Painting by René Magritte
It’s the middle of the night and the shapes in the shadows are playing tricks on my mind as I hover between wakefulness and sound sleep. Images coalesce from sense memories and random extrapolations of experience. When the fear of darkness is held at bay, and we can cuddle up to the weirdness at play in our field of dreams, I think we are staging our own surrealist shows. At least, I think it comes closest to being captured by some of the more way-out there visual artists.
Rene Magritte is certainly way out there, but he is too concrete to qualify as a false champion of dream stuff most of the time. You might disagree, but then your dreams are probably not like mine. The amazing thing about Magritte is his ability to take those half-remembered images and turn them into commentary and humor. Ultimately, he massages them into something fresh to populate our night time tales told to ourselves. I suppose that I am trying to say that Dali tried to capture what our dreams had been while Magritte creates images for our dreams to come.
Van Gogh is absolutely glorious, but there is something about his work that makes logical sense. There is a coherence of composition. Sure, you might not make colorful swirly backgrounds if you were painting, but once you started, then it makes sense to carry the motif through. The idea behind it seems almost comprehensible in a logical way. (Once again, you might disagree and decide that my state of mind is a little too close to Van Gogh.)
With Magritte, masterful technique is on display. His canvases positively glisten in person. The colors and layout capture the poetry of the visual. The question that comes to my mind most often is where did he get that idea? (Well, sometimes it’s more “where did he get the chutzpah?”) The Treachery of Images is simple in execution and seems to clamor for dismissal as a gimmick. But then it draws you in like a well that seemed so much more shallow above ground.
Magritte is that sort of artist that you either really like or you go “ehh, ok.” I don’t know how to tell someone that the subject is a rainfall of derby-clad men holding umbrellas and make that seem as wonderful as it is.
And that, I think, is where it gets interesting. You don’t make paintings as intensely realistic, completely personal, and well-crafted as Magritte’s work without investing a great deal of yourself in them. He is a great example of the artist being all in. Imagine hearing an explanation of what he intended to paint beforehand. He just had to make it first. He had to commit to that apple in front of that face.
Without that emotional and intellectual commitment (no matter how emotionally detached and intellectually playful the final work might seem), I don’t think Magritte becomes or remains the significant artist that he is. The demands on our brains by certain artists sometimes make us forget the heart that was opened and revealed before that brush was first dipped into paint.
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