Magritte’s artwork intrigues and inspires

Elaine Sine, asst. a&e editor

“Ceci n’est pas une pipe.” For many who have read the best-selling novel “The Fault in Our Stars,” these were the words that introduced its many readers to the surrealist artist René Magritte. I myself was one of these people, and while remembering that the painting which translates to “This is not a pipe” was clever and impressive, I had not known the extent of his incredibly artful inventiveness.

Since June 24, the Art Institute of Chicago has showcased Magritte’s artwork in an exhibit called Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938 and will be displayed until October 13. When I visited the exhibit, I was able to better acknowledge, appreciate and discover a deep and fascinating complexity to Magritte than what I had initially perceived.

In the dark, quiet labyrinth that is the Magritte exhibit, minds and interpretations are left to wonder while viewing Magritte’s bizarre but fascinating work. The calm atmosphere mimics the dream-like nature of Magritte’s paintings. The exhibit is like being inside the human mind, and seeing Magritte’s paintings under the spotlight reminded me of my own dreams. In a dream, there is always a strange combination of elements that would perplex an onlooker, while the ensemble makes sense in the dreamer’s mind.

At first glance, I had a difficult time grasping the concept of his paintings. Upon my initial encounter with his art, my first thought was, “Wait. What is happening?” It is not that Magritte’s paintings were messy. His artwork was painted with clarity and precision.

His artistic sense was incredibly well-represented, but it was the way he portrayed his objects which was hard to understand.

A perfect example of this would be his painting “The Secret Player,” pictured above. In this painting, it is easy to tell that there are two men, one woman and what seems to be a turtle. This is clear to see. However, it was the contemplation of why the men are playing their game in the middle of a forest made of pillars, why the woman is imprisoned in a box with her mouth covered and why there is a turtle that floats in the air above them that made the painting so intriguing

There was no clear message in which I could pinpoint and definitively say, “That’s what it means.” I stood in front of this image for a good five minutes considering what was going on in this composition and what Magritte’s mindset was when he made it.

Finally, I understood. The confusion viewers encountered with Magritte’s paintings was part of the art. It seemed as if he wanted us to be confused, and he wanted us to interpret what was happening in the image. This composition is not solely born from the artist, but it is partly created by its viewer.

Magritte made art so intriguing that it would generate numerous responses, which is part of the fun of seeing his work. While viewing the art, I was pleasurably lost in my own thoughts of interpretation of “The Secret Player” and other works.

His eccentric work makes the viewers delve deep into their minds and thus ceases all thoughts linked to the conventional concepts of what we perceive as art. It was truly a pleasant and enlightening experience to view Magritte’s work. If ever granted the opportunity to go back to the exhibit, I would accept in a heartbeat.