Ceci N’est Pas Un Livre

Today I am referring to the artwork The Treachery of Images by Rene Magritte. Unfortunately for my purposes, it was painted recently enough that there is still a copyright holder. The complexities of copyright law escape me, and despite the fact that this is a marginally educational post I’m not sure if it’s ok for me to post in on here, so I will simply link to the Wikipedia page and wait while you look at it.

So it’s a pretty naturalistic (this is the art historian’s word for “Hey, this painting looks really life-like”) painting of a pipe, and underneath are written the words “Ceci n’est pas une pipe,” which translates quite well into “This is not a pipe.” I love this painting, I love the irony in the text and I care enough about art theory to love what it’s saying. Though the painting is naturalistic, it is not a pipe. It is a painting of a pipe, nothing more. It easily transitions into a semiotic discussion relating to what an object actually is. Just like the word “cat” is not actually the fuzzy, biting creature, but a symbol for it, the painting is not a pipe, but a representation of it. All art and depictions are not actually the object, just a more or less naturalistic representation of what the object is.

It’s why we recognize the humans in the Bull Leapers fresco at Knossos as people just as easily as one depicted in a Gericault.

One of those depictions is more naturalistic than the other, but we recognize all of the figures in both paintings as people. The figures are simply representations of humans, not humans themselves.

So with that for context, perhaps this will be funnier to everybody. Nedrelow is a website that sells “companion products for digital devices”, and among their products are a number of iPad sleeves and cases. On of the cases is called Book and it looks like this:


Image used with permission.

On the binding it very simply says “This is Not a Book.” A very kind notice to anyone who might be mistaken. The iPad may contain some books, but the case is only representative of a book. It is, in fact, not a book.

If I ever purchase an iPad, this will be my next purchase. (No, I am not a nerdy Art Historian).

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4 thoughts on “Ceci N’est Pas Un Livre

  1. Ceci n’est pas un livre. “Une livre” is a rough translation for “pound,” as in “I lost a pound last week on my diet!” “Un” livre is a book.

  2. I enjoyed this post. I’m going to need a print of that in the house that I will hopefully own one day. I’ve told you about my theory on the difference between college housing and real houses, right? Posters vs. frames. Oh so classy. :)

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