Magritte, The Key to Dreams (1930). Oil on canvas, 81 x 60 cm. Private Collection
Why this painting Key to Dreams has become so unique
The Key to Dreams by Rene Magritte was painted in 1930, and this picture made a huge step towards this French artist becoming a leading member of the Surrealist movement.
Magritte’s popular artwork seems to challenge any preconditioned perceptions of reality and the illusionist, dream-like quality of the painting is very characteristic of Magritte’s unique version of the genre of Surrealism.
Rene Magritte said, “It is a union that suggests the essential mystery of the world. Art for me is not an end in itself, but a means of evoking that mystery” when he described seemingly unrelated objects, juxtaposed together as in the painting above.
Magritte would often display ordinary objects in an unusual context. This would give new meanings to familiar things and objects as other than what they seem is typified normally as. “The Treachery of Images” which shows a pipe that looks as though it is a model for a tobacco store advertisement, for instance is a very famous painting.
This so called “pipe painting” has become infamous, mainly because Magritte put below the pipe “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” which seems like a contradiction, but what he is saying is actually true and that is that the painting is not a pipe, it is an image of a pipe, which makes you think a little.
When Magritte once was asked about this image, he replied by saying: “of course it was not a pipe because you cannot fill it with tobacco.” Magritte used the same approach in a painting of an apple when he painted the fruit and then used an internal caption or framing device to deny that the item was an apple, but just an image; and psychologically with regard to perception (at this level) there is a difference.
In these so called “Ceci n’est pas” works, Magritte is saying that no matter how naturalistic we depict an object in art, we can never be that precise and cannot catch the item itself; thus, what we see and what we know is never settled.
Magritte’s style of surrealism is a little more representational than the style of artists such as Joan Miró and Salvador Dali, thus Magritte’s use of ordinary objects shown up in unfamiliar spaces really connects with his desire to create poetic imagery and he has become quite unique in Surrealist circles.
There is a psychoanalytic explanation for Rene Magritte’s play with reality and illusion; it suggests that the early death of his own mother means he was shifting back and forth with what he wished for (mother alive) and reality (mother dead) thus, in the Key to Dreams he uses a schoolroom reading text to express this!
Magritte uses simple images to pack a subversive message in many of his paintings. In this six panel image, none of the nouns (the acacia, moon, snow, ceiling, storm, desert) match up. The title is Key to Dreams and this does imply that there may be more psychological, deeper, hidden connections, hence, this is part of the key question about art and its relationship to language, thought and reality.
In summary, Rene Magritte described his act of painting as, “the art of putting colors side by side in such a way that their real aspect is effaced, so that familiar objects—the sky, people, trees, mountains, furniture, the stars, solid structures, graffiti—become united in a single poetically disciplined image. The poetry of this image Key to Dreams dispenses with any symbolic significance, old or new.”
“Snow White” is part of the animation series featuring Betty Boop that was made for Paramount Pictures in 1933, and this cartoon begins with Snow White herself, looking into a magic mirror resembling the face of Cab Calloway!
It is truly wonderful that a black and white short such as this version of “Snow White” has managed to last the test of time, thus it is clearly one of Paramount’s best, having been selected for preservation in the National Film Registry, because of its cultural significance, and it is now recognised by the United States Library of Congress as well.
As the cartoon unfolds, we see that the Queen is of course Betty’s ‘stepmama’ and she just has to see stepmother because she has heard all about the infamous looking glass. When this mirror proclaims Betty to be the ‘fairest in the land’ the Queen is understandably horrified.
This cartoon is notable for its subtle soundtrack. The Queen has a ghastly voice though, thus Queeny – who resembles Olive Oyl in looks – orders her guards to execute Betty ‘off with her head’ she says. Hence, it is her beloved Bimbo and Koko who have to drag poor Betty to the forest where she will meet with her fate.
Part of the fun with a cartoon like this is the blend of themes and characters from a whole range of mediums dating back to the early days of animation.
Luckily, the girl escapes when the tree she is tied to comes to life, and lifts her out into the snow and she tumbles down in a snowball and slides into a frozen river and becomes encapsulated in a coffin of ice. This doesn’t sound very pleasant, but down she goes to meet the Seven Dwarfs and they ski her even further down to an enchanted cave which is good fun to watch, especially for children.
With Betty out of the way, the Queen again fishes for compliments, but the mirror ain’t havin’ it so the Queen turns into a wicked witch and then the side show begins.
The Seven Dwarfs think that Betty is dead when she is frozen away and make her final resting place in the Mystery Cave, but Betty melts and comes back to life while the clown – with Cab Calloway’s voice – sings “St. James Infirmary Blues” in the weird cave full of flying skeletons, and floating ghosts. Then they dance around it in a circle of victory before the film ends.
Because the plot here differs really to the original, it is quite clearly being used to deliver a big range of imaginative animation, highlighted by the background drawings completed by the artists from the Fleischer Studios. Interestingly enough Koko the Clown preempts the so called moonwalk dance and something similar from early Cab Calloway footage in a huge rendition of the “St James” number.
In summary, this cartoon “Snow White” has now been voted one of the 50 Greatest Cartoons of all time by members of the animation field and has since become part of the public domain.