Monday, August 20, 2012

Rene Magritte - The unrealistic reality

To start off, here's a video showcasing Rene Magritte's works:

A quote from youtube:
 Surrealism is based on the belief in the omnipotence of dream, in the disinterested play of thought and incongruous juxtapositions. Surrealism is the dictation of thoughts in the absence of all control exercised by reason, beyond all aesthetic and moral preoccupation.


To start off, I must say that I really like this work! I love the intricate brushwork and the usage of symbolism in this piece! The placement of colours are very accurate and the pastel colours make the work look very aesthetically appealing! (: Ok, now to the main post!

This painting takes place within the confines of a bedroom. However, something seems to be very unusual about this room. The room is fully occupied with personal, everyday objects. Strangely, that's not all. The supposedly small and unnoticeable personal values are blown out of their usual proportions, such that they are magnified to human size, occupying the room as if they are the room's main occupants. They dominate the room like a pack of unwelcome guests, like an army, which transforms this usually innocuous collection of household items into ones which invade one's private territory, threatening our comfortable familiarity. This makes the room seem strangely sterile and devoid of human touch and it lacks the normal human warmth that is usually associated with a sleeping quarter. In this work,Magritte paints an exaggerated reality,which differentiates him from the other surrealists. Other surrealists such as Salvador Dali and Joan Miro, paint images from their minds, so their work contains a touch of imagination and creativity. However, Magritte paints the surrealistic reality, and in the context of this work, he paints everyday objects such as the bed, armoire and grooming objects. He wants his viewers to question their everyday interaction and routine with these supposedly common objects and he positions the objects out of their normal context, so that the objects assume a "super-real" importance. The small grooming objects are magnified, such that they become the main occupants of the room. The bed and armoire, which are the furniture pieces in the room, are the only objects that are not enlarged. It is like a role reversal. The usually small objects become bigger than the large pieces of furniture, warping reality into an unrealistic, foreign world. There is a uneasy sense of dead calm in the room. The room is too silent and still, such that it exudes a sense of creepiness and eeriness - it is like a ghost room.
The items are arranged such that they are in a seemingly accidental and arbitrary position, but it has actually been carefully planned by Magritte. Unrelated objects are juxtaposed together to give the objects another meaning (for example, the bed is placed with the suggestive matchstick). The objects are enlarged greatly so as to draw the viewer's attention to the objects, asking them to stop and access the values they represent.

The painting is photorealistic, with very accurate placing of colors and each detail is captured meticulously- from the smooth reflection of the wine glass' curved surface to the intricate details of the carpet on the floor. The objects are so realistically depicted such that they look like reality themselves, but the strange juxtaposition and arrangement of the objects contrasts with reality, creating a sense of tension and irony in Magritte's work. It is hyper-realism versus the distortion of the objects' placement.
The pastel colours contribute to the softness of the room and there is a nice balance between the amount of warm and cool colours. However, there seems to be larger areas of blue(cool colours) as they seem to be the more conspicuous colours. The warm colours are in darker tones, so they fade in comparison to the baby blue dominance(the background of this work--> the sky wallpaper, is in baby blue, such that the blue looks relatively overwhelming). So cool colours stand out more prominently as they are in brighter tones. This contributes to the lack of warmth and comfort in an intimate bedroom.
There are positive and negative spaces present in the work. This creates a sense of visual space and depth in the work.
In terms of its composition, it is quite a balanced painting as there is equal weight distributed to every corner of the room. The number of angular, straight and rounded,curved surfaces is fairly proportional, so it adds to the sense of balance in the work. The armoire, bed, matchstick, comb and the room itself make up the angular and straight lines in the work. The brush, soap, glass and clouds on the walls make up the curved lines. So Magritte has successfully achieved a sense of balance and harmony between the forms, interlinking these unusually juxtaposed objects together such that they fit in quite well with the room. There is the presence of both vertically and horizontally placed forms in the painting too. There is also a balance between the number of objects in each specific "group". For example, the objects can be mainly be classified as a piece of furniture, a grooming item etc. and the number of objects in each "group" is around the same.
Overall, I can just say that it is a visually paradoxical world. Magritte's a genius. (:

Magritte employs the heavy use of symbolism, so his entire work is laden with objects that are juxtaposed together to convey a hidden message.

Bed and Matchstick- The bed is neat and the tightly made bed reflects the same formal rigour as the rest of the painting. It also reflects the fact that the room's inhabitant is a very neat and organized person, most probably of a high social status. However, even though the bed looks neat and reflects a very serious personality, its proximity to the matchstick suggests a play on the French phrase, "You turn me on". This adds a sense of humour to this seemingly invasive work and lightens the still and somewhat heavy mood of this painting. This visual pun also conveys Magritte's appreciation of the Surrealists' appreciation of the erotic, grouping Magritte with the surrealists.

