all .. Mother Nature.

Now, I can tell you (without looking it up) the fatal disease McCoy had (xenopolycythemia) that, upon visiting Yonada, the ancient Fabrini had a cure that Spock discovered, thus saving McCoy ... but to each his/her own ...

Posted by
794 posts

To me art is something you get or you don’t get... and I don’t get it....

But 15 years ago, on a wet afternoon in Dublin, I took my five year old daughter into the Hugh Lane gallery to shelter out of the rain and a light went that has burned ever sense. Some rooms she walked through without a second glance and sometimes a picture would catch her eye and she would stand there for 20 minutes looking at it. My anticipated half hour out of the rain ended up being nearly five hours!

Today my daughter is nearly 20 and almost finished her training as a multimedia specialist here in Switzerland. Over the years I’ve been taken to many art galleries where I’ve had the pleasure of watching her fascination with the works on display.

It still does nothing for me, but I’m glad she has found her grove in life.

Posted by
6745 posts

I have not seen the Mona Lisa, but I think it's a great idea to either take an art appreciation course or to talk with a museum docent (it doesn't need to be about the Mona Lisa, but just different genres of art generally). Some of the classes I have seen advertised at museums, like the National Gallery here in DC, are really excellent. The speakers (whether academics, art historians, or volunteer docents) have expertise and training in the subject area and can give you something to think about with no judgement whatsoever. It could really be an eye opening experience. I've been on docent tours and pop-up events - where they discuss a certain piece of art or exhibit - and have gotten a lot out of those experiences.

Also, I would do some research on the context behind any art piece - the artist, the history, and any other relevant topics that would shed more insight and help you interpret what you're seeing.

Posted by
10344 posts

One problem with trying to view the Mona Lisa, in maybe the last ten years, is that--even after The Louvre moved it to its own room--the crowds in front of the painting were huge, so it was not possible to view it up close, unless you went to the museum just prior to closing time.

Posted by
7697 posts

At this point, I don’t think the Mona Lisa can strike a passion in many people: lighting, glass covering, darkened glaze, distance and lack of time to contemplate. One of the striking qualities of Leonardo’s paintings is the layering of color—got that from a video exploration of Mona Lisa. I’m not that smart. But to have your breath taken away by DaVinci, when it reopens, go to the National Gallery in DC to see the Portrait of Ginevra de’Benci.

https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/ginevra-de-benci/9QEdQ-BD4WEqPQ?hl=en&ms=%7B%22x%22%3A0.5019527334952485%2C%22y%22%3A0.5%2C%22z%22%3A8.670745537793499%2C%22size%22%3A%7B%22width%22%3A0.996094533009503%2C%22height%22%3A1.2375184993951678%7D%7D

By the way, the first time I saw Mona Lisa in 1974, I was already attuned to art, she was alone on the wall with no one around, but I didn’t have an ah-ha moment even under those conditions.

Posted by
2837 posts

I wouldn't waste my time, although the crowds may be less for awhile. Honestly, I prefer da Vinci's Ginevra de' Benci in the National Gallery in Washington DC. You can usually walk right up to it and you can also see the back of the painting. However, I would like to go to the Louvre again and see the Stele with the Code of Hammarabi.

EDITED: If I had died without ever seeing the Mona Lisa, I wouldn't feel I had missed anything. Honestly, it's not the Sistine or Brunnelleschi's Dome or the St. Peter's Pieta or Chartres.

Also in reading these posts, I think we need to give a shoutout to college art appreciation instructors and docents who lead museum tours-it seems that they have made quite a difference in many of our lives.

Posted by
6752 posts

Da Vinci’s “Lady with an Ermine” is in Krakow, Poland and is considered to be superior to Mona Lisa. We were the only ones looking at this painting when we were there.

Posted by
1013 posts

I think the Mona Lisa is one of those things that you just have to check off the list. Like going on top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris-(The Arc de Triumph has better views). But it is interesting on it's own and I'm sorry that more people don't get to see it like my mom and I did, right after opening with only 2 other people in room. It was amazing even with the glass.

I also think art is subjective. I thought Guernica was an amazing, emotional painting, yet my friend was bored and thought it lacked color(didn't read up on the painting beforehand).

Posted by
5078 posts

Oh, now I get it. This question is about the painting, not trying to “see” the Nat King Cole song.

I guess someone should see the painting, because it’s hard to hear it. 😊

Posted by
1683 posts

I agree with Agnes that you need a docent to get you educated so you can appreciate the art.

