(This is a simul-post with Ignitum Today.)
This famous image with its seemingly contradictory text (“This is not a pipe.”) led the way for an overhauling of art and artistic representation as we know it today. Painted by the astute Rene Magritte, a member of the Surrealist movement (associated with himself and other painters such as James Ensor and Salvador Dali), it provides a clever way of explaining what art really is: just an image. When asked about this particular image, Magritte would reply, “Try putting tobacco in it.”
I could keep going with more clever Magritte witticisms, or begin to toss in Dali, with all his eccentricities, but then I would miss the point of this post and it would turn from a humbling philosophical thought into an art history lesson (spurred onwards by my frequent Wikipedia searches to check my facts).
Many artists (myself included, at times) strive for realism–but no matter how boldly and successfully we may strive towards realism, our image will be simply that: an image. Nothing more than a representation (literally, a re-presentation) of an object. Some people took the image above as an excuse to break from the realistic portrayal of artifacts and to abstract them. This results in interesting analytical drawings and a different way of looking at the world. If the artifact becomes too abstracted and removed from context, however, it becomes unrecognizable and morphs into another creation in and of itself. Some day, this could develop into a metaphor for what happens when you stray too far from the truth. But that is not this day!
It is, in this case, a metaphor for all forms of sub-creation. Without God’s help, we mere mortals cannot create anything truly new. All that we can do is to work with the tools and materials He has given us. An image is simply an image; it will never be the object, or the person, nor if the image is changed will it affect the subject itself in any way. This is why an icon (or any other image of a holy person) is not worshiped–it is not the person. The icon is the tool through which we, as material beings, may have a more solid way of requesting the intercession of the holy person in the image.
With God’s help, however, we can achieve great things. This is the difference between sacraments (and sacramentals) and mere artifacts. Sacraments (and sacramentals) effect what they signify (in the case of sacramentals, to varying degrees). Artifacts, however, do not bring with them these graces. Another beautiful instance of greatness created through grace is children. Each soul is unique and irreplaceable (no matter how many times someone may say that you remind them of someone else they know) and is God’s own creation. (Proof that marriage is a sacrament!) God chooses to work through us, fallen and mortal though we are, because we were made in His Image–this is why we are, so often, driven to create.