Yes, I know I reblogged it before; I’m reblogging it again.
This image epitomises the delight I get from transformative works, and it’s a beautifully eloquent response to Robin Hobb’s misguided rant about fanfiction:
“The intent of the author is ignored. A writer puts a great deal of thought into what goes into the story and what doesn’t. If a particular scene doesn’t happen ‘on stage’ before the reader’s eyes, there is probably a reason for it. If something is left nebulous, it is because the author intends for it to be nebulous. To use an analogy, we look at the Mona Lisa and wonder. Each of us draws his own conclusions about her elusive smile. We don’t draw eyebrows on her to make her look surprised, or put a balloon caption over her head. Yet much fan fiction does just that. Fan fiction closes up the space that I have engineered into the story, and the reader is told what he must think rather than being allowed to observe the characters and draw his own conclusions.” Robin Hobb on fanfiction
And she’s wrong, she’s SO wrong. Granted, drawing a mustache onto the Mona Lisa would be a bad thing, a final thing, a change-the-source thing, but there are COUNTLESS images that mess with the Mona Lisa without ever actually damaging the source image, without ever preventing a viewer from engaging with the pristine source image and interpreting it as they see fit. The Mona Lisa remains inviolate, regardless of weed-smoking iterations or The Da Vinci Code, and the audience are free to interpret her as they will. Transformative works based upon her are examples of people sharing one possible interpretation, or addressing problems they perceive, or bringing a marxist/feminist/whateverist reading to the fore, or just making their friends giggle.
This, though, this is so much better than anything I’ve seen that transforms the Mona Lisa. This takes that gorgeous, familiar image of Vermeer’s Girl With A Pearl Earring (an image that the book and movie of the same name have made familiar to people outwith Art History students [who might know it as the ‘Mona Lisa of the North’]) and reworks it with brilliant and elegant simplicity.
Manet’s painting ‘Olympia’ does something similar with Titian’s ‘Venus of Urbino’ (which is itself a reworking of Giorgione’s ‘Sleeping Venus’); Georgione dresses up his objectifying & titillating high class porn as an image of a goddess, and has her eyes closed - she doesn’t know we’re ogling her. She’s helpless before our (male) voyeuristic gaze. Titian’s nude knows we’re ogling her, but she’s still putatively a goddess, and despite that she’s glancing coyly away as she consciously provokes the viewer, offering herself up to him. Manet’s nude, however, is unambiguously presented as a human and a prostitute, and she looks straight out at the viewer, her hand on her thigh making it clear that she alone chooses who gets access to her sex. The painting was received with shock and disgust and had to be protected from those who wanted to destroy it for its obscenity - not for showing naked flesh, but for making the naked woman into a subject, rather than an object.
God, I’m rambling. Anyway, point being - transformative work, intratextual work, is most emphatically not a new thing, nor a creatively barren thing. It’s awesome. And this image here is delicious, because it takes that lovely painting, in which the model is mysterious, alluring, her parted lips gleaming and her eyes wide as she looks out at the viewer, objectified - and it drags it straight into the 21st century by adding the camera, making it into that recognisable MySpace pose, making her the CREATOR of the image not just the object. She is looking at herself, not at us, and this careful composition becomes an ephemeral snapshot, a fleeting moment in her day.
The Mona Lisa bit of this rant is rather misguided, as there is a very famous Dada work by Marcel Duchamp that does just that: draw a mustache on the Mona Lisa. The writing he add at the bottom, L.H.O.O.Q., is “She has a hot ass” if you say the letters in french. So if that’s not exactly what he’s saying we don’t do, then I don’t know what it. Duchamp’s Mona Lisa is celebrated as an example of Dada art.
Maybe the Dada movement is the best analogy to fanfiction today: those artists had the intent to reject traditional art and what it stood for. They turned ordinary objects into art, and celebrated pieces into jokes about the subject’s hot ass.
Once you send something out into the world you forfeit control. You do not get to wade into someone else’s head and tell them exactly how to interpret your work. And if we want to fill in the gaps you as an author have left, that is our right to do. Maybe someday we’ll be celebrated for it.