BA Honors Creative Arts
Part 3 – Visual Communications
Mona Lisa c 1503-6 L.H.O.O.Q. Portrait of Mona Lisa
Vinci, Leonarde da with beard and moustache – copy
1452-1519 painting by Duchamp, Marcel –
(Bridgeman Images) 1887 – 1968 (Bridgeman Images)
Was it just a humorous prank or a calculating move by an artist to gain further recognition, specifically at the start of the new Dada movement of 1913?
The Mona Lisa is considered to be both the most famous painting in the history of art and is priceless. It is displayed on a wall in a room of its own at the Louvre Gallery in Paris, France and is owned by the French Government. The portrait was painted by the famous Italian artist, Leonard de Vinci, in Florence Italy, around 1503. According to The Louvre Gallery ‘It is thought to be of Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a Florentine cloth merchant named Francesco del Giocondo’. The smiling, beautiful and serene face gives the impression of how an ideal woman would have looked at that time. It must therefore have come as a surprise for many people that another artist would attempt to destroy the look of this iconic masterpiece. The original painting was copied and made into a postcard and was then drawn upon by Michael Duchamp. He drew a man’s moustache and goatee beard on to the woman’s face. Duchamp was known for his humour, however he was generally known for being a key figure in the start of the Dada art movement of 1913. The question is what was the real reason for his crude additions to the Mona Lisa painting? The following essay will attempt to identify Duchamp’s actions.
Dadaism was an art movement started by a group of artists at the beginning of the First World War. They wanted to change the way art was viewed, make it more visible to the eye. ‘Their aim was to destroy traditional values in art and to create a new art to replace the old’ Tate Gallery (2019). Duchamp was very influential in the Dada movement and according to the Tate Gallery ‘ Duchamp’s questioning of the fundamentals of Western art had a profound subsequent influence’. The paintings of this group of artists were mostly political and anti-war, but also they rejected the normal art of the western world. They did this by creating art that was ‘often satirical and nonsensical in nature’. Tate Gallery
The original Mona Lisa painting depicts a vision of happiness; the sitter is smiling and portrays a calmness along with a scenic background of a mountainous view with a winding road and bridge. The main focus of the dreamy scenery was painted to be in line with her chest. This was considered an important aspect of the painting as it is meant to draw a man’s eye to this level ‘men live in this space’ according to Cecie Scaillierez. The question here is why did Duchamp want to destroy this perfect picture of an ‘enigmatic’ lady as she has been described? Was he actually a cruel bully? Notably because the lady in question is said to have been in mourning due to the death of a daughter in 1499. ’The delicate dark veil that covers the Mona Lisa’s hair is sometimes considered a mourning veil’ Cecie Scaillierez (2019). If this were the case it would have been very disrespectful of Duchamp to have blatantly disfigured this lady’s face in light of those facts.
Another theory is that he wanted to get back at de Vinci for some reason, perhaps something happened for Duchamp to want to make fun of his painting and it was personal to the painter rather than the lady in the picture. Further research reveals Duchamp had a pseudonym, Rros Selavy and was more likely to be making fun of his own sexuality by reversing the attractive woman into a man by predominantly adding the moustache and beard. He also added the letters ‘L.H.O.O.Q.’ and according to Renee Philips (2019) ‘The name of the piece is a pun; the letters pronounced in French sound like “Elle a chaud au cul”… translation: “She is hot in the arse”. Was Duchamp a man wanting to be a woman, or was he gay? Whatever his reasons, by rebelling against the original painting he was confirming his role in the Dada movement by challenging the respectability of de Vinci’s sitter and rejecting the very idea of a traditional painting showing a picture of a beautiful woman and romantic scenery.