Comb - The comb is placed in an upright position on the bed and it has been blown up such that it's length is as long as the bed. This is to suggest the importance of grooming to the room's inhabitant. In Magritte's middle-class society, individuals are pressurized to present a socially acceptable exterior. The placing of the comb on the pillow alludes to the idea that they are the objects which touch the head of the occupant. At night, the human inhabitant will rest his head on the pillow to rest and in the morning, he will wake up to comb his hair so as to present a neat exterior before he steps out to work in society.

Soap and Shaving Brush - These are typical grooming items that are necessary for a person of upper class social status. Soap is commonly associated with cleaning oneself and this shows that cleanliness is very important to the inhabitant of this room. The shaving brush is also associated with keeping oneself neat and tidy, which shows that there is a need for the individual to present himself as a neat and tidy person once he steps out of the comfort of his room. This alludes to the need for an individual in Magritte's society to present a socially acceptable exterior to the society when he steps out for work. Yet, the shaving brush is placed on top of the armoire and the soap is placed on the floor, which is out of their usual context. This careless placement of the shaving brush a top the armoire alludes to the inhabitant's desire to live freely in one's mental interior under the constant pressure to present a socially acceptable exterior.

Armoire - Based on my interpretation of this symbol, I feel that it reflects vanity, as there is a mirror on the armoire and the armoire is a place to store clothes right? So I feel that the armoire is like a reflection of oneself, and in the context of the painting, it is a reflection of the current state of society - the society has morphed into one that has placed too much emphasis on the outward appearance. Overall, the armoire suggests a psychological interior, perhaps holding clues to the life of the room's inhabitant as it most likely contains the clothes of the inhabitant and one's dressing style can reflect one's personality and lifestyle. The armoire suggests a psychological  Magritte uses the iconography of the mirror to represent psychological space and the realm of fantasy, which is further enhanced by the sky reflected in the armoire mirror. The use of the mirror also adds another viewing perspective for the viewers, so that they can see part of the room that extends out of the physical boundaries of the painting. It also stimulates the viewers to imagine beyond the painting.

Sky Wallpaper - The sky wallpaper contributes to the surrealistic element of Magritte's room. Well, the setting of this work is definitely in a bedroom as it is bounded by the 4 walls, however, the sky painted on the walls and reflected in the armoire mirror challenge this assumption, turning inside out, and the sky wallpaper seems to extend the boundaries of the room outside of the 4 solid walls. Magritte plays with the notions of mental and atmospheric space, using the sky to suggest that this scene is somewhat taking place in the inhabitant's mind as the sky-like setting suggest the idea of dreams. The breadth of this room is unbounded by its physical limits as human imagination is limitless and it extends to infinity. The sky wallpaper may also symbolize the fact that the bedroom is for the inhabitant to sleep and dream, so it is like the place of imagination for the room's inhabitant.

Wine Glass - The wine glass stands tall and still at the center of the painting, dominating a large part of the composition. The curvature of the glass can be linked to the figure of a woman, and this also shows Magritte's sense of erotic humor and link to the surrealist's sense of humor. The wine glass is not an object that is commonly found in one's bedroom. But the wine glass is linked to high social status as only the rich can afford to drink wine with such a high-class looking glass. So this also reflects the inhabitant's upper class social status in society. Furthermore, the central placement of the wine glass may also mean that the wine glass is of great importance to the inhabitant of the room as it stands eerily at attention, at the center of attention.


The objects are magnified so as to draw the viewer's attention to the objects, asking them to stop and access the values they represent. At first glance, we are only concerned about the "outer appearance" of the painting. So we have to stop and think about what it represents, which makes the work quite thought provoking in a way. I believe that Magritte's work is reflective of the current modern society(well I mean the society in Magritte's time). It shows that the people are too preoccupied with the exterior and judging based on first impressions due to outer appearances, such that people are pressurized to present a socially acceptable exterior. But sometimes, society neglects the interior, which makes society a cold place to be in, like Magritte's Personal Values room, which looks cold and devoid of human touch and warmth. This shows that society is somewhat shallow to place so much emphasis on appearance and forget what matters most is inner beauty. It is like how we see neatly arranged and fine looking objects in the painting but when we look deeper, the painting feels empty, lacking of human warmth.

