Fiction Darian Leader Stealing the Mona Lisa

ISBN 13: 9780571212637

Stealing the Mona Lisa

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9780571212637: Stealing the Mona Lisa

When the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre in 1911, thousands of people flocked to see where it had once been on display. Many of them had never seen the painting in the first place. What could have drawn these crowds to an empty space? And can this tell us something about why we look at art, why artists create it, and why it has to be so expensive? Taking the intriguing story of the Mona Lisa's two year disappearance as his starting point, Darian Leader explores the psychology of looking at visual art. What do paintings hide from us? Why should some artists feel compelled to lead lives that are more colourful than their works? And why did the police bungle their long investigation into the theft of Leonardo's masterpiece? Combining anecdote, observation and analysis, with examples taken from classical and contemporary art, Leader discusses such seminal figures as Leonardo, Picasso and Duchamp, as well as Bacon, Lowry and the Young British Artists. This is a book about why we look at art and what, indeed, we might be hoping to find.

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Review:

Darian Leader is one of the finest popular writers using the psychoanalytical insights of Freud and Lacan to understand the contemporary state of love, life, and letters. In Stealing the Mona Lisa he turns his attentions to art. The book is not really about the theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre in 1911. For Leader, the story of the theft provides a leitmotif for his elegant discussion of why we find art so seductive, but ultimately frustrating and perhaps disappointing. Leader begins by asking if "the story of the 'Mona Lisa's' disappearance can tell us something about art and why we look at it." He is fascinated by the fact that the painting's absence drew crowds, and asks, "might this give us a clue as to why we look at visual art? Are we looking for something that we have lost?"

This is an elegant and witty book that uses the insights of Freud and primarily Lacan to offer a range of amusing but often striking accounts of why we look at art, the importance of the gaze and the look, the significance of emptiness and incompleteness in art, and why artists create what appear to many to be incomprehensible works. Erudite and wide-ranging, Leader moves from a comparison of Leonardo's painted smile to a symbolic penis, to the artist Yinka Shonibare's observation that painting "was a way of staying out of hospital," which leads Leader to conclude that "the only people who don't sublimate are artists." Stealing the Mona Lisa doesn't always convince, but Leader's ability to explain complex theoretical ideas without oversimplification makes this a fascinating psychoanalytical version of John Berger's classic Ways of Seeing. For Leader, the point is to understand what art stops us seeing. --Jerry Brotton

About the Author:

Darian Leader is a psychoanalyst and a founder member of the Centre for Freudian Analysis and Research in London. He is the author of, among others, Why do women write more letters than they post?, Promises lovers make when it gets late, Freud's Footnotes, Stealing the Mona Lisa, Why Do People Get Ill? and The New Black.

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Darian Leader
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