Without understanding and context you're no better than a primate contemplating the universe.

Posted by
192 posts

I’m an art historian (although not a Renaissance specialist) and I agree that while the Mona Lisa is a great painting by a great artist, it’s not his best painting. The Virgin and Child with St. Anne, also at the Louvre, is a more art historically significant painting. I even teach a class in which one discussion focuses on the Mona Lisa and our collective obsession with it. I do think there are some significant art historical points to observe about it (and the comparison to the relatively recently conserved and re-evaluated copy at the Prado is fascinating), but ultimately it is famous for being famous.

Nonetheless, on my first trip to the Louvre I had to see it because how can you not? I did feel like I should be able to flash my business card and get a closer look as an art historian because you can’t really do the kind of concentrated looking it deserves, and I am trained to do, with all the crowds.

In a related note, I recommend Beyoncé and Jay Z’s Apesh*t video filmed at the Louvre. Their access makes me jealous, but the video also raises great questions about representation in art history that has led to good discussions with my students. The couple has famously visited the Louvre in the past.

Posted by
3833 posts

The first time I was at the Louvre was during an independent vacation with my husband. We had not studied art or prepared specifically ahead of time for this art museum. We both thoroughly enjoyed the art, and we both felt like seeing the Mona Lisa in person was so much better than a photo or print of it. The smile, etc. affected us more in person.

The next year I returned to Paris with the RS Paris tour, and having the guide with our group in the Louvre was a wonderful experience. But, I can’t say that I enjoyed that experience more than the day the previous year when we were there for several hours.

Since that time, I have spent a lot of time in art museums in Europe. Some paintings like Guernica, I have researched ahead of time. Others I browse and just stop at those “that speak to me”, easily spending hours. To me art is similar to classical music. I can thoroughly enjoy both the music I have thoroughly studied and performed as well as a fresh piece that touches my emotions. That’s to say, Allen, to enjoy what appeals to you - not necessarily what is popular. You might find that you enjoy art that was more functional, for instance.

Posted by
208 posts

The more you know about a piece of art, the more you know about the artist, the techniques he or she used in creating it, its intended purpose, its message, how people have received it, its history, its relationship to history, and (in my opinion most importantly) its relationship to and its place in the progression of the development of art, the more you will enjoy seeing the art.

That's true of most things. The more educated you are about something, the more you appreciate specific examples of it.

How to get educated? That's a tougher question. I studied history in college, and as part of that took an art history survey course. And, I travel with a partner who studied art in particular, and who is very happy to regale me with her knowledge of a particular painting or a particular artist as we are standing there looking at it. Generally, I find what she has to say quite interesting. It was a joy to accompany her through the Uffizi, for example.

I would recommend reading up at least a bit on any famous piece of art you are going to see before you go to see it.

Posted by
1657 posts

If you're not inclined towards Art History for whatever reason, there is another trend in art appreciation called Artistic Literacy that may appeal to you:

https://artistic-literacy.institute/community

I'm of the school that says that if you're not enjoying Art History then you're not doing it right,
but Artistic Literacy has a lot going for it and it's easier to get into the rhythm.

(I'm also thinking of the old saying about backgammon, that you can learn to play it in minutes but mastering it takes a lifetime.)

Posted by
11450 posts

Over many years I’ve seen it many times ( as every time I go to Louvre with different friend or child etc they all want to tick it off their “ I saw it box “ .
I only took one year of art history at college , so I’m no expert , but my step mother is a college art history professor - and we have both come to same general conclusion - for us both , personally, it’s “ meh “ .
I would strongly encourage anyone to go to the Louvre whether or not the Mona Lisa was there or not , as I think there are many other far more interesting and intriguing pieces there .

Posted by
56 posts

I think most people see it to check it off in their box of things they saw while in Paris. I found the painting to be not only small but, dark. The illusion of her eyes following you was the only marvel for me.

I enjoyed the Orsay museum so much more than the Louvre. Seeing the works of my favorite painter Renoir was such a treat. In Boston where I live we have one of his most famous paintings at the MFA "Dance at Bougival," but seeing so many others all together was just a great experience. For me that was a "not to be missed experience." If we didnt have the extra time to go to the Louvre and see the Mona Lisa I wouldnt have cared.

Posted by
4944 posts

I think this may be a little like the question, "Must I see Mont St. Michel at night, without the crowds?" Seeing MSM at any time is great. Seeing it without a crowd is even nicer. But is it essential to your life? On that score, my answer is, no. But I've been to dozens of medieval towns, all less-crowded than MSM.

