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Stealing the Mona Lisa
ISBN 0571212638 / 9780571212637 / 0-571-21263-8
Publisher Darian Leader
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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, and 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 as so 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 of art. 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 [via]