Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Pile of Pigment

(A New Autotelism: V)

I remind myself: I am looking at a painting.

For hundreds of years, artists concentrated on creating the illusion of reality. There were moments of dramatic innovation; Giotto's perspective, the advent of oil paint, the mathematical perspective of the High Renaissance, Leonardo's anatomical studies, Vermeer's Lapis Lazuli daylight, and on, and on.

With the advent of the twentieth century, more and more artists became quite literally dis-illusioned. The idea of reproducing optical reality became less important than conveying the psychological truth of reality.

René Magritte decided he would go even further. He would depict the real, right-here-right-now reality. I am looking at The Treachery of Images. It is a painting of a pipe, clean and neat and emotionless, as if torn from an old Sears catalogue. Below the pipe is inscribed the neat cursive text Ceci n'est pas une pipe. It translates, roughly, 'This is not a pipe.'

Because it isn't. It's a painting.

And that's it. There is no question of masterful brushstrokes, or brilliant choice of subject, or devastating emotional impact, or political context — RenĂ© just wants you to stare at the paint on the canvas and try and see only patterns of pigment.

I can't. I always see a pipe.

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