They say a picture is worth a thousand words. What if that picture could reshape our perception of what we define as “normal”? Belgian artist René Magritte captures the idea of reality and distorts the representation of everyday objects through his work, Les Valeurs Personnelles, or Personal Values, painted in 1952. This artwork not only highlights the values of the time period it was painted, it also provides insight as to how art challenges the limitations that society has placed on the human mind, which leave no interpretation in a world full of mysteries, paradoxes, and riddles.
Ask a group of people to paint what they believe to be “personal values.” The impact that the twenty-first century has left on this generation is that items like cell phones, earbuds, laptops, and any other technical innovation that keep our eyes, ears, and even thumbs occupied are what we refer to as “personal values.” How does Magritte look at it? In Les Valeurs Personnelles, Magritte defines the personal values of his particular time period: the fifties. Looking back over sixty years brings us to where we not only defined our personal values differently, but also defined the meaning of “luxury” in an incredibly different way. Magritte represents objects of everyday life through oil paint, scattered across a vacant bedroom. These items include a tortoiseshell comb, a pink and yellow matchstick, a teal translucent wine glass, a men’s shaving brush, and a terracotta colored bar of soap. All seemingly normal, everyday objects. However, Magritte’s arrangement and representation of these objects forces spectators to take a closer look at the work in order to find meaning in the seemingly carelessly p...
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...y of Les Valeurs Personnelles provides a paradox that can’t be easily solved or defined. This is why this work remains relevant today. The incorporation of personal objects in Magritte’s work helps us understand and associate with something out of the ordinary. By associating with things that exercise our train of thought, we are able to continue the expression of individuality. Just because we don’t understand something doesn’t mean it’s meaningless, it means it’s simply beyond our limits we have set for ourselves in terms of shaping the reality we are forced to accept today. By being exposed to art, especially ambiguous works such as Les Valeurs Personnelles, we are able to participate in cultures we’re not familiar with, learn of a society far different than ours, and create meanings for works that are seemingly “meaningless” and “confusing” to an undiscerning eye.
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