The Treachery of Images (This is Not a Pipe)
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Questions for Philisophical Discussion
- The text in this painting is written in French. It says, “This is not a pipe.” That seems paradoxical since the image above it is of a pipe. Can you think of a way to interpret the statement that makes it true? Can you think of one that would make it false?
- How many different things could the word “this” refer to? When you interpret the “this” in those ways, is the painting saying something true or false?
- The image of the pipe is very realistic. Would it change the way you view the painting if the pipe was obviously drawn, say as a young child would?
- Why do you think the painting is titled “The Treachery of Images”?
Compare and Contrast
- All three of these works contrast language and images. What point do you think the artists are making about the relationship between language and images? Are they all in agreement about the nature of the relationship or do their works register differing positions? Can an art work make a claim, say about the relationship between language and images? How does it do so?
2. Do you think there is a single relationship between words and images? What is it? Do any of the works convey that? Do you think that art is the best way to represent that relationship? Why or why not?
3. Can an image visually contradict what words say? Pay particular attention to the first painting and the relationship between the image of the pipe and what the words below it say. How does language function is each of these works? Does it always have the same function?
4. How do you like conceptual art more or less than the other types of art you have encountered on this website? Do you agree that conceptual art is about the ideas rather than the images used to convey them? Or do you think that the images you see are important to the works? How would you
compare conceptual art to more traditional forms of art?
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Conceptual Art Overview and Resources
The philosopher R. G. Collingwood claimed that the true works of art were the ideas in the minds of artists. Similarly, in 1967 the American Artist Sol LeWitt wrote that, “In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art.” In this unit on conceptual art, the artists featured focus on language and its relationship to visual images.
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on conceptual art
“The Hard Case of Duchamp’s Fountain” by Launt Thompson
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