The Louvre has lots to see, and you MIGHT have a transcendent experience looking at something without waiting to get into that awful gallery. Plenty of scholars consider "The Holy Family With St. Anne" to be a better painting, and you can get to within two feet of it. I happen to love "The Ray" by Chardin, but my wife hates the long trek to find it every time we're at the Louvre. Even in the most crowded galleries, "The Raft of the Medusa" and "Liberty Leading the People" deliver a lot of bang for your time and elbow room.

In response to your OP question, I will acknowledge that it is not possible to have a transcendent experience with the current physical situation (pre-Covid) at the Mona Lisa.

We saw "Lady with an Ermine" last year, and I didn't think it was as good as "The Mona Lisa." But I first saw the latter in 1987, when things were less crowded. "Lady with an Ermine" is on its way to having a line, glass, and restricted viewing!

Posted by
1911 posts

I did feel like I should be able to flash my business card and get a
closer look as an art historian because you can’t really do the kind
of concentrated looking it deserves, and I am trained to do, with all
the crowds.

HK, can you expand on this. How are you trained to look at it?

Mona Lisa has an American cousin: Ginevra de Benci at the National Art Gallery in DC. I think it's just as impressive without any hassle getting to it. Two-sided picture.

Posted by
11450 posts

HK my stepmother has been given private access ( after hours ) to many sights , including at Louvre , Notre dame (before of course ) Etc with her credentials - it does require more than flashing a card - she applies for such access many months in advance with her request and qualifications, she actually has her doctorate and gives talks/ lectures also ( she is fluent in Italian and French which helps ) . So it is possible to gain private access , but “ flashing a card “ isn’t enough for sure .

Posted by
1911 posts

I feel like even more of a hick when I don' t "get" some artwork. With
modern art I sometimes wonder if my dog could do a better job.

Many years ago, as a fundraiser, the Calgary Zoo would auction off paintings done by one of its elephants. The program got so popular that bids were coming in from around the world. https://illustratedlife.blogspot.com/2009/03/elephant-art.html

I'm no art critic, but which would you enjoy more on your wall, the elephant's painting or Voice of Fire, which is valued at $40,000,000 and hangs at the National Gallery of Canada? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voice_of_Fire

Posted by
192 posts

Pat, I’m afraid I was a little flip with the “flash my business card” comment. Of course I’m familiar with gaining access to works of art for close study with a scholarly purpose (as I have done in my own area of expertise). I was just making a joke about being a tourist.

Allan, it’s hard to expand meaningfully on my comment about looking in a short forum post. But I will say that when I am really interested in trying to understand how an artist made a painting, I want to observe it obliquely from the side. That view across the canvas can reveal details that aren’t clear from a head-on view behind glass. There’s no way to get that view of the Mona Lisa as it was arranged when I was last at the Louvre.

Posted by
3789 posts

Back in the early 1970's Kenneth Clark did a BBC series called Civilization. When in high school, we got the films and it was presented as a credit course. It was my introduction to art history. It was touted as 'history through art' and I couldn't get enough of it. It didn't talk about how the paint was made or what we 'should' be appreciating in the painting itself, but while appreciating the fine piece of art, it discussed the current political, religious and social scenes of the time. I can't tell you exact dates, but I remember what was happening during certain centuries and how it affected the art of the time. It also covered architecture, so when in Segovia in 2017, I cried when I saw the aqueduct. It had been of interest since 1975 and here I could finally see it in person. The work and to my mind, the beauty of it was impactful.
That series certainly made what I see on my travels more relevant.
They did a Civilization 2 in the past few years and I think it ran on PBS in the past Fall.
I visited Mona L one August Friday evening in 2013 and I must have been lucky as there were only 3 other people in the entire room. I could get to the barricade, but it still felt too far away to get any detail from the somewhat small painting. I wish I had brought binoculars. I am coming to appreciate virtual visits where details can be better seen and things like Faberge eggs on film show how they actually work.

Posted by
1911 posts

It didn't talk about how the paint was made or what we 'should' be
appreciating in the painting itself, but while appreciating the fine
piece of art, it discussed the current political, religious and social
scenes of the time.

The more I dig into Renaissance art, the more I know my place in the art world isn't in the actual work, but in the history behind it. It's interesting the differences in answers on this post as compared to the same question when I asked about David. Very few on this post were that impressed with Mona, but answers about David were passionate about its brilliance and yet it can be argued these are the two most famous pieces of art in the world.

