In a recent issue of the NYTimes, the cartoon controversy found its way into the Arts section. The article ended with the following sentence:
To many people, pictures will always, mysteriously, embody the things they depict.I am not happy about that "mysteriously" adjective. It is as unenlightening as saying that words "mysteriously" embody things to many people, even words published in the New York Times. Plenty of research has been done on perception, magic, art, symbols, semiotics, and all forms of human communication. The embodiment is not unfamiliar, or we wouldn't bother to carry pictures of our loved ones around with us and even display them on our desks.
Suppose you object and say "But those are photographs! They are different from the distortions imposed by cartoonists or abstract painters! I offer you two examples:
A wealthy businessman, let's call him Monsier Armand, commissioned Picasso to paint a portrait of Madame Armand. After many sittings, M. Armand was invited to view Picasso's progress. The painting had one eye facing front, another in profile, and the rest of the portrait was similarly cubistically rendered. M. Armand was a stolid, literal-minded kind of guy, so he complained to Picasso, "That doesn't look like my wife! That is not Mme. Armand!"
Picasso was long-experienced in dealing with literal-minded types, and so he asked M. Armand "What does your wife really look like?" In frustration, M. Armand sputtered and took a snapshot of Mme. Armand out of his billfold and showed it to Picasso. Picasso took the photo in his hands and with feigned interest turned in first one way and then another and finally handed the photo back to M. Armand, saying, "Small, isn't she?
The other example is the famous realistic painting by Magritte, representing a pipe. The title is Ceci n'est pas un pipe, translation, This is Not a Pipe.
While on the subject of art, don't worry about The Scream. The famous missing painting will be found: our best people have started working on it.