In New York City at the Museum of Modern Art you are standing before“The Treachery of Images” (1929). It is a painting of a single object, a pipe, under which are the words, “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.” (This is not a pipe.) Why the denial? Of course, this may be a pipe but the painter of the work is the Belgian artist René Magritte (1898-1967). Magritte wanted, as he said, to make “everyday objects shriek out loud.” More importantly, because he was associated with the Surrealist movement, every object is surreal and therefore there is always the understanding that what is represented is not the same as what it is supposed to represent. So, of course, the picture we are looking at is not a pipe.
Magritte is one who looks but is in doubt about what he sees. He is an artist who seems to be in conflict with the very image he is working on. Consider The Lovers (1928) where the pleasure of a kiss is destroyed because the artist covers the faces of the lovers in cloth. Like others of the artist’s work, this is a very disturbing image, but he is an artist who has declared that the Surrealist movement of which he was a significant part “claims for our waking life a freedom similar to that which we have in dreams.”
By Harriet Zinnes