Posted by
2317 posts

I did feel like I should be able to flash my business card and get a closer look as an art historian because you can’t really do the kind of concentrated looking it deserves, and I am trained to do, with all the crowds.

Oh please. That probably wouldn't even fly at a Junior League meeting.

Posted by
102 posts

FWIW: When you experience a painting, photograph, sculpture, building, music, movie, book, etc., you are experiencing a bit of the world thru the creator(s) mind's eye. You are experiencing their life, skill, influences, and their times and history. You may not like what you are experiencing (that is sometimes the creator's intent!). But whether you are confronting a masterpiece or the prosaic, you should appreciate the opportunity to 'see' that bit of a different world, and if appropriate, let it expand your world. After all, isn't that why we travel?

Posted by
1911 posts

Larry42, I like your answer. I think back on family vacations and we'd compare photos and I'd be so intrigued when several of us would take a photo of the same thing but every photo was different. It makes me wonder if several artists would have worked side by side in front of Mona Lisa, what would the other paintings have looked like? Or what if one of those other painters was her 5 year old daughter (I have no idea if she had kids) and painted her using finger paints. Which interpretation would she cherish more?

Posted by
10344 posts

@ Barbara: Aren't those Marmottan Monets something!

Posted by
4770 posts

To really see a painting I think it helps to describe it to yourself -- a woman with slightly curly dark hair, wearing a dark brown shawl over a lighter brown dress, no jewelry, smiling enigmatically at the viewer, sitting in a chair in front of a stone railing, beyond which is a distant landscape with roads, water, mountains, etc. etc. I literally talk (silently) to myself, describing everything I notice. I think about who is she, why does she smile, where is she and what's behind her, etc. If I can get close enough (impossible for Mona) I pay attention to the brushstrokes and how colors are laid on the surface. I try to imagine the artist working on it. The more I know in advance about it the more I'm likely to notice in the work -- for example, the absence of jewelry suggests that she's not a rich or noblewoman, the absence of any religious imagery suggests she's not a Madonna, but the work reminds us of both kinds of images.

Last year I went to the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, which has a roomful of his paintings based on Velasquez' Las Meninas, done hundreds of years earlier. Part of the exhibit is a reproduction of the Velasquez and the various Picasso studies, with lines connecting their portayals of the same people. I'd never seen the Velasquez but I was fascinated by how Picasso interpreted the people in it, often in several different smaller paintings. Two weeks later I spent awhile in front of the original Meninas in Madrid and thought about the Picasso. The guide told us to step slowly back from the Velasquez, keeping our eyes on it, and we could see the figures "move" in relation to us and each other.

There can be a lot of interest and meaning in art if one is interested and takes time with it. The history is also important -- knowing who these people were, subjects and artists. I'm interested in history and art helps enliven history. But to each his own. And crowding like at Mona or the Vatican Museum pretty well kills the buzz.

Posted by
4770 posts

Then Mike you'll want to focus on Rubens and Bernini and such, all those Greek and Roman deities sporting about the landscape au naturel. Same principles apply, spend lots of time looking and mentally describing what you're seeing. ;-)

Posted by
1013 posts

I also think that like beauty, art is in the eye of the beholder. I have gone to many Modern Art museums and to be honest, I don't get it. I've used the audio tours to learn more about the work and most of the time I think- I could do that.

No one should feel bad about not liking or not wanting to see a museum. I will say that Las Meninas, for me, is much more fascinating than the Mona Lisa, simply because as you look at it closer, what you think you see(Velazquez painting the princess Margaret is not necessarily the case. Who is he really painting, us or the people in the foreground?

Posted by
1911 posts

This is one of the better articles I've read since I posted the question. https://www.britannica.com/story/why-is-the-mona-lisa-so-famous
I didn't know that at the time the portrait was revolutionary because it was painted at 3/4 pose. This method was then copied by others. For that reason alone it's not just another painting. It may not be his best work, but it blazed a trail for others to follow.

Posted by
4770 posts

Nice Britannica article, thanks Allan for posting. A little TMI about Leonardo for me though.

When she came to the US in 1963, I remember reading about someone's reaction that "she's no bigger than a TV set!"

Posted by
5688 posts

"No bigger than a TV set"-- and that was back when a 21" diagonal was a BIG screen.

Posted by
5 posts

In preparation for when I get a chance to return to Europe and start viewing the art there again, I have been signing up for the free Road Scholar lectures. I've already participated in Medici Family--Part 1 and Part 2; Pablo Picasso---Part 1 and Part 2. If you view it live, you can type in questions. There is a Q & A at the end. If you miss it live, you can view it later. They are recorded and can be found on YouTube. They are led by researchers and historians.

