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Assignment 5

As with the previous assignments, I have made the assignment as a pdf document which can be downloaded here: Assignment 5 PDF submission and additionally here is the link to the 2000 word review PDF submission.

Assignment 5 pdf
Review pdf


The assignment includes:

  • Five pages of notes (for three chapters in WHA, 1900 onwards)
  • Two annotations of paintings & direct references
  • One 510 word analysis & direct references
  • General References for assignment 5

As per Assignment 3/4 feedback I’ve added extra references sections for the direct references used in each bit of the assignment and used a bigger font to format with. 


On the run up to creating assignment 5, again I re-read the feedback from previous assignments because that seemed to help with the other assignments. 

I have not yet attempted any more of the Assignment 4 rework as per feedback, I’m going to do that after I finish up the part 5 exercises I had deproritised to get all the A5 reading in. 

I followed the same advice as A3/4 as far as I could, in general to avoid over-reliance on websites and I tried to “Engage with more broadly ‘theoretical’ texts so as to deepen your research and expand your comments”. 

Again, for all parts of the assignment I did preparation blogposts which allowed me to get my notes out of my system so I could broadly keep within the word limits. 

Reflection on WHA reading Notes:
Again, I found the word count to be ridiculous. I’ve kept the longer version on my blog which I need to make to understand the period (these are much more useful to me this time because I actually put some pictures in it as well as the reflection) but for the submitted pages I had to remove lots of the content and use some shorthand. It seems so pointless, especially with the larger font formatting (as per Assignment 4 feedback). There is hardly room for any information. Even so I could only reduce to 5 pages.  As we get more mordern the content is getting more and more interesting. I’m looking forward to reading the most recent chapters and some of the international – non western chapters at leisure once the course finishes.

Reflection on annotations:

Whilst I was creating the actual annotations I changed the ordering to be more chronologic because it made sense to see how Braque developed even though I started to study them the other way around. I feel like my prep notes are a bit all over the place this time because I was doing them concurrently, I think this might have resulted in more interesting final pdf pages though even if the synthesis on the learning log is a bit messy. I certainly feel as though I understand Cubism and Fauvism much better after going through that exercise. 

I’ve decided that my apparent regression with my tendency to over note-take is actually a good thing because I’ve filled both my husbands and my own library cards with books, so my reading goals are about getting all I can from one and being able to swap it out. 

 Reflection on 500 words analysis:

I read up on point by point essay writing as per the feedback for assignment 4. It seems like it would be better suited to a direct compare and contrast analysis, which it wasn’t this time because I was discussing one architectural movement. Also, with so few words it seems a waste of word count to have an introduction etc but I did try to split it up as follows:

• Introduction
• Paragraph 1: Political, social and economic requirement & info on Brutalism
• Paragraph 2: Barbican specific example
• Paragraph 3: Unsuccessful example
• Conclusion

The work count was so limiting, I didn’t get to mention the Haywood, or the south bank or any of the other successful examples. I didn’t get to mention the various other famous architects, for example the Smithsons and their other unsuccessful estates in Poplar. I didn’t get to go into too much about the critics of it, for example Prince Charles is known to hate it. I was running close to the line and still needed to do my main review so the notes in this area (the barbican visit post) probably need fleshing out a little.

Reflection on review:

There were so many interesting places to go with the contrasting of these two artists, I hope I haven’t made a hash of it. The more I read the more interesting they both seemed but I did a lot of book reading and not a lot of note writing given the time constraints (a lot of my *notes* were just quick phone snaps of reference pages unsuitable for blogging due to copyright), the essay sort of formulated from my brain onto the page and only extra notes and spill over made it to the blog. I thought 2000 words would be great but I could have gone on and on. I did keep it in the word limit though for once. 

Overall reflection against the Assessment Criteria:

  • Demonstration of subject-based knowledge and understanding – again there was a lot of reading in this section, and I tried to mostly concentrate on using books as source material for the assignment/review research (as per feedback from assignment 1 – 4). I think I have demonstrated my understanding of the area in this assignment according to the research I have done (see above).
  • Demonstration of research skills – Where possible I tried to go and see the work I was researching in person, but also evaluated the sources I was looking at in books and on the internet for their scholarly worth. Unfortunately I was not able to see any of the images I’d chosen for the review but I was able to view one of the annotations, Brutalist architecture (which I now notice seemingly everywhere) and some others of Magrittes work at the Tate. Mostly I felt like a pack horse with all the heavy books back and forth to work. 
  • Demonstration of critical and evaluation skills – I tried to engage with the concepts throughout part five. I knew I would have no time for deadline extensions so although I read through all the exercises I skipped ahead to the assignment and review. I’m getting better at sticking to the word count in the assignment analysis, as my tutor has suggested filing research into ancillary blogposts on my learning log. Also, I found the OU format that my tutor recommended for comparing works allowed me to review the works in my own words before diving into the research parts. I tried to gather more critical sources and viewpoints from which to synthesise. 
  • Communication – I think my ideas and points are written clearly. I try to reflect on bits as I go along since the assessor cannot be inside my head. I suspect the they won’t have the time to wade through every blogpost though as I pointed out in my reflection above I think some are a bit more stream of thought this time too,written more for my own reference, the pdfs are clear and the blog is supposed to be a learning log.

