3 Takeaways from Lee Sandstead’s Book on the Mona Lisa

Lee Sandstead’s latest book, Cleaning Mona Lisa, is a video-packed and picture-pretty treat.

Aside from the mystery behind the book—what Sandstead calls one of the art world’s dirtiest secrets—there are a few important things I took away from my reading of it and that I’d like to share with you now.

Are you interested? How about incredibly smart and undeniably attractive?

Oh, all three, you say. Well then read on, you good-looking reader you, read on. The three key takeaways from the book are as follows:

1. Take the art you enjoy seriously.

See a painting that you like in a museum or even in your newsfeed on Facebook? Stop what you are doing, look at it, really look at it, and then find out more about it (including why you react as you do to it).

2. Understand the different things that affect how you see it.

If you do see a painting in your newsfeed, realize that the painting is probably better in person—a lot better. But even if you see it in a museum, realize that many things can change how that painting looks to you.

In Cleaning Mona Lisa, Sandstead shares a variety of these and (via some of the best art photography I’ve ever seen) shows you the differences. For example, compare the below two images of the same painting:

The first, Sandstead points out, was taken during the day; the other, at night.

What accounts for the change?

Sandstead explains that the North Carolina Museum of Art, where it’s on display, has huge windows that cover paintings in light during the day, effectively ensuring that daytime visitors won’t be seeing the paintings as they are—let alone once were.

3. Don’t assume that everything you hear about a painting is correct–disprove or confirm it with your own eyes and your own reasoning mind.

When learning about a painting you appreciate—or anything at all—people are going to tell you many different things. Some of these will be true, others not.

For example, Sandstead explains that an art teacher once told him that women in Mona Lisa’s time shaved their eyebrows—and that this was why she doesn’t appear to have any in Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting.

What did Sandstead do?

He wrote down what his teacher said, but he didn’t accept it without seeing how it fit with the rest of his knowledge. And as he gained in knowledge, both of other paintings of the time and the history of the Mona Lisa itself, he was able to come to an important truth, the one that he shares with readers in the book.

I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether you want to discover what exactly that is, but if you do get the book I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. And no matter what you decide, I hope you enjoyed the above three takeaways.

Now get going with your good-looking self and, if you want to be sociable, share this with your friends.