The Parable of the Mona Lisa

The Parable of the Mona Lisa

“Deification of the established order is the perpetual revolt, the continual mutiny against God.”

-Soren Kierkegaard, Practice in Christianity (1848)

There once was a man who wanted to behold the Mona Lisa.  He sold all he had and traveled to the Louvre in Paris, France.  He paid his entrance fee.  That was expected.  What was unexpected, however, was how lost and confused he soon felt in the revered Museum.  You see, his experience in the Museum was dominated by the tour guides and the Museum itself.   At every turn, it seemed, Museum tour guides and staff, both senior and junior, stepped forward and encumbered his ability to experience the Mona Lisa.

The morning faded into the afternoon and the afternoon into the evening with one tour guide after another talking about the greatness of the Museum—it is, after all, the only place on earth that houses the “true” Mona Lisa.  But the tour guides spent more time talking about the Museum and its history and policies than the Mona Lisa.  In fact, he didn’t even see the Mona Lisa.

Dissertations about Museum hierarchy were given.  The tour guides spoke often about the head tour guide and how he is the only one with keys to the entire Museum.  Others boasted about their past interactions with other, more senior tour guides.  Others spoke about the rules of the Museum and how to get back into it if you’ve happened to get out of it.  Many spoke about the dangers of not listening to the tour guides, which is the surest way to become lost and find yourself outside the Museum.  There was mention of the Mona Lisa here and there but it certainly wasn’t the focus of the tour.

The man became more and more confused and disoriented.  He really felt out of place as he heard others around him comment, “this is the best tour I’ve been on for a long time” or “these tour guides are amazing!”  He asked others on the tour why they felt this way because—while the tour guides were obviously extremely knowledgeable about the Museum, its history, its policies, its goals, its objectives, etc. and were clearly in charge of the Museum (he didn’t question that)—he, unlike the others, was somewhat disappointed and frustrated with the tour.  He wanted to better understand the Mona Lisa, not Museum policy.  He came to behold the Mona Lisa, not the Museum or its tour guides.

Just then a female tour guide with a small group of children passed.  They were singing, “Follow the tour guide, follow the tour guide …”  He went back to his apartment that evening downtrodden.  It all seemed so strange to him.  Everyone seemed so fixated on the Museum, Museum history, Museum policy, Museum rules, the Museum code of conduct, the Museum dress code, etc.  All of this seemed so out of place to him and made him question the very purpose for going to the Museum in the first place.  Were all these things greater than the Mona Lisa?  Was there something wrong with him?

He heard more than one tour guide talk, with glowing adoration, about the chief tour guide and how important it was to understand that he had all the keys to the Museum and that everyone that volunteered in the Museum received their keys from him.  They talked about the succession of Museum keys and how they had been passed down from one chief tour guide to the next for generations.  Yes.  Sure.  But what did that have to do with his experiencing the Mona Lisa?  What seemed to him as things that ought to be only periphery or tangential to the Museum experience seemed to be at its very core.  It was almost surreal to him.

The area of the Museum that housed the Mona Lisa, he remembers being told, is locked off to everyone and only the head tour guide has the keys to it.  Apparently, he lends his keys (or duplicates) to other tour guides that he trusts in order to give people access to the Mona Lisa.  The man could accept this fact.  Indeed, it made perfect sense to him that not everyone could be trusted with keys to the portion of the Museum that housed the Mona Lisa.  He could accept their authority, but he wondered why they were always brandishing it before those who came to see the Mona Lisa.  He could accept the internal Museum policy but wondered what difference that made to his beholding of the Mona Lisa.

The man woke the next morning and went back to the Museum.  He was greeted by a happy-looking tour guide with a German accent, who riveted his attention on the Mona Lisa.  His words were edifying.  The man learned something new about the Mona Lisa.  But then the happy German tour guide went away and another took his place, and then another, and then another.  There were general Museum authorities and subordinate Museum authorities, each of whom looked the same, dressed the same, spoke the same and shared the same basic message about the Museum.

Some of these tour guides mentioned the Mona Lisa but, for the most part, it was back to a discussion about the Museum, Museum policy, what was expected of those in the Museum, how the Museum visitors should dress, act and conduct themselves; how the head tour guide had keys to the entire Museum, how this was the best Museum, etc.  By now, the man was growing very weary of the Museum, and he went home exhausted and confused.  He felt that he still had not truly experienced the Mona Lisa.

He got a glimpse of the Mona Lisa here and there.  But all the distractions he had to endure in the Museum and from the Museum staff soured his experience, were extremely distracting, and wearied and troubled him deeply.  The man knew he loved the Mona Lisa.  He knew that the Mona Lisa was housed in the Museum.  He knew that the head tour guide had all the keys to the Museum.  And he knew that he wanted to behold the Mona Lisa and couldn’t do so if the head tour guide and the general tour guides denied the man access to the Museum.  Had they, too, gone to the Louvre to behold the Mona Lisa only to become infatuated with the Museum?  Did he have to constantly endure all the trivial and peripheral distractions that went along with beholding the Mona Lisa?  Was there some way the man could make the tour better without offending the tour guides and getting kicked out of the Museum?  How had the Museum come to this, and did it always have to be this way?

2 thoughts on “The Parable of the Mona Lisa

  1. I like the parable. Most of my tour guides in life have focused on the Mona Lisa! Maybe I’m just lucky. Your point is a good one.

  2. The questions make me wonder if the man will end up like the other distracted visitors at the museum. If he focuses on the other people in the museum too much, he could lose his focus and purpose just like the other distracted patrons. Are there any shortcuts to the Mona Lisa or ways to bypass everyone else in the museum? Only if all the distracted people were not in the museum, but they will always be in the museum and there will always be people with varying reasons for being at the museum. It is good that they are there, who knows when their eyes of understanding and purpose will be opened and they will seek the treasure housed at the museum? Rather than being distracted, I hope the man will remain focused on his purpose and the Mona Lisa. By doing so, he might help some of the other visitors in the museum truly find and experience the Mona Lisa.

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