The Treachery of Images

We’re talking about art again, but its a metaphor. There’s a famous painting made in 1929 by René Magritte called “La Trahison des Images” or, in English, “the Treachery of Images” It’s a beige background with a pipe on it. Underneath the pipe it says, “Ceci n’est pas une pipe,”. In English, for the French impaired folks here, that means, “This is not a pipe.” odd for a painting that clearly depicts a pipe. But therein lies the treachery, because it isn’t a pipe, it’s simply a representation of a pipe. You can’t pick it up, you cant load it with tobacco and use it to smoke. It’s not a pipe. Some people were confused at this paintings meaning thinking, what else could it be? they look at it upside down, sideways, try to see in it other images, but they aren’t there, because the only thing in the painting is a pipe (a picture of one, really).

I think about this painting a lot. I wonder how René Magritte would feel about the world now. If he saw a pipe in VR, I wonder if he would still agree that it wasn’t a pipe. You can’t smoke with it, but you can pretend to. You can use your hands and “pick it up” you can “load tobacco into it” and you can even make it appear to be smoking. And you can do all that without actually doing anything at all. I think about how technology gives us so many tools and how those tools are often “fake”, and yet their impact is very real. Anyway, that’s what my nerd brain is hyper-fixating on right now this idea of how virtual reality is somehow both tangible and intangible, and how crazy it is that we are alive in a time where we get to experience it.

One Reply to “The Treachery of Images”

  1. Yes, that’s a good one. I bring this topic up in one of my lectures in class. I also tie it to the idea of “Is it a thing if you can’t act on it?” which brings up discussion of “What do you mean by act?” If I want to pick it up, then no, but if I want to measure the typical length of the mouthpiece, then maybe yes.

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