In 1963, Andy Warhol silkscreened thirty back-and-white images of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa onto a canvas. The work was less than perfect. Any t-shirt printer will tell you that Warhol’s squeegee angle was sloppy, his ink application was inconsistent, and his registration was a mess. Since there were thirty “Mona Lisas,” Warhol named the piece Thirty are Better Than One.
So what does it mean? It's hard to tell. Warhol was always horribly enigmatic and rarely answered questions directly. When he did answer a question, he often seemed to be alluding to a joke no one else was in on. So what might we say about this piece? Well, we might say that Warhol was right—thirty are better than one. At least sort of.
When I was growing up in the 1960s, our country was in the middle of the space race. In school, we would talk about the future and it all sounded so cool. We would talk about how we would be able to take vacations on the moon, and how we would all own flying cars, and how we would all have our own personal robot, and how our television sets would have maybe as many as ten channels! (I remember saying, “Ten channels? No way!”). We would also talk about being able to instantly get our meals from a single mass-produced pill. So with all the 10-year-old humor we could muster up, we would pretend we were taking one of those pills, and say things like, “My, my this steak dinner is delicious!"
But a mass-produced pill is not the same as a meal. And eating is not the same as savoring. And hearing is not the same as listening. And looking is not the same as seeing. And thirty Mona Lisas are not better than one.