Research Notes: Rene Magritte

Magritte notes in preparation for review comparing Rene Magritte and Frida Kahlo:

Rene Magritte and Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) could be thought of as Surrealist yin and yang. While she was causing a stir with her revolutionary husband and exotic traditional Mexican dress in the streets of 1930s New York, he was blending in with all the other bourgeois bowler-hatted, besuited men in Brussel and Paris. Both in their own way might not be wholly Surrealist in the Andre Breton definition. Neither were interested in the automatic, stream of consciousness techniques and theories, and neither really painted dreams. Breton patronisingly ‘discovered’ Frida, who insisted she ‘painted her own reality’ and Rene aways painted reality – with a twist. Magritte’s work was outward looking, external, from his days making wallpaper, to his advertising work, to his paintings all his work was intended for an audience. To interact with that audience he enjoyed creating puzzles, mysteries and witty visual puns with his work. His aim as he, (and Berger) pointed out, was to paint the impossible. Conversely, Frida Kahlo’s work was introspective. She made her work for herself, true to her own vision and first and foremost about exploring her own identity. It is interesting then to contrast the two Surrealist-outsiders for similarities as well as differences. As there are so many forms this could take, this review will be limited to looking at self-portraits of the two artists (an important aspect of Kahlo’s work) and their different approaches to use of text (and important aspect to Magritte’s work).

Self Portraits:

One obvious difference that jumps out in the respective oeuvres of Magritte and Kahlo is that Magritte is known for doing almost anything to avoid showing faces, he employed apples, birds, flowers, cloth, to cover faces, and more often than not the male figures in his works are turned away. In contrast, Kahlo takes a long hard look in the mirror, faces her pain and bares all to us, with over a third of her paintings as self-portraits. Freud posited that repetition was a sign of trauma, some art historians link Magritte’s tenancy to obscure faces back to 13 year old Magritte’s mother’s suicide, in which her face was allegedly covered with her nightgown when she was pulled from the river, maybe this true, or maybe it is nonsense as he always insisted, perhaps individual faces would only distract the viewer from the real subject of the works? Or perhaps Magritte liked the unsettled affect that not seeing the faces produced.

Magritte on Son of Man:

He explained the apple covering the face in The Son of Man, 1964, as follows:

“At least it hides the face partly. Well, so you have the apparent face, the apple, hiding the visible but hidden, the face of the person. It’s something that happens constantly. Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see. There is an interest in that which is hidden and which the visible does not show us. This interest can take the form of a quite intense feeling, a sort of conflict, one might say, between the visible that is hidden and the visible that is present.” (Torczyner, H, 1979)

In this painting the man stands in front of a low wall by the sea (or a large body of water), a recurrent theme despite his hometown being landlocked, water is often associated with the subconscious but perhaps for Rene it would be deeper than that. There are dark clouds gathering. He is directly facing the viewer but with a big floating green apple blocking the view of his face. His eyes are just visible peering around the side of the apple. Another strange detail is the left arm, it appears to be on backwards, i.e. that arm is from a man facing the sea. Perhaps he is showing us a duality. Some critics have speculated that he is comparing himself to Jesus, with the title, Son of Man, and the biblical association of the apple. He is known for hating symbols and rejecting organised religion so I suspect that is not the case, both the apple and bowler hatted men are recurrent motifs in Magritte work, it’s more likely that son of man refers to the generic nature of his figure. He revisits the imagery in several paintings that year that do not have the religious title with the series La Grande Guerre and The Taste of the Invisible.

The Son of Man, 1946 by Rene Magritte

Looking at Magritte’s earlier self-portraits (where he has paint his face), they are not really about him at all either, but yet another a setting for exploring the problems with visual perception or generic commentary on mankind. For example, in Attempting the Impossible, 1928. Magritte uses his banal deadpan style to depict a man (himself) painting a female nude (his wife), set in a typical bourgeois interior. However, instead of painting onto a canvas, he is painting her life size, into existence. She even has a shadow. He is playing with several things here, the bourgeois (which the Surrealists mocked at every turn) art-school practice of painting nude females, by painting his beloved wife, Georgette, he is calling on the tale of Pygmalion from Greek mythology (another dig at bourgeois art-school and classical painting traditions) and of course, as the title helpfully points out, attempting the impossible. A reminiscent paradox is presented in M.C. Escher’s Drawing Hands, 1948. 

Attempting the Impossible, 1928 by Rene Magritte

Another, self-portrait, The Clairvoyance 1936, depicts him again in the act of painting. He is painting a bird, but looking at an egg for reference. Here again he is using the title to make you really examine what you are seeing. This is a very uplifting painting, here Magritte is showing man’s capacity to the visualise potential in things. He is painting the future. In this painting the background would add nothing to the motif so has been blended out as unimportant. The colours in this work are much more saturated than the narrow palette of Attempting the Impossible, with contrasting red and blues. The red of the tablecloth highlights the white egg as the source of his gaze, and the coolness of the grey/blue bird and background area make them recede in the picture. Perhaps influenced by his time in advertising, his illustrative style clearly articulates the content of his paintings, avoiding stylistic distractions. The way in which he is painted reminds me rather of the non-nonsense look of the models in advertisements of the time. Again, the concept is not really personal to him although he did like to think of himself as a magician who pulled back the curtain of illusion with his art, to which a much later portrait (Magician, self portrait with four arms, 1952) attests.

