Museum Masters: Rene Magritte

Today we learned all about the life of surrealist Rene Magritte! We talked about Magritte’s use of humor and the absurd in his artwork and what it means to be an artist of “surreal” subjects. I adore Magritte and love that fact that he and Salvador Dali were pals and used their friendship as inspiration for one another’s art!

First off, we learned about Rene’s life – including the fact that, at the age of 12, he attended art classes in a room above a candy store. Seriously? That’s like out of a dream. “Oh, wait just a minute, I want to pick up a few Licorice Whips and Uno Bars before my art class today!” Heaven.

A few other fun facts about Magritte:

  • Before Magritte became famous as a surreal artist, he worked in advertising – creating graphic ads for everything from cars to candies to coffees.
  • Magritte and his wife/love of his life Georgette were quite a striking pair and Magritte loved to paint portraits of his lovey. Unfortunately, one of those famous portraits was stolen from the Magritte Museum in Brussels in 2009 and has never been found!
  • Much like Grant Wood’s American Gothic, Magritte’s Son of Man has been parodied thousands of times with different objects in front of the gentleman’s face
 In class, we took a closer look at a variety of Magritte’s most famous works. The children loved to find the “joke” in each picture – and we talked about the notion that Magritte liked to make people think while they looked at his paintings. The children especially loved the crazy mirror in Not to be Reproduced…
One child took one look at Golcanda and announced, “It’s raining men!” (Hallelujah!)
Son of Man was another hit with the kids – especially since a lot of the children loved the fact that the gentleman in the picture is so dapper in his suit and bowler hat.
And finally, my favorite, The Treachery of Images. I asked the children why Magritte would have written “This is not a pipe” underneath a pipe and, bless their artistic hearts, they all said “But it’s a picture of a pipe, not a REAL pipe.” God, I love these kids! This one is my absolute favorite not only for its inherent cheekiness, but because my dear college professor Gilbert Sorrentino had a print of this in his office and I always think of him, walking gallantly across the Quad, when I see it.
For our project today, I tasked each child with creating their own version of The Treachery of Images. They could choose any object they wanted, and then we would translate “This is not a ______” into French and write it at the bottom. An art lesson and a French lesson all in one! Voila!
Little did I now how fabulous these would be. One child made a gorgeous blue whale:
And another student decided to take it one step further, stating “This is not stinky cheese. It’s you!”
The piece de resistance was recreating Son of Man with the children. I hung an apple from the rafters and each child stood in front of it so I could take their picture. Suddenly, bobbing for apples looks like an exercise in surrealism!
For some further fun at home, there are a number of wonderful books about Rene Magritte and surreal artwork – two of my favorites are Susan Goldman Rubin’s Magritte’s Imagination (which offers a fun introductory ride through Magritte’s mind) and Michael Garland’s Dinner at Magritte’s which tells the story of a bored little boy who finds out his next door neighbor is Rene Magritte! Both of these books provide a wonderful glimpse into this amazing artist’s mind.
Also, the Magritte Museum in Belgium offers a wonderful web site for kids with lots of fun activities, games, galleries and resources. Visit it at http://www.extra-edu.be!

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