Mona Lisa Smile

Transcript from Mona Lisa Smile

ART HISTORY LECTURE HALL, 1953

Katherine Ann Watson, a 30-year-old graduate student, has taken a position teaching “History of Art” at Wellesley College, a conservative women’s private liberal arts college in Massachusetts. At her first class, Katherine discovered her students had already memorized the entire textbook and syllabus.

BETTY WARREN

What is that?

INSTRUCTOR WATSON

You tell me. … Carcass by Soutine. . –

ART HISTORY STUDENT

It’s not on the syllabus.

INSTRUCTOR WATSON

No, it’s not. Is it any good? Come on, ladies. There’s no wrong answer. There’s also no textbook telling you what to think. It’s not that easy, is it?

BETTY WARREN

All right. No. It’s not good. In fact, I wouldn’t even call it art. It’s grotesque.

CONSTANCE BAKER

Is there a rule against grotesque art?

GISELLE LEVY

I think there’s something aggressive about it… …and erotic. –

BETTY WARREN

To you, everything is erotic. –

GISELLE LEVY

Everything is erotic. –

INSTRUCTOR WATSON

Girls. –

SUSAN DELACORTE

Aren’t there standards? –

BETTY WARREN

Of course. Otherwise a tacky velvet painting could be equated to a Rembrandt.

CONSTANCE BAKER

My Uncle Ferdie has two tacky velvet paintings. He loves those clowns.

BETTY WARREN

There are standards, technique, composition, color, even subject. So if you’re suggesting that rotted side of meat is art… …much less good art, then what are we going to learn?

INSTRUCTOR WATSON

Just that. You have outlined our new syllabus, Betty. Thank you. What is art? What makes it good or bad? And who decides? Next slide, please. Twenty-five years ago someone thought this was brilliant. –

CONSTANCE BAKER

I can see that. –

ART HISTORY STUDENT

Who?

INSTRUCTOR WATSON

My mother. I painted it for her birthday. Next slide. This is my mom. – Is it art? –

SUSAN DELACORTE

It’s a snapshot.

INSTRUCTOR WATSON

If I told you Ansel Adams had taken it, would that make a difference? –

BETTY WARREN

Art isn’t art until someone says it is. –

INSTRUCTOR WATSON

It’s art!

BETTY WARREN

The right people. –

INSTRUCTOR WATSON

Who are they?

GISELLE LEVY

Betty Warren! – We’re lucky we have one right here. –

BETTY WARREN

Screw you.

INSTRUCTOR WATSON

Could you go back to the Soutine, please? Just look at it again. Look beyond the paint. Let us try to open our minds to a new idea.

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