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Stealing the Mona Lisa: What Art Stops Us from Seeing [Hardcover]

Darian Leader
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

8 April 2003
Art is more about what isn't than what is, as popular psychologist Darian Leader reconsiders art history in a very particular--and refreshing--way. When the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre in 1911, it was twenty-four hours before anyone noticed it was missing. Afterward, countless people flocked to see the empty space where it had once been on display. What could have drawn these crowds to stare at a blank wall? Many of them had never seen the painting in the first place. Can this tell us something about why we look at art, why artists create it, and why it has to be so expensive? Taking this story as his starting point, Darian Leader explores the psychology of looking at paintings and sculpture. He combines anecdote, observation, and analysis with examples taken from classical and contemporary art. This is a book about why we look at art, and what, indeed, we might be hoping to find.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Counterpoint; export ed edition (8 April 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 158243235X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582432359
  • Product Dimensions: 2 x 14.4 x 21.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 91,117 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

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 --This text refers to the Paperback edition.


"Darian Leader is a psychoanalyst; here, though, he heads fearlessly off into the realm of art theory, using the theft [of the Mona Lisa] as a neat springboard for reflections on why we look at art and what we see, or don't see - when we do." The Observer "Leader constructs his book like a psychoanalytic detective story: ostensibly interested in the case of her disappearance, it is the deeper implications that are his real quarry." The Sunday Independent "It's intelligent and witty and has cracking good anecdotes...it can tell you things about art you had never thought of." Evening Standard "[Leader] nimbly anticipates each sneer and objection, leaping in to show the way to some new and provoking thought." The Daily Telegraph "Fresh and interesting...packed with interesting stories and questions." The Independent"

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
On the morning of 21 August 1911, a slight, white-smocked man slipped out of one of the side entrances of the Louvre, and soon vanished into the crowds on the rue de Rivoli. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

3.0 out of 5 stars
3.0 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Leader's writing is supported by a wide breadth of knowledge and his style skips along delightfully. Initially I feared it was a fairly cosmetic treatment of the subject with only superficial recourse to psychoanalysis, but without ever badly losing an only lightly informed reader it came to some complex conclusions. Not the book to read to find out much you didn't about Freud, Lacan et al, but rather if you'd like to believe psycholanalysis might be applicable to everyday life, and that there might be something in the whole art lark beyond over-inflated prices and egos.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This is not an easy book but as introductions go, it isn't at all bad. I go further, it is a decent intro and I recommend it. Not that you won't find some passages difficult - they are - but bear with him and you can begin to see why Lacan is taken seriously by people who are assuredly not fools. It is a stimulating account of the notion of The Gaze, the Symbolic and his other conceptual armature and applies it rather well to art...in fact though at times I thought, "Blimey, he's making heavy weather of this" on other occasions I thought he/Lacan is really onto something. As indeed he/Lacan might well be ('Scuse me, I am British, thus not of a ready theoretical bent, more's the pride). Worth a few hours of your life very definitely, if only to demonstrate that Lacanian analysis ain't your 'bag'. Unless, of course, it is.
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5 of 18 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing 27 July 2003
By mgs1234
In the beginning, I thought it sounded like an interesting book but it turned out to be farfetched. Why do psychoanalysts have to complicate things so much? Although there are some very interesting points concerning art, the book itself was disappointing.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unique and well written 7 Mar 2009
By Magda S. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Here's a fascinating meditation on art, desire, value, and beauty as seen from the lens of the 1911 theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre. The author, who is most obviously incredibly smart, uses a casual yet colorful voice that never reeks of self-importance or self-consciousness. So many great observations, this is a book I'll dip into again and again.

The only complaint I have is that I wish it had been broken up into chapters, rather than one long narrative.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A rare treat 26 Nov 2007
By Eggert Ragnarsson - Published on Amazon.com
this book is great and I would recommend it to anyone. Its really rare to find a book written on art that manages to be fun and well written, this is both. Amazingly I couldnt put this book down, a total breath of fresh air, thank you Darian Leader!
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent insight into the world of art 25 May 2014
By John Joyce - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Having originally purchased this book as a source of reference material for my own novel 'Masterpiece' I read it from cover to cover and was fascinated by the author's theories on why we appreciate art. Why did people flock to see the empty space left on the wall of the Louvre by the stolen Mona Lisa when, prior to its theft, few people even considered it to be a masterpiece?

What is 'art' and what is just 'an image'? Leader gives us some fascinating insights on these questions in a very readable and accessible book.
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