Sunday, March 30, 2008

But it is a pipe! isn't it?

It is so easy to see art as something that hangs in a museum and as something that is separate and insignificant to your life particularly in the 21st century when so many seemingly more important things are happening...but art is not something that merely hangs in a museum wall nor is it something that is separate from the chaotic world that we all inhabit. In fact, art allows us in many ways to see the world ...or at least, allows us to question how we see the world.
Rene Magritte's "Treasury of Images" is probably one of the most annoying images to my 20th- Century Art students because they feel that 1) it is a picture of something mundane; 2)it is making you question something you know to be true; and 3) once you realize he is saying it is not actually a real, 3-dimensional smoking pipe but a representation of a pipe, they often think--often out loud-- well...duh?!?!?!

But...let's rewind a second and give this piece its worth.

Magritte is making an incredibly important point about the difference between representation and the actual thing itself. Specifically, that an image of something ( a painting of a pipe) is not the real thing (the smelly thing that my father and grandfather smoke from time to time) but rather something that has been created, painted, and therefore an illusion. Once again, my students say: "yes...we know...we've always known, tell me something I don't already know." But do we? really, do we know the difference?

Why is that our (and I use this very generally) sense of beauty is based on images we see on television ads, billboards, and magazine ads? Why is it that so often in cafes and restaurants people talk about television shows like 24 and Gray's Anatomy as if these are actual people and actual situations that these cafe-goers have first-hand knowledge and information about? Why is it that "wealth" is associated with a certain kind of lifestyle, a certain look, a certain brand, a certain car and a certain happiness that so many people try to attain?.. believing that wealth will give them the "lifestyle" illustrated in leisure magazines, the car in billboards, the "look" in fashion magazines and the "happiness" promised by all these 'goods.'

We know all these representations are just representations though --they are NOT real things. Yeah, right.

Magritte created this piece in 1928 yet , how absolutely correct he was and absolutely relevant to today's world. The world we live in is full of images and representations and even though--intellectually--we know it is a painting, an ad, a television has become so imbricated in our daily life...bombarding us in very aspect of our life that we know longer necessarily see the difference between image and reality.
(Later we will talk about Baudrillard and his philosophical meanderings...)

In 1928, he was merely saying this is not a pipe.
Today, when we see teenage girls trying to look like like runway models, we could say this is not beauty. If we come across someone who thinks buying "things" will make him/her content, we might say this is not real happiness. Who would have known that telling us a pipe is not a pipe even though it looks so much like a pipe ...would actually compel us to see how we think about the world...

Magritte's image is to the right.

No comments: