Amy's Whimsical Musings

The Mona Lisa Effect: or Why Da Vinci Would Have Loved Skateboarding

Mona Lisa graffiti stencil

First off, I’m sticking with this title, even though there’s some buzz on the Internet about a very different sort of “Mona Lisa Effect”.

Most of us are quite familiar with the illusive and exquisite Leonardo Da Vinci painting La Gioconda, but we forget to realize that – at least in the artist’s eyes- she was never finished.

That’s right, no big surprise here but Da Vinci was a perfectionist. He rarely completed works to his satisfaction and – much to the chagrin of his clients – frequently labored years over a commission, sometimes not fulfilling his obligations.

But the Mona Lisa is different, because although art historians are fairly sure she was commissioned, she was never given to anyone – Da Vinci kept her with him until the day he died, working on her here and there as he chillaxed in the cushy palatial estate of King Francis I of France. His biographer Giorgio Vasari says that

“…after toiling over it for  four years, he left it unfinished”…

In some recent professional development sessions we’ve been discussing the importance of formative assessment (and proper, timely feedback). We even watched a great series by Ron Wormeli addressing the need for “Redos, Retakes and Do-Overs”.

The entire time I kept thinking about Da Vinci, and his intrinsic motivation to

make things more beautiful

I wonder how many students feel that way about their projects and other work?

One of the great things about technology is that it allows us to alter and augment our work without losing much. I painted a portrait of my daughter yesterday and screwed up the nose, but there was no going back.


I’m ecstatic when a student asks if he could improve his blog post by adding some extra commentary (yeah! a simple update and it flows right into my reader!)…or when another dabbles on a Prezi later in the year – way after she’s presented it – just because she found something interesting to add and “it’s still in the public account”.

I think we live in an


We can finally, without much to-do, embrace failure for what it is (a learning experience) and move on to the MAKEOVER STAGE – how can I better my performance, improve my work, make my creative project all the more beautiful?

Little by little, channelling our inner Da Vinci, we can make things worth making and do things worth doing.

Technology affords us some amazing feedback opportunities, too – it doesn’t have to be a 2 way street between teacher and student. Peers can be involved as “blog buddies”, or students can post work in a more public way for (perhaps) more “authentic” assessment. For example, many of my students post work to YouTube, Instagram, DeviantArt, and other interest-based forums for “real-world” constructive criticism or compliments.

But what about the ELEPHANT IN THE BLOG – namely, TIME?

Sure, Da Vinci dabbled ’till his death bed. Do we or our students have that kind of luxury? What about marking schedules? Graduation? Isn’t it unfavorable to be so perfectionistic you fail to follow through (I mean, Da Vinci’s reputation was damaged to some extent for this fault)? Aren’t we a culture of


Perhaps, but consider:

1. What will your legacy be?

2. For whom do you do the work, learn, create?

3. Are you an artist or an artisan?

There are times when we need to be efficient and timely and do the “useful”, like a skilled “artisan”,  but let’s not completely abandon the artist within all of us – the part of us who sees the bigger picture, instrinsically motivated to produce beautiful work for oneself, not as part of a commission or mandate from others, who is not satisfied with mediocre, but rather strives for the exquisite.

There’s a great TEDx talk by Dr. Tae, called “Can Skateboarding Save our Schools?” A skateboarder is so passionate about his learning that he is self-motivated to achieve mastery -even beauty – of a certain trick no matter how long it takes or how painful it may be.

I think Da Vinci would have been the Tony Hawk of the Renaissance.


4 comments on “The Mona Lisa Effect: or Why Da Vinci Would Have Loved Skateboarding

  1. massimo
    February 16, 2013

    Brilliant post Amy! Love it.

  2. Bryn Williams
    February 17, 2013

    I’ve been struggling around that ‘time’ issue. With report deadlines, grade and course requirements, when does this makeover end?
    I see a future where the learning outcomes are ‘thrown out’ and we have themes to our learning that cross traditional grades and courses. This shift will come at a cost, perhaps, but with our greater understanding of learning, it is necessary. There has already been a huge shift in education when transportation allowed students from outlying areas attend school.

    • amyburvall
      February 17, 2013

      Great idea, Bryn. The IB system does that to a certain extent in the Middle Years Program (6-10), as it considers that entire period one of growth and supposedly only the final marks in 10th grade indicate one’s success in the program. But of course we still need to report to parents in an ongoing way and have 2 official marking periods each year. Wormeli mentions in part 2 of his video that he does (for his own sanity’s sake) have a definitie “cut-off” for the “re-do” period…that is, one can improve upon their work for a better score up until about a week prior to him having to assign a final score. I guess that works for practical purposes but still takes away from students being intrinsically motivated to keep dabbling at their work- especially the more creative endeavors – even after the period when it is “graded”. It’s like my house. Every week-end we seem to do ome improvement something-or-others because a. we live here and will for a long time (like one’s personal learning journey!) and b. it could always be better, or mistakes/problems will always need fixing. But we do pick and choose according to our schedules. When it comes down to the mundane things, like polishing floors, we tend to put it off, but the more creative the endeavor is (like building a firepit) we seem to embrace it. I supposed students are prone to do the same.

    March 2, 2013

    When was in Paris in 2005, I couldn’t but visit Louvre. But to Louvre came with sound recording equipment which was provided kindly by French. I found “Mona Lisa” and I began to write down the sound background created by numerous visitors, come to look at a masterpiece. The logic was simple. I will dare to note that any masterpiece possesses property of the high-structured information field. The person is too, in the basis, field structure. There is a contact of two field structures – the person and a masterpiece. In it probably art force. Those sounds, which people published, being in a masterpiece field (conversations, a shuffling of feet, etc.), were very valuable to me, they korrelyativno were connected with it. Having subjected these records to the most difficult transformational processing, I managed to receive absolutely improbable soundings. They brought many into shock, – in these sounds accurate identification with “Mona Lisa’s” portrait was observed. I made similar records and at the well-known sculpture of Venus. As a result, on to basis of these records, at me three works – “Knowledge”, “Stream” and “Communication” were born.

    MONA LISA_VENUS(Опыт работы с шедеврами) .avi
    Structure of presented video: sound background at Mona Lisa – result of transformational processing of a background, a sound background at Venus – result of transformational processing of a background, a work “Knowledge” fragment (the transformed sounds are used only).

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This entry was posted on February 16, 2013 by in edcmooc, etmooc and tagged , , , , , , , , , .

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