Arbitrary art

8:33 AM

Hegel's Vacation - René Magritte

"My latest picture began with the question: how to paint a picture with a glass of water as the subject? I drew a number of glasses of water, a line always appeared in these drawings. Then this line became deformed and took the form of an umbrella. Then this umbrella was put into the glass, and finally the umbrella opened up and was placed under the glass of water. Which I feel answers the initial question. The picture so conceived is called Les vacances de Hegel. I think Hegel would have liked this object that has two contrary functions: to repel and to contain water. Wouldn’t that have amused him as we are amused when on vacation?"

René Magritte in a letter to Maurice Rapin dated May 1958
Source: "Magritte: the true art of painting" by Harry Torczyner

Magritte’s letter proves rather useful to explain the intentions behind his painting “Hegel’s Vacation”. Before reading this letter, the painting was rather baffling to me. But his “explanation” makes the painting seems like a puzzle or a guessing game. The painting only makes sense after it is explained to us.

Besides, the motives sound random and subjective – only relevant and meaningful to the artist. I confess: I would never guess the intention was to paint a glass of water as a subject. Actually, I might haven’t guessed anything at all.

This feeling of “not getting it” is also there when we observe most of modern and contemporary art. Seriously, I feel like one of the judges from Project Runway asking the painter to give fewer explanations. “Let the painting speak for itself!”

How do you feel about the painting in question? Is it possible to like it without any explanation? 

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  1. It´s interesting and beautiful, from my opinion, but less rich than "traditional" figurative paints. I like Degas, for instance.


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