The Mona Lisa curriculum.

Andy Warhol’s 30 Are Better Than One at the current show at the Art Institute of Chicago.

In order see the great Andy Warhol retrospective now currently at the Art Institute of Chicago we had to walk through the Ken Griffin Atrium of the Modern Wing to the galleries designated for special exhibits.

Above the entrance to the exhibit we saw the sign that the Andy Warhol show was sponsored by Ken Griffin.

In case that name is unfamiliar to you, Griffin is a Chicago billionaire – the richest man in Illinois –  a hedge funder who just recently bought another house in New York for more than 250 million dollars.

250 million bucks for a house.

In Griffin’s home town we are trying to get nurses in our schools and Ken Griffin just bought one house that could pay for that.

But enough about Ken Griffin.


One more thing. They are going to change the name of Chicago’s venerable Museum of Science and Industry after him.

He’s becoming the king of naming rights.

I really want to write about Andy Warhol and how he played with the image of the Mona Lisa and how I used the image of the Mona Lisa in my own teaching.

Warhol used the Mona Lisa image over and over again. The painting hanging in the current show is called 30 Are Better Than One.

He repeated the Mona Lisa image 30 times in a grid.

In this and other uses of the Mona Lisa image, Warhol was thinking (I think) about the power of an image, technology, its easy reproducibility in the modern era and commodification of art and images.

“Oil painting did to appearances what capital did to social relations. It reduced everything to the equality of objects. Everything became exchangeable because everything became a commodity,” wrote the art critic, John Berger.

Was that what I was trying to say when I made the unsupported claim to my young students that the Mona Lisa was the most reproduced image in the world?

Well, something like that.

One year I initiated a bulletin board where students could add a picture of the Mona Lisa every time they found one in a cartoon or an advertisement.

It didn’t take long before the bulletin board was covered.

In second grade we spent a lot of time drawing portraits and observing physical proportions of a face. It is natural for young children in second grade to draw faces with eyes far up on the head and they would be surprised when we actually measured their partners face with a ruler and discovered that their partners eyes were half way up – or down.

I posted a reproduction of Mona Lisa and we measured again.

My second graders would agree that Leonardo da Vinci got it right.

I convinced first graders that if you walked across the art room and stared at the portrait of the Mona Lisa, her eyes would follow them.

And they do.

Try it.

First graders love to draw her with Sharpee marker and water colors.

One year one of my first grad boys decided to add somethings that looked like breasts to his portrait of Mona.

We stepped outside and I asked him what they were.

“Boobs,” he calmly explained.

“No,” I said. “Not appropriate.”

He shrugged and went back to his seat to cover them up.


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