Miguel Panao | Professor and Author

Finding ways to improve scientific writing and academic productivity.

Who cares about Mona Lisa?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I’m not sure if we still care about beauty through art when most of our attention aims at taking a picture to fill up a bucket list.

In a recent article for the New York Times about overtourism, Farah Nayeri observes that

“People don’t just want to see the Mona Lisa: they want the picture for social media to prove it. Many don’t look at her at all; they focus on their smartphone screens. Some even turn their backs, beam their finest Mona Lisa smile, and take a selfie, as she grins right back.”

I’d heard about this phenomenon in the excellent TED talk of Daniel Midson-Short about “Pay Attention.” Not only I sense a lack of paying attention, but also a lack of awareness of who we are, and can be, where we are, when we are, and why we’re there in the first place. I’d call it a lack of

Noofulness: a relational state of consciousness in which we are actively aware of the present, questioning new things and bringing them into context.

Why would we travel miles and miles to take a picture of a painting to fill up a bucket list of things we want to do in our lives? Such bizarre choices don’t show who we are, as much as they reveal who we’re becoming: unself-aware.

Our choices are the reason for transformation and change. They should drive us into a higher state of consciousness about who we can be.

People argue that taking a picture is a way to remember when they were there for the first time. But, honestly, I think they forget that first time because too much attention focus on a mere picture, not the moment of a transformative experience. But since the Mona Lisa is visited by so many people, little time remains to contemplate the portrait before you hear the security saying – “go, go, go!”

But even if the reason for the rush is the temporary location of the Mona Lisa for maintenance reasons, when she was in her room, was it different? This photograph shows it wasn’t.

In 1873, British critic Walter Pater wrote

“She is older than the rocks among which she sits; like the vampire, she has been dead many times, and learned the secrets of the grave.”

Only in a relational state of consciousness, actively aware of the present, could Walter say something evoking a timelessness experience of contemplating the painting in a new way and bringing the Mona Lisa into the context of his time. An example of noofulness.

How can we do this with overtourism, selfies, and short attention spans? We can’t.

Contemplation requires time fully aware of where you are, how and why. Even if you have only a fraction of time available to behold the Mona Lisa, make it count. Rely more on your physical, mental, and spiritual memory than PNG files store in your smartphone or shared in social media.

When fully focused and aware of the present, it seems time stops. It is the moment of transformation. Cherish such moments like they were your last.

About Miguel Panao

I am a Professor at the University of Coimbra in Mechanical Engineering. I am also author of books in the fields of environmental ethics and Science and Religion. From the several research projects, this site is personal and dedicated to the search for the best approaches, tools, techniques to improve scientific productivity.

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