Like most people, I suspect, I am familiar with René Magritte from his remarkable, surrealist paintings, but have no clue as to his writing prowess. Until now.
Not surprisingly, the brilliant and extremely creative mind that produced some rather iconic works of art is just as introspective and creative in his writing as well. But Magritte is not a writer in the sense of producing novels or even short stories in the traditional sense. But he does reflect on his work and the works of others and on the idea(s) of art in general. Some of the writings here are only a sentence or two long and some of the writings included are really not ‘writings’ at all but interviews that have been conducted with Magritte. A more apt title might be ‘The Musing of René Magritte.’
Magritte tends to be rather philosophical and sometimes a bit existential in his thoughts, which seems appropriate given his work and the era in which the artist was painting.
It is interesting to get a little insight into the mind of the man who painted the iconic “Apple” paintings and the painting of the pipe with the words “This is not a pipe” included on the painting. It makes sense what he writes in 1967:
I believe Victor Hugo said, “We only ever see one side of things.” Now it is precisely “the other side” that I try to express.*
And in an interview with Marcel Fryns in 1966 he says:
Pop art is rather the descendent of Dadism, but without Dada’s freedom at that era. I notice that real avant-garde art has always been badly received, whereas fake avant-garde art is enormously successful. Pop art lacks the authenticity that would give it the power to be provocative.*
When asked, in a 1947 interview, what he is interested in, Magritte answers:
Creating. My only wish is to be enriched by exciting new ideas. For me, art consists in expressing charm and pleasure. Before the war my works reflected anxiety. Experience of conflict and a load of suffering has taught me that what matters above all is to celebrate joy for the eyes and the mind. … I live in a very unpleasant world because of its routine ugliness.*
One brief passage struck me as particularly interesting and unexpected from an artist … someone who earned his living with his paintings.
Anyway, it’s not necessary to see a painting! There are heaps of reproductions, art books. For me, a reproduction is enough! Like in literature, you don’t need to see a writer’s manuscript to be interested in his book!*
But among all the little nuggets and gems of philosophy offered by Magritte in his writings (and there are plenty), I think his thoughts are best summed up with his 1955 article titled “A Poetic Art” which opens with the sentence: “The art of painting, as I see it, makes possible the realization of visible poetic images.”*
Looking for a good book? I recommend René Magritte: Selected Writings.
*Please note: all quotes are from an Advance Readers Copy and may be different from the official, published volume.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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René Magritte: Selected Writings
author: René Magritte
editors: Kathleen Rooney and Eric Plattner
translator: Jo Levy
publisher: University of Minnesota Press
paperback, 336 pages