Magritte and the art of seeing

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Magritte is one of my favorite artists. When I discovered D. B. Johnson’s new book on Magritte a few weeks ago, I was very excited. I remembered Johnson’s picture books about Henry David Thoreau — Henry Builds a Cabin and Henry Hikes to Fitchburg. Magritte’s Marvelous Hat (Houghton Mifflin, 2012) can be used in so many ways . . . to introduce children to Magritte and to get them to look closer at Magritte’s paintings, as Johnson’s illustrations are full of references to Magritte’s works. It would be great for Picture This! our library program that introduces art and illustration to children and has them create books in that style. But first up was a book talk for third graders, so I thought I’d try it. I always include a variety of books, as third graders read at such a wide variety of levels: picture books, non-fiction, short chapter books and longer chapter books. Poetry and informational books.

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So I read part of this book aloud, and they loved the clear pages. There are several see-through type pages that are used extremely effectively here (not gimmicky!) The children gasped when the painting lands on Magritte’s face as the egg-shaped artwork “unpaints” itself. I showed them Mike Venezia’s biography of Magritte,magritte

and gave a brief description of the Surrealist movement. We talked about how realistic the objects looked, yet something was wrong (size, location, etc.) One of my favorite comments was in regard to the painting of the man with the apple in place of his face, “It looks like he used Photoshop.” Then I showed them L’Empire des Lumieres (The Dominion of Lights), 1954 and asked them whether it was daytime or nighttime. More lively discussion followed.

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I was thrilled that they were actually looking closely!

Later that afternoon I was walking through the library by the art prints — yes, we circulate art prints! And there on the wall was this image. Surely I have seen it before — I walk this way several times a day. But today, this afternoon, I saw. How many things in life are like this . . .  right there in front of you . . . you just have to be able to see them.

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