A one-size-fits-all art metaphor

I’ve been thinking, on and off over the past year or so, about creating an all-encompassing metaphor that can be used to talk about any work of art. For it to work it has to be about something that seems to be a problem in many modern-ish works, and it must refer to something so universal that it could work for nearly any situation. I think I’ve come up with it. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the one-size-fits-all metaphor: The Mona Lisa. I recently got the chance to ask her a few questions and I’ve provided her responses in the quote feature here.

mona-lisa
Still just some pixels.

“Let’s take her out for a spin, kick the tires a little bit. Quick, throw me out a problem you have with something. Don’t be shy, just Nike it.”

“Ok, looks like a billion snobby people on the internet are clamoring to tell me just how horrible the moviegoing experience is, and how amazing movies look in HD on their 60 inch tvs. Mona, what have you got for us in this regard?”

“Well, Alex, I don’t think its right to say you’ve truly seen something until you’ve seen it the way the artist expected you to see it. Take me, for example. I’m a pretty picture in any format, on any screen, but have you seen me in person? People line up out the door just to see me. Only then can you appreciate the human work that went into my creation. Only then can you consider me from slightly to the left to see if I change. The same goes for my friends, Goya’s black paintings. I know you saw those in Spain a year or so ago, didn’t you Alex?”

“That’s right, Mona, I did. Let me tell you, they may be disconcerting when viewed via a computer screen, but in real life they have a presence. They suck the air out of the room, and they have the power to quiet any audience. They’re amazing. But how does this all relate to movies, Mona?”

“Well, Alex, what if I told you watching Godzilla at home was the same as watching it in a movie theater? Why, you’d laugh me right out of the room, wouldn’t you? There’s no home speaker system that matches IMAX sound, and nothing but the several story height of those screens can make Godzilla such an imposing presences. So yes, watch a movie at home if you must, but don’t tell me it’s the same thing. It isn’t.”

“Indeed, Mona, indeed. Let’s try another one. We’ve hardly hit one-size-fits-all with a singular example. Mona, what have you got to tell us about the subject of authorial intent?”

“Aha! Going to get a little academic on me, eh? That’s fine, I can rumble in that Bronx. Look at me. What do you see? A woman, that’s sure. I’m in a delightful setting aren’t I (more on that in a bit, I think), and my clothes seem, if not rich, at least untattered. Where am I looking? Just off to the left a bit, certainly not at you. You aren’t that interesting, sorry. But what else is there about me, what has captured hearts and minds for hundreds of years? It’s my smile, of course. And this is no orthodontic masterpiece. It’s just a little thing. You might not even notice it at first glance. But soon enough it will draw you in, and you’ll start to wonder what I’m smiling at, exactly. Was Leo my lover, and is it for him that I turn up the corners of my mouth? Or do I know a secret? What did Leo see in me to give me such a mystery? The truth is, it doesn’t really matter. He might have just been drawing me the way I looked at one particular moment. He might have been trying to cover up a nasty sore I had on one side of my mouth, or he might have known all along that he was creating a masterpiece, a work that would last for centuries on end. And he knew that the grin would captivate you, that sly fox. He wasn’t a dumb man, of course. Any of these and a million other possibilities exist, but they are almost entirely meaningless when it comes to you, dear viewer. What does my smile (and everything else about me) mean to you? That’s enough. It needn’t go further.”

“Well, that was a bit of a diatribe, Mona. You really got going there.”

“I like to talk.”

“I’ve noticed. Anyways, what’s next on the docket? Oh, let’s talk videogames and action movies.”

“What of them?”

“People like to complain about them as a corollary to the rule that people like to complain about everything, I guess, but mostly they like to complain about the dumb stories contained in the vast majority of action movies and videogames. You’ll see it with things like the Godzilla reboot or Destiny. ‘Where are the characters?’ ‘Why isn’t the story complex or good?’ Got any answers for us, Mona?”

10_1_Guardians_2_shot
Some characters in search of a story. Or at least something to shoot.

“I think I do. These questions all end up being a matter of priorities. When Leo painted me, he obviously had to spend some time on my background or else I’d be in a canvass colored void and any effect my smile might have on you would be rendered moot by the lack of context. However, he obviously didn’t spend a whole lot of time on my edges, you can see a bridge behind me and to the right, but it’s just there. There’s no mystery, nothing which really enhances the feel of the painting, other than giving it a bit of an idyllic tone. Seems like a nice place to sit a while, is all. So, do perfunctory stories play the same role in things like Godzilla or Destiny? I think so. We demand that our entertainment have stories, usually, and that’s a fine impulse. You humans are a storytelling species, and you should embrace that. But sometimes a story can just be there to get you from one cool action scene to the next, or to give you some local color as you’re shooting space-baddies back to whatever planet they came from. So, if the story in Godzilla is kinda silly, so be it, as long as there’s a giant monster battle which pulls no punches, I’m all for it. And if the shooting and looting is fun in Destiny, why does the story have to be anything more than window dressing? Would these be better works of art if they had better stories? Sure, and I would be better, maybe, if I had a more interesting background, but I’m pretty good at certain things and less good at other things. It’s all a matter of priorities.”

“Cool. I think that wraps us up for today. Maybe you’ll come back for further metaphorical philosophizing at a later date. Until then, hang in there. Get it, Mona? You’re a painting. Paintings hang on walls. It’s a pun.”

“Goodbye.”

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