Something different; here’s one I didn’t create. It’s worth checking out.
I was thinking about this painting the other day. It’s been reproduced on posters and bumper stickers so you might have seen it. You could have walked past without giving it a moment’s notice because it’s so deceptively simple. It was painted in the late twenties by a Belgian artist named Magritte. He called it The Treachery of Images, and the French words painted on the canvas translate as follows:
This is not a pipe.
From a creative point of view, this is a remarkably unsatisfying depiction of a pipe. It lacks interesting paint application and is devoid of any creative flourish. Compared to the work of Rembrandt, this looks like a sign painting, something that should be flapping in the breeze in front of a tobacco shop. Still, our brain takes in the image and translates it at the speed of light—pipe. But as the painting clearly states, this is not a pipe.
Many people will say that it most certainly IS a pipe and scoff at anyone suggesting otherwise. Their proof is simple and draws on a flashcard mentality. They refute Magritte’s painting with the claim that even children will yell, “PIPE” when confronted with a flashcard image of one. This merely proves Magritte’s point: a flashcard, like a painting, cannot be transformed by what is represented on it. It remains a flashcard. The reason children don’t yell out “flashcard!” isn’t because they aren’t intelligent, it’s just that they, like those troubled by Magritte’s painting, have yet to embrace abstract thinking.
So if it isn’t a pipe, what the heck is it? Why it’s a painting, of course, a painting of a pipe, not to be confused with the real thing. Do you feel like you’ve been fooled? Are you thinking you knew all along it wasn’t a real pipe? You’ve been fooled all right, we all have been, but not by Magritte.
Magritte’s comment, plainly written on this painting, shatters our interpretation of reality by denying a thousand years of representational art judged by how well the eye is fooled into thinking something real. The Treachery of Images is a manifesto declaring the emergence of something relatively new. Magritte is telling us that his painting is not a copy of anything in our world; it doesn’t rely on technique to fool anyone. It exists on its own terms. By clearly stating what his creation is not, the artist may have created the first truly honest painting.
Modern art was born from this idea. The focus of contemporary painting is no longer about fooling the eye. Now what is…simply is. “A rose is a rose is a rose,” Gertrude Stein reminded us, as did Andy Warhol. His famous Campbell’s Soup cans are not merely pictures of soup cans. They’re a reflection of popular culture, mass production and the confusion between fine art and the commercialism of all that we hold sacred. They’re about taking a can opener to our minds.
Magritte may have explained it best when questioned about this image. He replied that of course it wasn’t a pipe, just try to fill it with tobacco.
What do you think of Magritte’s painting? Does it anger you, bore or confuse you?