I really have been enjoying them and feel that I will have a better appreciation and understanding when I see things in the future. I have also enjoyed Rick's recent blogging about art work he has enjoyed.

Posted by
5078 posts

Allan, interesting to have the 3/4 pose mentioned. Not that they were in the same sphere of existence, but compared to Mona, England's Henry VIII portraits were full-on, straight-ahead, confrontational, like a bully you’d better not mess with. Maybe like an intimidating hockey goalie for you Canadians.

But with the 3/4 approach with Mona, Leonardo was anticipating the angle that so many now achieve with their smartphone selfies, maybe not now because of an intended composition, but just what happens when the photographer stretches out their arm, and tries to fit themselves (and any companions) into the image.

Posted by
11798 posts

Best rule for avoiding crowds? Show up before places open,

I figure I can spend 30 minutes waiting at the front of a line, an hour if I show up at opening time or two hours if I wait until mid-morning to arrive. The best part is the 30 minutes in line is when nothing else is open anyway; the only opportunity cost is sleeping in.

This has been true many times. Maybe the most memorable was the Louvre. I got up early to visit the Louvre (Sep. 2017). Walked from my hostel in the Marais. I planned to be early but the ten minute walk made me even earlier than planned. I was probably 45 minutes before opening and there was no line for people with museum passes. I had no bag so security just waived me through.

I had fully planned to skip the Mona Lisa and attending crowds. Since I was clearly the only guest in the place, however, I decided to go straight to see her. While I was walking, a Canadian couple (who were first in the line for people with pre-purchased tickets but had a bag for security to clear) caught up with me. We had the room to ourselves for five, maybe ten, minutes before people started trickling in. They took my photo alone with Mona Lisa and I took theirs.

Posted by
62 posts

My closest friend and I often travel together. I am an art historian and she is a biologist with little interest in visual art. For a long time I found her disinterest to be frustrating; it felt like a willful rejection of beauty- how could she wax poetic about a mallard's feathers but shrug at Vermeer? Only after a lengthy explanation of a work's social and political context would she concede to a work being interesting.

Now I visit museums alone while she occupies herself in other ways- this arrangement works well for us.

Travel time is too precious to spend on an activity you have little interest in.

In response to your other thread re: real vs imitation David, I suggest you read Walter Benjamin's essay Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, taking special note of his concept of the "aura of authenticity". It might help you to understand why an art lover would travel across the world to stand in front of an artwork they could more easily see in reproduction.

Posted by
1911 posts

Rebekah; on your suggestion I read a summary this morning on Walter Benjamin's essay and while it did clue me in on what art means to you, and I can say I'm more on the side with how your friend views art. I can honestly say I have yet to see a piece of art that has dropped my jaw.

You're correct, travel time is too precious to spend on an activity I have little interest in, but it won't stop me from visiting some of the world's masterpieces, it just has to be on my terms and in a way that I find it interesting. In the meantime, I'm continuing to research, probe and asking questions on the forum. To understand what makes you tick has been valuable, thanks for the reference to the essay.

Posted by
246 posts

Why see Mona? We had the Paris museum pass so it was paid for and my sister wanted to see it. We waded through the crowds to the front, exited and went down the long crowded corridor to get out. I can say I saw her. Now the real David was spectacular. The aura was moving like the previous poster said. The other 2 David’s in Florence and one in my home town at John Ringling Museum (it is a good collection of Renaissance art and more- worth visiting if you are inSarasota,Florida) life size copies without that aura.
It makes sense to split up occasionally when traveling to see sites or sit and watch the world go by on your own terms.

Posted by
62 posts

Allan, I am so glad to hear that you will continue to visit museums. It is admirable to endeavour in field that you believe has value, despite it not coming naturally. Even if you never have a eureka moment, I hope you find some pleasure in the pursuit.

If it's any encouragement, my decidedly non-artsy friend found herself absolutely entranced by the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch. Perhaps all it takes is a few acid-soaked phantasmagoric dreamscapes!

Posted by
1911 posts

Even if you never have a eureka moment, I hope you find some pleasure
in the pursuit.

