This Is Not an Opinion Piece – Cartoon Logic
This week marks the 125th birthday of the twentieth century surrealist René Magritte. His most famous work, except perhaps the chap with an apple for a face, is The Treachery of Images, that painting of a pipe with ‘ceci n’est pas une pipe’, this is not a pipe, written underneath. It’s a fun little work, this. Initially you think: ‘well, of course it’s a pipe, Magritte, you wretched imbecile’. But then, if like me you did a politics and philosophy degree, and you’ve been taught to think in uselessly esoteric ways, you’ll say: ‘ah, but of course, it isn’t a pipe. It’s only a painting of a pipe.’ And that’s the point. Well done. You win art. Have ten art points.
This here is what artist-type-folk say the major point of surrealism is. Magritte is showing us that representations of objects are not objects themselves. In that little golden rule lies much of surrealism’s motivation. It’s not just a silly, depthless attempt at subversion, a sort of ‘ooh, isn’t it weird’ genre: it’s a little more. With the apple-faced Son of Man painting, Magritte is explaining that it’s not always what you can see that’s important. The obvious is hiding the interesting.
Having said that, it’s hard not to read works like The Treachery of Images as just attempts at being ‘deep’, in inverted commas. It’s hard not to think, ‘wow, he drew a pipe, then wrote ‘this isn’t a pipe’ underneath. What a bloody genius.’ Again, I’m reminded of the philosophy degree I did. It was quite regular for a philosophy lecturer to end with ‘well, of course, none of us actually exist anyway,’ or for some clown wearing a beret to stroll over after the class and point at a table and declare that ‘tables aren’t real, you know’ or something similar. I spent an entire semester writing a dissertation in which I continually had to assert that I wasn’t just a brain floating in a vat. True story.
That’s partially how I feel about The Treachery of Images. Like much of surrealism, it attempts to reveal the truth by making us question our human made constructs, but it ends up not revealing anything else. (Good title, though. The Treachery of Images. Like it’s somehow the image’s fault. Like Magritte drew the pipe, then retired to bed. The next morning, he woke up to find the words ‘ceci n’est pas une pipe’ mysteriously written underneath, presumably by the painting itself, and he thought: ‘what a treacherous image!’)
To celebrate Magritte’s 125th, then, I decided to write this opinion piece. Magritte painted The Treachery of Images when he was 30 years old, and it is currently on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The theme of pipes with the text ‘ceci n’est pas une pipe‘ is extended in his 1966 painting, The Two Mysteries, and is sometimes given as an example of meta-message conveyed by paralanguage.
Hold on. That last paragraph wasn’t opinion at all. Did you spot it? I took it from Wikipedia, a place where opinion is routinely banned. You thought I was being erudite and all scholarly-like, but it was just description. This is not an opinion piece. See what I’ve done there?
And you know what? It’s not even his 125th birthday. I made that bit up too. Completely pulled it from the air. But you assumed it was, because opinion pieces are nearly always have a time hook. Your preconceptions fooled you! And while we’re at it, tables aren’t real either, and neither was the philosophy student wearing a beret. I made him up. No one wears berets. Except Magritte. He was French after all.
Aha! I’ve tricked you again. You thought that was the end. You thought that was the punchline, but no. Magritte was Belgian, not French. Subversion! Blimey, this surrealism thing really is top notch. It’s virtually just contradiction. Contradiction as an art form!
In all seriousness, you can see why the surrealist art movement sort of died off after the Second World War. The post-modern abstraction that largely replaced it says much of the same stuff. But we thank Magritte for the initial groundwork. He and the other surrealists let the genie out of the bottle, and continued the impressionist tradition of toying with representation, moving us from literal depiction of people and landscapes to a world of drip paintings and sharks in formaldehyde.
Or did they? I realise I can’t write anything of any import now, because you’ll just think I’m talking nonsense again. I’ve painted myself into a corner. This endeavour, it seems, was doomed from the start. Anyway, thank you, Belgium, for Magritte. I hope you feel better soon.
This week, the Trumpsday Clock creeps backward to FOUR MINUTES to Trumpsday. Donald Trump has had a mixed week. The man whose hair was once seen framed in an art gallery with the label ‘this is not dyed hair’ took Arizona, but failed in Utah. Ted Cruz snatched that state. Then, former front runner, and member of the Bush cabal, Jeb, endorsed Cruz, which will boost the latter’s campaign. Arizona is important, though. As a winner-takes-all state, Arizona handed Trump a hefty 58 delegates, his second largest win so far. But Monday. Trump gave a pretty odd audio interview to the Washington Post regarding his foreign policy. First, he named his potential advisers, none of whom really have the credentials. Then, he basically declared that he wanted to support Europe less, South Korea less, even the United Nations less. This is highly unorthodox and surprising. A bad move, I think. All in all, this reveals what I would categorise as a seriously odd view of US foreign policy, odder than some of his other views on things (though not many). If these are the sort of answers he is going to give during the inevitable Hillary Clinton/Trump debates, Clinton could slaughter him on foreign policy. She was Secretary of State, after all.