Google Eyed Magritte: Google's Holiday Logos and the Culture War

Google’s oddball choices of “holiday” logos have reached a new height of surreality. Though they famously almost never memorialize Easter or Columbus Day (the last Easter was in 2000, the last Columbus Day never), they did celebrate the birthdays of Marc Chagall, Diego Velazquez, Walter Gropius, Alexander Graham Bell, and the LEGO brick this year. And every year they celebrate the Persian New Year, Earth Day, and Saint Patrick’s Day. Yesterday, you see, was the birthday of Rene Magritte, famous for his painting of a man in a bowler hat with an apple floating in front of his face.

Yes, really. There is also the painting of a formidable pipe with “this is not a pipe” written under it to emphasize the point that the picture is not the real thing. Actually, since he was French, he wrote “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.” Same feeble joke, different language.

[Rant continued after the jump]

Apparently, Rene “This is not a Pipe” Magritte is more worthy of a customized Google logo than other birthday boys and girls Doctor John, Coleman Hawkins, Pope Benedict XV, Stan Musial, Francois Voltaire, Earl “the Pearl” Monroe, Harold Ramis, Goldie Hawn, Bjork, Lorna Luft, or Tina Brown. Likewise he is more worthy of note than Prince Emperor Franz Josef of Austria who was assassinated died on this date in 1916, setting off about two years after the assassination of his nephew Archduke Franz Ferdinand set off World War I, or the Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

I’m not kidding. And I could go on. But I’ll get back to Magritte.

Magritte was a famous exponent of something called the surreal. In other words it’s something other than real: Fantasy, to use an old fashioned word.

Other Surrealists included Salvador Dali, Andre Breton, and Marcel Duchamp. They intermingled with the Dadaists, who were dedicated to the destruction of aestheticism and its replacement with ridiculous, shocking or vulgar artifacts on the theory that since the subjective impression of artistry and beauty was enough to transport some very suggestible people into reverie, actual artistic skill was no longer relevant. All that was required of the artist was hype. And that’s where we stand now, with hype as the only thing that matters. Abstract expressionism is the classic example in painting. While 10,000 monkeys typing at 10,000 typewriters might never reproduce a line of Shakespeare, three monkeys with a plentiful supply of paint and a huge canvas could reproduce Jackson Pollack. Cut-up novels like the works of William Burroughs are simply semi-pornographic stories with minimal characterization and a bit of random rearrangement to make them seem sophisticated. And movies, once the quintessential American art-form, are no longer interesting. They are the money gathering thing that reaps the interest sown by brilliantly produced movie trailers and music videos, which are the new quintessential American art-form. And so it is with much in our society. The hype, the flash, the sizzle sells. But the steak is gristly and overdone. How many times do we have to be disappointed before we give up?

Thanks, Magritte! Thanks for nothing! And to Google, thanks for memorializing one of the gang who killed art and replaced it with Andy Warhol hype.

Crossposted at Beaglescout