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  • Writer's pictureAmy Burvall

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.


#legacy #failure #etmooc #edcmooc #davinci #TEDx #RickWormeli #beautifulwork #monalisa #formativeassessment

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