Beautiful Theology: 1/21/07 - 1/28/07 .comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Beautiful Theology

Signifying truth in more than words alone

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Boing boing appositely analyzes an retrospective of Magritte’s works at the LA County Museum of Art, with special reference to issues of copyright and fair use. “Magritte and Contemporary Art: The Treachery of Images” explicitly takes up and examines the topic of Magritte’s re-using themes and images — but forbids visitors to take pictures of the exhibition.

Words and Images 8

This unit perplexes me somewhat. I think I accept part of what I take to be Magritte’s point, but I hesitate to endorse the claim as a whole.

Un objet fait supposer qu’il y en a d’autres derrière lui.

An object can give the impression that there are other objects behind it.

Well, yes and no.

Nothing about the drawing in and of itself implies that there are objects behind it. Indeed, the picture that Magritte provides suggests an object — a brick wall — and almost all observers will see the shading that signifies perspective, and infer from it a dimensionality that ordinarily (necessarily?) entails in-front-and-behind-ness, such that there must be (implied) objects behind the wall. But if we begin to say that the picture of a wall implies that objects exist behind it, we elide the differences between pictures and the objects they may depict. We occlude the role that an expresser’s imagination plays, and the role that the observer’s imagination plays in inferring what the image signifies. The expressive and inferential imaginations of sketcher and observer strike at the exact basis of my interest in the visual dimensions of semiotics.

So it’s not that the image of a wall implies that there are objects behind it, but that Magritte drew an image that most viewers will recognize as a wall, with shading that they take to suggest depth, depth that is (presumably) accompanied by other objects in front of and behind the wall.

And the imaginations of sketcher and viewer — that’s where all the implying and inferring take place.