My pursuit has been fun. I've had multiple eureka moments based on the answers to my questions on this topic and other art posts I've been starting. But last week I had a more significant eureka moment. I started watching a couple of British shows-Landscape Artist of the Year and Portrait Artist of the Year. Both were contests that included professional and amateur artists. Each week they were given a subject to paint and every episode a few artists were eliminated and some moved on to the next round. The judges were conforming to my stereotype of a typical art lover and were judging on things like brushstrokes, layers of paint and other such techniques. I thought that the painting that won on one of the episodes was the absolute worst of the group, but the judges loved his technique. It made me realize that I haven't been appreciating art because I was thinking I had to fit that stereotype instead of appreciating it for my own personal reasons.

Posted by
3306 posts

Have been to Paris 3 times and have yet to step into the Louvre. I don’t feel I’m missing much since I’m not generally a museum person. I do like Spanish artists and have been to the Prado twice, and each the Picasso and Dali museums once. I like Diego Velazquez’s Las Meninas and liked to compare it with Picasso’s interpretations. I could care less if I ever saw the Mina Lisa. To me it’s one of those paintings people see just to say they saw it.

Posted by
12400 posts

It's a classic, plain and simple. I know next to nothing about art but seeing the Mona Lisa, that one and only time was well worth it. That was in 1989.

Posted by
21 posts

What is art?

From Wikipedia:
"Art is something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings. : works created by artists : paintings, sculptures, etc., that are created to be beautiful or to express important ideas or feelings. "

I asked my wife the same question. She is an artist (now as a hobby) but she is an Architect by profession. We are now both retired.
The narrative above is what she told me. I’m not an art critic or in a position or qualified -- in giving a meaningful assessment of a particular attribute of a piece of art.

She can spend hours going from one work of art to another master's piece . . . and it seems she could never get enough.

We’ve been to famous art museums all over the world: Spain. Italy, Amsterdam (Nertherland), Germany and Paris et al.
When my daughter saw impressionists' paintings from Picasso, Dali and Van Gogh.. . .she would not bother taking a second look-- compared to paintings of Michelangelo.
Of course she was only twelve at the time.

I agree, it is not about how well a painting, sculpture, mosaics or a piece of tapestry is made and the details and history involved behind the piece of art.

For an analogy:
A dictionary is of no use-- and that will not capture interest of an illiterate person.

Posted by
1657 posts

Allan, I should have been clearer in my earlier comment above about the 'artistic literacy' trend in arts appreciation/education that it is geared specifically for what you are talking about: finding out what an artwork means for you rather than trying to make you conform to someone else's sense of taste or to insist that you learn an awful lot of background about technique and predecessors and theories and so on.

I'm glad to see that you haven't been turned away from enjoying artwork on your own terms, and suggest that you consider some of the resources listed here for further consideration:
https://artistic-literacy.institute/resources

Posted by
109 posts

My wife REALLY wanted to see the Mona Lisa. I was hesitant simply because of the expected crowds. We followed Rick's advice (in his guidebook) though, and went the evening the Louvre was open. We walked right up to it. And then had plenty of time to actually take it in. I'm glad we saw it -- and I thank Rick Steves's advice for the opportunity.

Posted by
1132 posts

My unexpected surprise at seeing the Mona Lisa was discovering my now favorite painting which is directly across from her "Wedding at Cana". Would have never seen this where it not for Mona. The thing is Huge, so much going on.

Posted by
664 posts

I like art museums. If I go to Paris, I will visit the Louvre. If seeing it is not excessively difficult, I will view the Mona Lias for no more than 30 seconds max. There are so many objects and paintings on public display in the world's art museums. There is not time to extensively gaze at everything. It is best to develop specific narrow preferences of which kinds of artwork you like, so you can be time efficient by just skipping what you don't care so much about. So far I think I prefer landscapes and old Dutch paintings from about the 1600's. I do not have a rational or known reason for liking what I think I like. I am allowing for the possibility of liking other works. My interest in the Mona Lisa quite low. I know perfectly well I would see it just to say I saw it, only because it is so well known. I know perfectly well that my position is irrational. I do not know why I am totally not bothered that me seeing the Mona Lisa would be a waste of time according to rational reasoning. I guess no useful or rational conclusions can be drawn from my remarks or observations. But you can try to make a conclusion anyway.

Posted by
5078 posts

You might as well see the painting, because you can’t hear it. And the museum would have a problem if you tried to touch, smell or taste it.

Posted by
2230 posts

Would have never seen this where it not for Mona.

You should really call it Mona Lisa or Mrs. Lisa, or Monna. Unfortunately in modern Italian Mona doesn't mean Madam anymore. It means what Gustave Courbet nicknamed "L'origine du monde".

I agree There are a lot of things many men would have never done, seen or imagined if it wasn't for Mona.