We'll start with his most famous painting, entitled The Treachery of Images, completed in 1929. This Surrealist work shows a pipe with the words below (written in French): "This is not a pipe."
It's not a pipe. It is an image of a pipe. What Magritte has painted on the canvas is a two-dimensional representation of a real object. So, the art has lied to us, correct? He's shown us a "pipe," but it's not really a pipe; it's just an image of one. (Pretty simple, right?) But if the art is indeed "treacherous," then why the confessional inscription? The same painting telling us with an image that we are seeing a pipe is telling us with words that a pipe is most certainly not what we are seeing. This is blatant self-contradiction. One might ask why the artist bothered to paint the image of the pipe if he was only going to counter-argue his own drawing. Besides, the human eye can tell that's not really a pipe. We know it when we see the painting hanging up in a museum—that it's the not the real object it is depicting. Very well, what about the words, then? What about the concept? After all, the words telling us that the pipe is not a pipe are just painted words on a canvas as well—perhaps they are just part of "the show." This is "the treachery of images." Our eye can discern the pipe from the painting, but our mind cannot determine reality from abstraction—perhaps the artist means to suggest there is no reality but in abstraction, or vice-versa.