Mona Lisa in a Selfie World: Rebooting Our Appreciation for Washington Irving, Leonardo DaVinci, the Arts

mona lisa with face mask

Photo by cottonbro on

President of the Washington Irving Society

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

This morning, I’m thinking about places I traveled in 2019 and into 2020 before we were grounded: Paris, Boston, New York, Chicago, and Houston. I even made my annual Texas trips to Galveston and Palo Duro Canyon. And I’m thankful for getting away when I did.

One thing that struck me at the Louvre was how visiting the Mona Lisa has changed. I’ve visited previously, even rushed groups of students through the exhibits, but the last time I went, we took digital cameras. The iphone had not yet arrived.

What saddened me in May 2019 was the whole Mona Lisa experience. The museum was packed, but the Louvre is always packed during high season. I kept telling people in my tour group that Mona Lisa would be worth the wait:

“She’s worth all the fuss,” I told them. “Her eyes still follow you behind the bullet-proof glass.”

But after seeing the Mona Lisa spectacle, I had to apologize to my friends for leading them astray. They were disappointed, and so was I.

People were not mesmerized by Mona Lisa’s eyes. Instead, they were fixated on getting the perfect selfie. Their backs were to her. I was shocked. Shocked, I say!

Mona Lisa was different. The lighting was bad, and I couldn’t get near her. I couldn’t stand and stare and see if her eyes would follow me. A sea of selfie crazies blocked my entire view of the painting.

I didn’t take a Mona Lisa selfie. In fact, I didn’t take any pictures of the scene. I didn’t want to remember it, but this experience has stayed with me. All I can see in my mind’s eye are the hundreds of self-absorbed people in front of me.

Months after the Paris trip, when I visited Washington Irving’s Sunnyside home in October, I was happy that we were told “no pictures” inside the house. Visitors focused on what we saw, rather than on getting perfect selfies. And maybe, since the Louvre is under construction and times are different, some adjustments might be made as to how the art is viewed.

I want a line for the Mona Lisa–like lines we now have at grocery stores. I want everybody spaced at least six feet apart. I want only a certain amount of people allowed to enter her space. I want early morning hours, perhaps for those who don’t need selfies. Maybe I’m asking too much.

Yes, I’m guilty of taking selfies, too. We all are. (Well, everybody except my parents and a handful of others who still have flip phones.) I’ve even taken selfies in front of other art work, even though I didn’t throw in the towel at the Mona Lisa. The world has changed. We can’t go back to “the good ‘ole days” before iphones.

But I do hope we figure out a few things while we’re home alone. As people talk about how we’ll never take classrooms and restaurants and gyms and churches and birthday parties and shopping malls and friends and family and more for granted, I hope we also reconsider our ways with the arts.

May we reboot our appreciation for what’s important, including our favorite paintings such as the Mona Lisa and our favorite writers such as Washington Irving. The cliché can still happen: we can have clearer vision in 2020 if we’ll refocus our attention.

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Until next week, stay healthy! And please feel free to add to the conversation wherever you like: Twitter, Facebook, on this page. Comments are very much welcomed. If you need a reply, please message me at I try to respond to all Washington Irving Society-related email on Wednesdays, and I also update the WIS page on Washington Irving Wednesdays.

07-24-18 Cell Phone 521

Here I am at The Modern art museum in Fort Worth, Texas, getting my selfie with some Takashi Murakami art work. –Photo by Tracy Hoffman

Published in: on April 8, 2020 at 3:08 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Tracy, I agree with you about the photo restrictions helping to expand the experience. And you are right, we should all look at things differently in the future. Hope that some of your readers will check out the Irving Heritage Society FB page for weekday daily Irving Trivia throughout April as we Celebrate Irving: The City and The Man.


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