Seeing the Other Side of Things

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René Magritte wrote, "To equate my painting with symbolism, conscious or unconscious, is to ignore its true nature. People are quite willing to use objects without looking for any symbolic intention in them, but when they look at paintings, they can't find any use for them. So they hunt around for a meaning to get themselves out of the quandary, and because they don't understand what they are supposed to think when they confront the painting. They want something to lean on, so they can be comfortable. They want something secure to hang on to, so they can save themselves from the void. People who look for symbolic meanings fail to grasp the inherent poetry and mystery of the image. No doubt they sense this mystery, but they wish to get rid of it. They are afraid. By asking ‘what does this mean?’ they express a wish that everything be understandable. But if one does not reject the mystery, one has quite a different response. One asks other things."

"To the extent that my pictures have any value," [Magritte] once said, lobbing a grenade at the experts and explainers, "they do not lend themselves to analysis." He quoted Victor Hugo, "We never see but one side of things." And to this he added, "it's precisely this 'other side' that I'm trying to express."

From "The Artist Who Was Master of the Double Take," by Bennett Schiff, Smithsonian Magazine (September 1992)