Some Wisdom From Rene Magritte

Rene Magritte, the Belgian surrealist, was a painter of the mind and of a philosophical orientation.  First, a word about surrealism.  This artistic movement in the 20th century arose primarily because of two factors:  1:   World War I blasted the concept of rational man into outer space; and 2:  improved techniques in photography rendered portrait painting obsolete.  Surrealism sought to extend artistic possibilities into the infinite, including combinations of objects, which were previously thought absurd.  Not surprisingly, Lewis Carroll’s “mad” wonderland became an inspiration for several surrealists.  However,  many of Magritte’s striking juxtapositions are not absurd; they are satirical, disturbing, and, most often, they provoke thought.  In fact, Magritte posed the question:  “A picture is a window that looks out on something.  The question is, on what?”  He also teases us about the reality of what he paints.  In a series of increasingly detailed portrayals of a pipe, the message in the paintings reads:  “This is not a pipe.”  Magritte insists on the portrayal as an image, not an actual entity.  How bemused he would have been to live in today’s world, which swarms with enticing, beckoning images, and that which is real and not real is increasingly blurred.  But Magritte’s world was the landscape of the mind, and in the “pipe” example he wondered about the naming of things with a ferocity of a Wittgenstein.  To him, labels were a mental comfort zone, making the realm of the unknown more palatable.  Imagine looking at Necktie Falls without the human term “necktie.”  The falls might look very different, perhaps more threatening.  Magritte believed that one of the properties of the human mind was to label or to find an explanation of things and his juxtapositions are purposely disturbing.  He wants the mind to be uncomfortable and decried any attempt to find a definite meaning in his paintings.  Perhaps, his most profound saying is one which I call Magritte’s Paradox:  “If we look at a thing with the intention of discovering what it means, we end up no longer looking at the thing itself, but thinking of the question that is being raised.”  Magritte’s Paradox has implications in almost all facets of life, including critical analysis and personal relationships.  In other words, as soon as we focus with intent, we necessarily distort and limit the possibilities.  I believe that Magritte would have agreed with Russian novelist Vladimir Nabokov, who saw reality as “without bottom, hence unquenchable, unfathomable.”

About Robert M. Weiss
From an early age, I've taken great pleasure in reading. Also, I learned to play my 78 player when I was quite young, and enjoyed listening to musicals and classical music. I remember sitting on the floor, and following the text and pictures of record readers, which were popular in the 1940s and 50s. My favorites were the Bozo and Disney albums. I also enjoyed watching the slow spinning of 16s as they spun out tales of adventure. I have always been attracted by rivers, and I love to sit on a boulder with my feet in the water, gazing into the mysteries of swirling currents. I especially like inner tubing on the Rogue River in Southern Oregon. Since my early youth, I've been interested in collecting minerals, which have taught me about the wonderful possibilities in colors and forms. Sometimes I try to imagine what the ancient Greeks must have felt when they began to discover physical laws in nature. I also remember that I had a special passion for numbers, and used to construct them out of stones. After teaching Russian for several years, I became a writer, interviewer, editor, and translator. I continue to delight in form, and am a problem solver at heart.

2 Responses to Some Wisdom From Rene Magritte

  1. auntyuta says:

    Was he able to make use of photography?


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