Stealing the Mona Lisa: What Art Stops Us From Seeing

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9781593760397: Stealing the Mona Lisa: What Art Stops Us From Seeing
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When the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre in 1911, it was twenty-four hours before anyone knew it was missing. Afterward, thousands of people flocked to see the empty space where it had once hung, many of them having never seen the painting in the first place. In Stealing the Mona Lisa, Darien Leader takes the intriguing story of the theft of the Mona Lisa and the public’s reaction to it as a starting point to explore the psychology of looking at visual art.

What do we hope to see in paintings, and what do they hide from us? Why should some artists feel compelled to live lives that are more colorful than their works? And why did the police bungle their long investigation into the theft of Leonardo’s masterpiece? Leader combines anecdote, observation, and analysis with examples taken from classical and contemporary art to create a surprising and fearless interrogation of what we see in art.

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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 founding member of the Center for Freudian Analysis and Research in London.

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9780571212637: Stealing the Mona Lisa

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ISBN 10:  0571212638 ISBN 13:  9780571212637
Publisher: Darian Leader, 2002
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9781582432359: Stealing the Mona Lisa: What Art Stops Us from Seeing

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