The background in Frida’s paintings is always of relevance.

  • Cracked earth
  • Lush vegetation


René Magritte. La Clairvoyance (Clairvoyance). Brussels, 1936
Oil on canvas
Mr. and Mrs. Wilbur Ross Size: 54.5 x 65.5 cm. Location: Private collection.

The impossible:

Magritte and the impossible by John Berger, in selected essays. P345

Berger points out that Magritte uses the language of painting of Van Eyck, and the last 500 years of artists since. Tangible illusions which assume continuous space & time in which material things can be represented by appearances. It is what most Europeans still expect from visual art, a realistic likeness of objects and events in a certain setting. However, by using it, he destroys it with what he has to say, ‘destroyed the raison-d’etre of the language he used; the point of most of his paintings depends on what is not shown, upon the event that is not taking place, upon what can disappear’ (Berger, J, 2001) p345.

Berger takes as examples an early work, L’Assassin menace, 1927.

Here a naked woman lies dead, the murderer (assassin) stands rather composed listening to the gramophone. Two men (Berger thinks plainclothes police) wait to capture him with a net and a club. Three men stare through the window at the scene.

we are shown everything and nothing. We see a particular event in its concrete setting, yet everything remains mysterious – the committed murder, the future arrest, the appearance of the three staring men in the window. What fills the depicted moment is the sound of the record, and this, by the very nature of painting, we cannot hear’ (Berger, J, 2001) p345/6


Magritte frequently uses the idea of sound to comment upon the limitation of the visual. (Berger, J, 2001) P346

 Another example, La Femme Introuvable, 1928.

‘it shows a number of irregular stones embedded in cement. These stones frame a nude woman and four large hands searching for her. The painting stresses the quality of tangibility. Yet although the hands can feel their way over the stones, the woman eludes them.’ (Berger, J, 2001) p346.

Berger third early example is Le Musée d’une nuit.

In The Treachery of Images, 1929, Magritte painted a picture of a pipe with the words, ‘ceci n’est pas une pipe’, this is not a pipe underneath. Here ‘he made two languages (the visual and the verbal) cancel one another out.‘ (Berger, J, 2001)  p346

Rene Magritte – La Trahison des images (Ceci n’est pas une pipe) (The treachery of images (This is not a pipe)), 1948, Oil on Canvas, Private Collection

Berger quotes Magritte, saying he thought his pictures should be thought of ‘as material signs of the freedom of thought […] Life, the universe, the void, have no value for thought when it is truly free. The only thing that has value for it is Meaning, that is the moral concept of the Impossible’. (Berger, J, 2001) P346

Magritte explains that our experiences encroach on the ability for our thoughts to be truly free. He tries with each painting to shake off the coincidental and contingent which restrict the impossible, which is slightly confusing since one of the aims of the Surrealists was to tap into just that which floats on the surface of unconscious thought.

Berger Splits Magritte’s paintings into two categories, one in which we only have the ‘sensation of the impossible’, for example La Chambre d’ecoute, and the 1950s images where everything is made of stone. And the other where ‘the impossible has been grasped, measured and inserted as an absence in a statement made in a language originally and specially developed for depicting particular events in particular settings’. (Berger, J, 2001), p347 examples of these are Au Seuil de la liberte, Le modele rouge and Le voyageur.

Au Seuil de la liberte, on the threshold of liberty.

Le modele rouge , the red model, 1935

Plain boots would suggest that someone had simply left their shoes behind, cut off feet would point to murder or violence but shoes turning into feet makes you stop and ponder. Perhaps, as Berger thinks, this points to ‘a self that has left its own skin. The painting is about what is absent, about a freedom that is absence’. (Berger, J, 2001) p348

Le voyageur, 1937

‘if a painting by Magritte confirms one’s lived experience to date, it has by his standards, failed; if it temporarily destroys experience, it has succeeded’. (Berger, J, 2001) p347

Paradoxically, he used a familiar language to destroy the familiar.

Our idea of freedom extends, our experience of it diminishes. It is from this that the moral concept of the impossible arises’. (Berger, J, 2001) p347



Alexandrian, S. (1970) Surrealist art. Thames and Hudson Ltd

Calvocoressi , R. (1992) Magritte. (2nd Ed) Phaidon Press

Berger, J. (2001) Selected Essays. New York: Vintage

Harrison, C & Wood, P (Ed.). (2003) Art in theory 1900-2000, an anthology of changing ideas. Blackwell publishing

Honour, H & Fleming, J. (2009) A World History of Art. (7th Ed), London, Laurence King Publishing

Torczyner, H. (1979) Magritte: Ideas and Images. Harry N. Abrams, Inc.