On this journey we will explore text and images or vice versa. When we look at images we tend to take them for what the are, at face value almost. Once we introduce text, whether as a caption, title, or as a part of the image, it can have a significant affect on how we read the image.
Magritte may not have had the commercial flair, or lust for money, of Salvador Dali, or the strangeness of Max Ernst, or indeed for that matter the weirdness of Paul Delvaux, but for me he is probably the most provocative of the surrealists.“I do not like money, either for itself or for what it can buy, since I want nothing we know about.” Rene Magritte.
Magritte painted images that are so subtle in their execution that the very ordinariness of the scene can be its most striking attribute.
It can take quite some time before the message sinks in.
Very very subtle.
Unlike other Surrealist artists, Magritte’s style is highly realistic, but this realism is a sucker punch, it only undermines the authority and certainty of ‘appearance’ – of our understanding of the external world.
“We see the world as being outside ourselves, although it is only a mental representation of it that we experience inside ourselves.”
In 1948 Magritte produced his thought provoking The Treachery of Images ( This is not a pipe). This painting demonstrates the artists attempt to have the viewer question their reality.
The painting portrays a large single pipe, against a beige background, and at the bottom of the painting, is written –
“This is not a pipe.”
The point that Magritte was making is simple: the painting is not a pipe; it is an Image of a pipe. Simple but also very complex when you think about it. Visual representation depends on resemblance, this seems to be a case when it really does matter what the meaning of is is.
When Magritte was asked if the painting was a pipe, he replied that of course it is not a pipe, and suggested that they try to stuff it with tobacco and smoke it.
He used the same technique in a painting of an apple, portraying a large green apple, with the line “This is not an apple.”
Well try eating the apple…
In the Second Surrealist Manifesto, published in 1929, Magritte offered 18 sketches, each illustrating a supposed three-way relationship with words and reality.
His intention with this series was to introduce the theme running through all of Magritte’s artistic output, the ambiguity of the connections between real objects, their image and their name.
Lets have a look at this series in more detail.
An object is not so attached to its name that one cannot find for it another one which is more suitable
We can translate the handwritten words ‘le canon’ as the ‘the gun’ but could this be Magritte, with his sense of humor, engaging in word play, ‘the canon’, the ‘thing setting the standard’?
The French word for the rowing boat or little boat is ‘canot’
– another play on words…?
We can translate Ciel’ as sky…
but also Ciel, a tincture in heraldry also called bleu celeste or celeste (sky-blue).
An object encounters its image, and objects encounters its name. It happens that the image and the name of this object encounter each other.
Can’t see the wood for the trees?
A hand, a box and a rock, but why the handwritten word canon again?
‘Sunshine’. Or ‘the sun’ if you like. Does it link to the next image?
Well, yes, but logically the sun should be hidden, no?
Do you wonder what is behind the wall?
Everything tends to make us think that there is little relationship between an object and that which represents it.
Confusingly, the ‘real’ and the ‘representation’ are of course the same here…
The words which serve to indicate two different objects do not show what may divide these objects from one another.
The ‘surreal’ labelling in French translates as ‘person with memory loss’ and ‘woman’s body’.
But are they?
Is Magritte saying a new meaning can be created by juxtapositions like this?
A very confusing play on shapes here…
The man is calling his horse – or is he calling his horse ‘horse’?
René seems to have drifted somewhat from his original theme here…
Vague or unclear shapes have a precise significance every bit as necessary as that of perfect shapes.
Again, the example has left language slightly out of the debate. But the point could be extended…
Well… yes… but not that pesky canon again…….
But is the word ‘fog’ imprecise?