Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Surrealism (pt. 16)

Magritte painted two versions of The Listening Room (of which this is the 1958 version), an image of an enormous apple occupying the space of an entire room.  This continues to be one of the artist's most enticing paintings to analyze.
The apple is either humongous or the room is tiny.  One is an impossibility, but the other is simply inexplicable.  If this is indeed an "apple-sized room" (haha…sorry, that's funny to say), then where are we, the made-up land of Lilliput?  The presence of the window on the left makes this mystery all the more tantalizing; for we would surely be able to tell where we are if we could only get a glimpse outside this window.  But the artist has cut that section off of the painting.  We are instead left with a closed room which appears to contain no doors.  How did we get in this enclosed space?  What's more, how did the apple get here?  It is thrown into this scene without explanation—and yet our mind tells us what we are seeing and instantly tries to resolve the chaos of the situation.  The room looks normal enough; the apple looks normal enough—it's just, their relation is utterly incompatible.  And this is called The Listening Room, strangely enough, evoking an entirely new context under which to view the artwork.  Neither the walls of the room nor the apple would make noise, would they?  So, theoretically, this scene should be one of silence.  Then…what are we "listening" to?  This painting appears to be all a visual puzzle, so how could the sensation of sound bear any relevance whatsoever to this scene?  And yet, our reaction to the painting changes when we hear the title, doesn't it?  We become aware of the quietness of this scene—a ridiculous awareness, since this painting has practically nothing to do with sound.  The absurdity of Surrealist paintings such as The Listening Room afforded artistic expression to a growing Absurdist literary movement, which peaked in the famous writings of Algerian-French writer/philosopher Albert Camus.  In Postmodernism, the movement became fully realized in the advent of Existentialism.

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