Portia Placino

Repository of my thoughts and images of art, literature, travel, and life.

Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase

I stumbled into this interesting piece as I was looking for new movies to watch. Since The Artist was such a success, I decided to look for more Academy Award winning films. Watching Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase is a revelation. Youtube people are calling this a 7-minute Art History lesson, specifically, I think this is a 7-minute Introduction to Modern Art History. I can’t wait to show this to my students.

I looked this up further and I saw Joan Gratz’s website. Apparently, she is “An accomplished director, artist, and animator, Joan Gratz pioneered the animation technique known as claypainting.Working with bits of clay she blends colors and etches fine lines to create a seamless flow of images.” The clay painting work for Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase is very impressive. It’s been a while since I saw art as a subject of shorts. I don’t think I’ve seen similar work and technique applied to Philippine cinema. This won the Academy Award in 1992, 20 years ago. But I am yet to see another film technique for the arts such as this one. I can’t believe this is the first time I am seeing this.

I have seen some complaints in Youtube about the title. Is she looking down on modern art? Where is the staircase? When I first read the title, Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase first came to mind. After all, it does belong to the same period. Joan Gratz took modern art and told her own story using her own medium. I truly wish there are more works as insightful and as creative as hers. I am now a fan.

Nude Descending a Staircase, Marcel Duchamp, 1912

As I dig further, I saw an earlier work, but dealing with motion. Eadward Muybridge, famous for his motion photography (earlier incarnation of motion pictures), also has a work entitled Woman Going Downstairs. This is a very interesting take, placed side by side with Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase. 

Woman Walking Downstairs, Eadward Muybridge, 1887

A story of art, indeed, can stand by itself. But it is still interesting to look further, dig deeper. You might learn something new. Today, I did learn. Instead of always looking up, sometimes, you just need to descend and walk downstairs. Its quite an interesting day after all.

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