Works of Art &
Mere Real Things



Of course, the designer label on a bottle of Coca-Cola announces its content, as literally, a soft drink. The outside of a brillo box on sale at the supermarket promotes its contents, as literally, soap pads.

But, as Danto wants us to think, "one may be certain that this is not what Andy Warhol's Brillo Box is about."

It has been said that "the work of a small number of exceptional individuals can always be found to anticipate the problems that will preoccupy successive generations." But this makes it sound too individualistic, as if one person alone, all by herself (or himself) could make art history. Kirk Varnedoe's analogy is more apt. The game of rugby did not just happen because someone up a soccer ball and ran with it, broke the rules and headed for the goal line. The other side had to run after him and tackle him. And, then, perhaps, jump up and down and say "hey, a new game!"

So, too, once there is a supposed break-through in the history of art, on reflection, looking back, one suddenly discovers one example after another that set the stage.

Picasso, shortly after the turn of the last century, already worked to upset the assumption of a painting as a "window on reality" by pasting pieces of real newspapers, even a cigarette pack, into his Cubist paintings. He claimed that he was merely seeking to replace the very idea of trompe l'oeil ("fooling the eye") with, in his words, trompe l'esprit ("fooling the mind"). Through the pasting of pieces of newspaper into the paintings, "reality was introduced into the work." Picasso: "Reality is in the painting."

It has also been said: "Magritte was such a precursor."

You may wish to make use of a short essay written by Magritte in 1929 which he called, simpy enough, Les Mots et Les Images (Words and Images), reproduced separately in English as a handout and distributed in class.

Ceci n'est pas une pipe was painted in 1926. Magritte another variant forty years later, in 1966. He called it Les Deux Mysteres. See the Foucault's This Is Not A Pipe for images of the two paintings. Images of the paintings are also reproduced on the following pages of the paper topic.

So, too, you may wish to make use of Les Deux Mysteres in thinking about the meaning of Ceci n'est pas une pipe. Is Les Deux Mysteres a painting of the same subject as Ceci N'est Pas une Pipe? What is it about? What is it a painting of?

And Andy Warhol's Brillo Box and Danto's effort to distinguish works of art from mere real things and mere representations may give you an idea or two. about Ceci N'est Pas une Pipe . Does Magritte's painting harbor a view about the difference between works of art and mere real things? Or do Magritte's painting(s) call Danto's sense of these matters into question or, at least, cast a shadow over his impulse to ask the question "what makes this but not that a work of art?"

Michel Foucault puzzles about some, if not all, of these questions in his little book This Is Not A Pipe which also contains an exchange of letters between Foucault and Magritte as well as some more Magritte paintings. At the end of Foucault's short essay on Magritte, even Andy Warhol makes an appearance. He appears obliquely, but, there's no mistaking him. There he is in Foucault's very last words:

"A day will come when, by means of similitude relayed indefinitely along the length of a series, the image itself, along with the name it bears, will lose its identity. Campbell. Campbell. Campbell. Campbell."

You may find Foucault's book helpful. Do Foucault's reflections illuminate or obscure Magritte's Ceci N'est Pas une Pipe ? What do you think?

Drawing on Warhol, Danto, Foucault, and Magritte ("Les Mots et les Images" and "Les Deux Mysteres") what does it mean to write across the painting of a pipe, "Ceci n'est pas une pipe?"