To determine Duchamp’s intent to deface the Mona Lisa, it is worth investigating further into his life and the paintings he was actually famous for. He was born in Normandy in 1887 and died in 1968. His earlier paintings were influenced by Matisse and Fauvism and his most famous painting was that of his ‘Nude Descending a Staircase No.2 1912 – (Philadelphia Museum of Art). This created a sensation at the 1913 New York Armory Show.’ Tate Gallery (2019). However, after this he stopped doing so much painting and started to focus on ‘ready mades’. These were ordinary objects that he would change in some way. His most famous object being a urinal ‘Fountain’ that he signed with ‘R Mutt’, another use of a pseudonym. This item was submitted to an exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in New York in 1917. It caused controversy in that it was seen as an attack on traditional and conventional art. Duchamp became influential in developing the ideas in conceptual art and began to reject ‘many of his fellow artists (such as Henri Matisse) as ‘retinal’ art, was intended only to please the eye. Instead, Duchamp wanted to use art to serve the mind’ Wikipedia entry, Tate Gallery (2019).
It would appear that Duchamp had created several different styles that challenged traditional forms of art. His sense of humour was perhaps not for everyone, however, by adding the moustache and goatee beard to the Mona Lisa, along with the letters L.H.O.O.Q., he was in fact making fun of himself and perhaps also that of the painter de Vinci. His intention was perhaps not to make fun of the sitter Isabella d’Este La Joconde, but more about himself and that of the reversal of the traditional female role into a male one. It seems Duchamp was able to turn his humour into art merely by defacing a famous painting and using words that gave a new meaning to the original smiling, beautiful and serene woman. In theory it really was an ingenious way of gaining recognition in the new and changing art world of Dadaism and being influential in the later styles of conceptual art and avant-garde.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mona_Lisa accessed January 20, 2019
https://www.leonardodavinci.net/the-mona-lisa.jsp accessed January 20, 2019
https://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/mona-lisa-portrait-lisa-gherardini-wife-francesco-del-giocondo accessed January 20, 2019
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L.H.O.O.Q. accessed January 20, 2019
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dada accessed January 20, 2019
https://www.nortonsimon.org/art/detail/P.1969.094 Accessed January 20, 2019
accessed January 20, 2019
Dada movement – Tate Gallery
accessed January 20, 2019
accessed January 21, 2019
Guardian Article on Jan van Eyck painting – Arnolfini
National Gallery UK – Arnolfini
REFLECTION ON PART THREE – VISUAL COMMUNICATIONS
Visual Communications was very challenging, exciting and completely surprising. I was not sure what was going to be involved when I started this part of the course two months ago. What I have come to realise with the OCA style of learning is that I find it extremely motivating and very clever in the way it teaches you to research and find out things you would never have thought of before. This style of learning has been constant in all three parts of the course, including Contemporary Art and Creative Reading.
Visual Communications has opened up fresh new ideas in the world of advertising and ways of promoting your own work. I particularly enjoyed project 2 on photomontage and learning about the different artists, the way they tried to get their messages across by using photos that were cut up or adding photos to famous paintings, these artists were particularly influential in the Dada Art Movement, and it was something I really enjoyed learning about. I attempted my own photomontage called ‘No means No’. I focused on a recent court case where a young girl involved in a rape case had her underwear used as an exhibit by the defense, insinuating that because of her underwear she was enticing rape. I used words and pictures to show my infuriation and to create a message that no young person should go through that they have the right to say no, no matter what they are wearing. My collage can be found on my OCA blog.
Another project I enjoyed was researching famous posters that were used to send a message out like recruitment for the army or navy. I learned how to describe these posters using the denotation and connotation method. Explaining what the actual description is and what the actual meaning is coming across. It was very thought provoking and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
It is quite difficult to single out a favorite project as I really did find each one an eye-opener. I found the comic strip project exceptionally moving as through my research I came across a group of comic strips called Charlie’s War, they were full of such emotion and I spent the day describing them to everyone I spoke to that day. Such a powerful message in just a few small, black and white drawings and strong, meaningful words. This project was very relevant to Time and Place as we were asked to chose something that incorporated these factors. I felt I had chosen well as the comic strip was of The Battle of the Somme (Place) and during The First World War (Time).
The final exercise was to find new and innovating websites that were of interest to me personally; I chose to investigate those on writing and photography. It was a really interesting task as I came across several that I now can’t wait to investigate further as they really did provide lots of exciting and informative new ways of learning and submitting your work.
I enjoyed Visual Communications very much, however I won’t be pursuing it further as my passion still lies with Writing and Photography, although Contemporary Art was very unexpected and one still to consider.
Jeanjeannie OCA BLOG