Magritte’s surrealistic ideas of the mid twentieth century epitomise’s that period’s growing interrelationship between language and visual representation. It is my favourite and easiest example to see how philosophy’s obsession with language and truth filters into the visual arts.
“This is not a pipe”, Magritte says but it clearly is… and then again it is not of course. It is a two dimensional mix of paint on a canvas. You certainly could not pick it up nor smoke it. Magritte’s idea is to paint the concept and not allow his painterly skill to obscure the idea. This concept dominates modernism and flows through all the ‘isms’ of Modern Art. These ideas create the richness of Modern Art.
Magritte’s idea that the painted representation of the object is not the object is a far cry away from earlier medieval and Byzantine concepts. To the viewer of a devotional painting or image, the Madonna, the Christ child, the saints were probably thought of as the real people. By touching the devotional painting or praying in front of it, the viewer possibly felt it was alive and he was with the real individual. See in the Wilton Diptych the images of King Richard II with John the Baptist and the English Saints, Edward the Confessor and Edward the Martyr.
Both ideas fill the artworld with a spiritual understanding of the visual image and challenge us to examine our own philosophical understanding of the world of representation. We may agree with Magritte or may not want to slavishly follow him and believe that…well yes it is a pipe!