This work is visually provocative, and even though it has no discernible narrative(it is not exactly telling a story), I believe that it serves to bring out what Magritte was trying to convey. He had used each and symbol carefully and they are all there to serve a specific purpose and to convey a message. Well, to tell the truth, I feel that the meaning behind the symbols can be interpreted in different ways, unlike Lucia Hartini's Spying Lens , which conveys her feelings of terror and her unease due to her surroundings. This allows the viewers to interact with the work as they will pause to ponder over the meaning of the work. Each person can interpret every symbol in a different way. For example, for non-French speaking viewers, they may not know that the placement of the matchstick beside the bed has a suggestive meaning to it and they may just think that it is a coincidence. Some may even ponder over what the matchstick is doing there as it stands out from the other grooming objects in the room. This also allows the viewers the freedom to imagine so that the work interacts two-way with the viewer, unlike Spying Lens as Spying Lens tell a specific story. This is a prominent trait of the Surrealists as they paint images from their imaginative minds and the message behind their works may seem ambiguous. But to me, because the message behind it is ambiguous, it makes it fun to look at the Surrealist's works. That is why I particularly like the Surrealists' works(it is my favourite movement) and I enjoy viewing Magritte's works.  Personally, I admire his skills as an artist as his painting skills are as good as old masters. However, he dares to paint something different, something that fuses reality with the dream world, so I admire the fact that he is talented in painting and that he has a wild imagination. I believe that artists should let their imagination run wild so that they can create the best of works. The best works are created from a spark of instantaneous imagination and inspiration.

In this work, Magritte plays with the different scales of the objects, manipulating and warping the whole idea of reality, so he has successfully created a surrealistic piece. I believe that Magritte creates his works in a slightly humorous way, and like the other surrealists, his main intention is to create a surrealistic scene which looks relatively light-hearted and somewhat humorous. His works have a tongue-in-cheek, sarcastic and in some, erotic humour to it, which is completely appropriate to the surrealists. However, he also stands out from the rest of the Surrealists because he paints reality in the surrealistic way. As quoted from an art book, titled ART: The Whole Story:

"Rene Magritte's quixotic and naturalistically painted images are not a product of dreams or self-induced psychological states. It springs from contemplation of the phenomena of everyday life."

Yes indeed, Magritte is has established the everyday connection to the increasingly judgemental French society in his time.

This approach towards painting is also shown in other works:
In these 2 works, he also dresses his subject matter up in smart suits, completed with bowler hat and combed up hair, which reflects the upper class men in the French society. But I guess it also reflects himself as he often wears a bowler hat and dresses up in smart suits. He also uses objects that are found in real life and he does not distort the objects like how Dali elongates and exaggerates the forms. However, he juxtaposes unrelated forms together like how he places the apple in front of the man with the bowler hat. He places many forms out of their usual context such that they look normal at first sight but upon closer inspection, we can tell that there is something wrong with the scene.

This is a somewhat humorous depiction of humans turning into fishes and blending in with the rocks. Magritte's famous sky motif is repeated here. Somehow, I would interpret the work as one that is mocking human existence as he compared us to fishes. >.<

This is yet another painting of how Magritte incorporates Surrealism into everyday scene. It looks like it is raining man with bowler hats! O.O

 Even though I believe that art should contain a deep hidden message and that all good art should be "meaningful", I feel that Magritte is one successful artist who never fails to impress me with his stunning skills and out-of-the-world ideas and thinking. He is one artist who dares to try, and one that is not bounded by what he sees, but instead, is trying to challenge the boundaries of his imagination. That is why I credit him for being able to create such a paradoxical image.

My own version of "Personal Values"

I tried editing in photoshop, but it still looks blurry...>.< I think that my lines are too sketchy! The original looks much nicer though...
I love my bed - it is where I end my day peacefully. It is my resting place and a place of comfort. It is significant to me as it is an integral part of my life(in fact, everybody's lives) and I have been sleeping on the same bed ever since I was a kid. I like to daydream on my bed and my bed is important to me as it is where I retreat to when I am tired. However, I have been sleeping lesser and lesser for this past 2 years, and even lesser due to the ongoing NY 95th Anniversary musical, which makes me miss my bed a lot. So in comparison to some other objects, my bed looks smaller as I am spending less time with it now. How I wish I can go back to the times when I can lie on my bed for one hour to daydream. ):

I cannot survive without my specs! I must say that I am quite short-sighted-with a degree of 400 or higher. :/ Even though I routinely put in on and take it off, without any conscious thought, now as I reflect of the objects that matter a lot to me, I think that my specs is under credited. It has always helped me in my daily life and it gave me a clearer vision of my surroundings. Without it, I feel lost and kind of blind as my vision becomes blurred, which will hinder me greatly. Well, I cannot survive without my specs, so I shall list it as one of my most important personal items.

