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René Magritte on bourgeois art and the Communist Party


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The University of Minnesota Press recently published the first English-language collection of writings by René Magritte. Entitled, appropriately enough, René Magritte: Selected Writings, the book is edited by Kathleen Rooney and Eric Plattner. An excerpt of the book has been posted at The New Inquiry. While Magritte’s paintings are often whimsical and enigmatic, his writing in the excerpt could not be more serious and direct in its denunciation of bourgeois art values and its call for a luxurious, rather than an austere, communism:

Class consciousness is a basic necessity, but this does not mean that the workers have to be condemned to bread and water and that it is wrong to wish for chicken and champagne. They are Communists precisely because they aspire to a higher life, worthy of man.

The Communist painter justifies his artistic activity by creating pictures that are an intellectual luxury, a luxury for a Communist society, differing — it goes without saying — from the useless, ostentatious and bad-taste luxury of the present exploitative classes.

If we wish to systematically exclude this luxury from the Socialist world we are consenting to an offensive, sordid mediocrity, at least in the intellectual domain.

A superior life cannot be conceived of without genuine luxury. We cannot win without the political struggle, nor without the difficult struggle that certain revolutionary artists are engaged in, those who do not limit their efforts to expressing political ideas alone, or representing familiar scenes from the life of the workers for the purpose of general edification.

Image: René Magritte, Le sorcier (Autoportrait aux quatre bras) / The Sorcerer (Self-portrait with four arms), 1952. Via The New Inquiry.