Nerdwriter: What is the Treachery of Images? (Magritte) 

  • Ever find yourself looking at a painting and wonder: What exactly am I supposed to feel? 

    • Certain paintings seem unwilling to move even an inch in your direction, leaving you with a massive void to fill with unanchored interpretation

  • Magritte moves more than an inch in the direction of the viewer, this painting comes in all the way 

  • The painting speaks in a language we can understand: Language itself

    • Ceci n'est pas une pipe: This is not a pipe

      • The painting talks. It engages. 

  • Magritte: 

    • Famous and most lasting of surrealistic artists

    • Considered himself not a painter but a thinker who used images to express himself 

    • Well-versed in philosophical style from Plato to Foucaut used this to investigate ideas

      • to confuse and invoke mystery

      • What we want is always behind the thing we see.

        • The obstruction can never be removed completely because it is not in the object but in vision and thought and perception (!)*

  • The Treachery of Images 

    • obvious at first: Image of a pipe and then a reminder that it is not a pipe 

    • We can infer the rest : it's not a pipe, it's a representation of the pipe 

      • Representations are not the real thing, they only resemble the real thing 

        • Seems obvious, but if someone shows me a painting of an apple and asks me what it is, I am very likely to say, "it's an apple" 

          • This little accident of language is not an accident at all 

  • Language

    • For many hundreds of years humans have supposed that language and reality had an organic relationship: that the names of things arose out of the things themselves 

      • A tree is in fact a tree ; a pipe is really a pipe 

      • The Gospel according to St. John: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." 

    • Ferdinand deSaussure - famous linguist 

      • A thing and its name have a totally arbitrary relationship

        • We don't really know things but only access their shadow through language, in which everything has a meaning in the context of the system (!)*

        • Magritte saw that the old wrong-headed ways of thinking about language (trusting the Word implicitly) were still hiding in the way we thought and talked about images 

          • Realistic painting plays on resemblance and resemblance suggests a hierarchy 

          • The image of a pipe represents that it points outside of language, to the thing in itself.

            • The falseness of this claim is what inspired abstract artists to move beyond resemblance into a field in which painting had no referent in reality as such 

          • Magritte, on the other hand, makes this point using the false premises of resemblance, and shatters them from within 

  • The visual secret dependence on language is laid bare in the Treachery of Images, indeed that dependance is The Treachery of Images 

    • The image and the sentence laid out like a page from a botanical textbook, begging to be connected 

      • Why should we connect them?

      • Why should the sentence and the image refer to one another?

        • How do we know the word "this" points upward?

          • The pronoun, resemblance and the name all make that connection inevitable 

            • That inevitability that's made real in every aspect of our lives 

              • We go about our days confident that everything we see can be said, and that the images we say can be seen. 

                • If you've ever used the phrase "You had to be there" you know that these are two realities that do no overlap in the way we act like they do 

  • [image of a pipe] is not a pipe, yes; but [pipe] is not a pipe either 

    • The sentence scrawled in its cute schoolboy cursive is actually a contradiction, a contradiction that pulls the whole painting apart at its seams and makes it utter nonsense. 

  • What's more forceful?:

    • Not moving an inch in the direction of the viewer?

    • Or moving a question all the way into the center of the viewer's mind, that on the slightest prodding and examination, implodes. 

 *(emphasis added)

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