Well, my iPod allows me to have my everyday dose of music, so it is like providing a constant source of support. Music is like my vitamin and I think that my reliance on music has grown throughout the years. So I need my iPod everyday, to play the music that I need. I can also play with games when I am bored, like when I am on the bus or something. Well, lately, it has accompanied me throughout the long musical rehearsals and it is like my "watch", so that I can keep track of time! And not to mention, I can play with my iPod while waiting for the full runs to start. It can also help in my note taking as when I visit art exhibitions, I can record down information with the note-taking application. It is something that I must bring with me everywhere I go. I can choose not to bring my phone, but I cannot not bring my iPod along! (:

My favourite music instrument of all! Even though I started playing the piano at like 5 years old, I don't exactly love piano as much as I love guitar, which I have only started playing last year. Playing the guitar can be quite addictive sometimes and I love the beautiful tones that it produces. Well, I still play it a lot even though I am very busy, as I like to slack off my time with it. When I am sick of doing work, I will just automatically take out my guitar to pluck and strum. It is one personal value that I will treasure forever as I enjoy playing the guitar so so so much(although it leaves me with painful fingers :/ ). It will be the musical instrument that will accompany me throughout my life.

Biology Textbook
Haha, some of you might think that I am a little crazy for putting this in. Well, I must say that Biology is my favourite subject and one that I will never fail to study because I rather study bio, more than any other subject. I bring it with me to school almost everyday, unless my bag gets too fat and heavy to stuff it in. I really think that Bio is fun to study and I just love flipping through the colourful diagrams in my textbook. (: There are nice little panda pop out stickers on its cover page and they are so cute! I just love my bio textbook!

Pencil and Eraser
They are two separate items but they can be classified together so I shall just put them together! Well, I will bring them everywhere with me, because I will feel kind of insecure when I do not bring them. :/ The pencil and eraser are considered to be the most important pieces of stationery in my pencil case. For me, I prefer to work in pencil as I can get quite messy when I use pen(but I think I use pen more because of school work) and it is the fundamental medium for my art making. I tend to be someone who makes a lot of mistakes when writing and I like to correct my lines when I draw, so I really need an eraser in my pencil box(but I lose it a lot...). Well, I treasure the pencil more than a pen anyway! Pencil is also the medium of this piece of work, so there is a great significance to it too!

Fluffy the Bear(?)
I don't even think that it is a bear cos it is an ambiguous little animal. :/ Very simplified version of a bear I guess! Anyway, it is the white little soft toy sitting quietly on my table in my room. I don't exactly take much notice of its presence because it is always there. But it is important to me as it was a gift from one of my best friends in primary school. She gave it to me last year for my birthday. We still keep in touch as of today(even though we are in different schools right now) and I am really glad that we have sustained our friendship for so long. Fluffy is like the symbol of our friendship, a friendship which I treasured a lot. I sincerely hope that our friendship will be a long lasting one. (:

The extra symbol (not exactly a personal value)- the sky wallpaper :D
This is the connection between Magritte's work and my work I guess...Well, for me, the notion of the sky is important to me as it appears in my coursework too(under the influence of Magritte). It also represents my wish to have an endless stream of imagination and creativity flowing through my brain as I believe that it is a gift to be creative! However, after decorating the walls with clouds, I realised that it looks quite distracting so oops, my bad. >.< But I still like clouds!

As usual, it is a piece of work that is nowhere near the fantastic master piece of Magritte! It would take years of hard work before I can reach Magritte's standard! (I hope that I can) Anyway, as I said, the clouds look quite distracting and it will be better if I colour my work so as to differentiate between the background and foreground. But I am a little short of time so... >,<

But anyway, I feel that this mini assignment has allowed me to pause and ponder about the value that are important to me as I hardly stop to think about these things. The values shown here are not representational of all the things that matter to me though. For instance, I value relationships more than any materialistic good - be it kinship or friendship. I believe that having nice relationships with people around you is the most important thing for me. And Fluffy the Bear is only representative of one relationship - which is the nice and friendly relationship between me and one of my best friends! Well, I treasure all relationships and well, they cannot all be represented in this work! >.< But I thought that I this friendship means a lot to me as it is a somewhat "distant" relationship with someone that I don't see very often!
Anyway, bringing back to the topic on personal values, I believe that I have too many important personal items to fit into this small little work! There are just too many items that I interact with every day, such as my toothbrush and wallet(which is not in the work). So I would like to say that many items in daily life actually matter a lot to us, it is actually up to us to notice them. The question is not about how many personal values we have, but rather how many personal values we actually treasure.

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