This Is Not A Painting
Around 1928 René Magritte painted a piece titled La trahison des images (The Treachery of Images), a famous picture of a pipe with an inscription in French: Ceci n’est pas une pipe (This is not a pipe). His point was a good one, possibly one on of the best ever made by a visual artist, and spoke to a common perception fallacy we engage in. A pipe is a real thing, an item with a certain character, size, and dimensionality. It is tangible. Magritte’s picture of the pipe was not a pipe, it was a picture. The fallacy is in our desire to label representations of things we recognize as if they were the things themselves.
And that was almost a century ago at this point. Since the introduction of color printing, the saturation of photography, and the invention and rise of the internet we have become even more exposed to mere representations of items. Pictures in books and magazines have long been substitutes for seeing the actual thing, be it an item, animal, or exotic place. And the prevalence of digital photography and ease of distribution via the internet has only accelerated that. If you want to see something, almost anything in the world, you can. Instantly. At least, that is, you can see an image of the thing. It is now the case that most things we will ever see in our lives are not the thing themselves, but rather the image of the thing. A flattened picture of it.
The art world does not escape this. It is impossible for an individual to see in person every piece of art that they can see in books and online. Many people will never fully understand the difference it makes to see an oil painting in person. Because paint is a different visual experience than a photograph, it has texture, and depth, and it can have layers built through the use of glazes and varnishes that provide a different experience in an environment where you can move and examine them from different perspectives.
But, by and large, we won’t encounter these actual items. We won’t hold the pipe. What we will see are the images. The pictures. The representations of the real item. And that means a handful of lucky few will have a completely different experience of any given work than the majority will, because they will have seen the thing and not merely the image. And, that’s not fair, is it?
In this series I seek to resolve the conflict that Magritte first brought up, and that the digital age has exacerbated. The image is not the thing. Unless, of course, you make it the thing. If the representation of the painting was not just a representation, but the piece itself. In this series, the painting is almost inconsequential as an object. it exists for the purpose of getting the photograph, and then it is no longer needed. To reduce confusion about this, the painting is even destroyed. Leaving only the image behind to examine, to show, and to share. Excepting for variances such as brightness, and monitor calibration, everyone gets what approximates the same image. It’s the same perspective. The texture has been flattened from only one vantage, and everyone examining it minutely will see the same details. The photograph is the piece, and the piece is not a painting.
Because, in this digital age, the painting was unnecessary anyway. It’s the image of it that matters. And in this case, the image is all there is left.
To confirm that the image is the final piece, you can watch the destruction of each of the props used on YouTube.
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