Work of the Week: Rene Magritte "The Treachery of Images"

Happy Sunday and welcome back to another Work of the Week! I was talking to my mom a few days ago and she asked me what work I would be writing about this week, and how I go about selecting one each Sunday.  I told her that the honest answer to both of those questions was that I couldn't really answer because each week, events or circumstances just happen to inspire me, leading me to a particular theme or image.
Magritte, "The Treachery of Images" 1928-1929
That is definitely true this week, as I've seen at least three t-shirts in the last 7 days with this painting (or a stylized version of it) plastered on the front.  I think its budding popularity as t-shirt art may have something to do with Hazel Grace (Shailene Woodley), the protagonist of the extremely popular film The Fault In Our Stars, wearing it as she toured Amsterdam.
Hazel Grace sporting the Graphic Tee in the Film + One for sale online
I wonder how many people wearing this graphic tee realize that they are wearing a representation of one of the greatest surrealist paintings of all time?

Magritte completed stylistically diverse surrealist paintings, and "The Treachery of Images" is one of the most visually simple works in his collection. The representation of a pipe, with pronounced three dementional shading, hovers above cursive script reading "This is not a pipe." Despite it's "realistic" portrayal as a pipe, he states below that it is not a pipe at all.

So, what is it?

It is a commentary on representation, and the serious limitations of it, never before unearthed in such a clear and pointing way as Magritte does here.  The flat canvas covered in pigment will never be a pipe, only a image for viewers to impose their understanding of what a pipe is onto it.  Without the viewer's judgement, preconceptions, or understanding of the object we have designated to be a "pipe," the object would simply be a flat shape on a stagnant canvas.  

Images can betray us because the thing being represented may seem as if "reality" to the viewer, but in fact it is nothing more than a two dimentional surface.  This is not to say that images have no place in representation, but instead challenges the viewer to question their own reality, to question their perceptions, and to look past shiny facades to what really may lie beneath. 

As the artist himself says, "Only thought can resemble. It resembles by being what it hears, sees, or knows; it becomes what the world offers it."

So in fact it is not a pipe, but a series of lines and shadings that the viewer uses to impose their preconceptions into a judgement of what is "real."  Now, why is Hazel-Grace, a young woman suffering from cancer, wearing this on her shirt? I'll let you think about that one.

Have a great Sunday!

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