Tag Archives: Magritte

The treachery of images

A favourite painter for me is René Magritte. His work is not always as technically skilled as other painters, but his ideas are engaging. He could be playful, or he could be serious. Magritte, with painted image, often raises the question of what we actually see, and how visual images are related to each other or to reality.

This is one of Magritte’s famous pieces.

The translation of Ceci n’est pas une pipe is, “This is not a pipe.”

The brilliance of this work is that we automatically ask, “What, then, is this?” Exactly the right question!

What is this? It’s an image, it’s a painting, it’s a fake. This ‘pipe’ has no bowl for tobacco. It lacks that which is almost the definition of pipe-ness, the tube. Instead, it’s an artifice of oil paint on backing. And, on a blog post, the distance from reality is increased: a digital image of a painted image of a real world item.

And yet, consider our response as viewers. We see the image and immediately think ‘pipe’. It takes no effort to jump to reality. It takes great mental effort to think ‘painting’. We enter into the realm of the painterly world so deeply that we ignore the art itself. Isn’t ‘art’ short for ‘artifice’? Magritte completed the painting, but we viewers are required to complete the circle of reference. Observers are required for the artifice to work, for we say ‘Oh, that’s a pipe.’ We decode the fake and it becomes a sign of the real.

Which reminds me of pornography. The torrent of internet porn and slew of soft porn advertising all depend upon the willing participation of observers. Porn is an artifice that needs our eyes. Observers are complicit in linking the obviously fake (pornography) with the ‘real’ world (this is how sex works). Unfortunately, we twist the real world in the process.

For the sake of honesty, porn should all have some Magritte-inspired words:

Star of the movie 'Emmanuelle'

This is not a woman

She has been created. The image is a fake, not a person. Someone has tried to dupe you, and you are willing to be duped. This person/sex scene will not help you, involve you, satisfy you. If you mistake this for real life, the result is pain.

The English title for Magritte’s painting is ‘The treachery of images’. There could be no better title for porn: treacherous images, misleading us, destroying from within.