Magic in Contemporary Context
La Clairvoyance(1936) by Rene Magritte
I believe there is no way we can have a discourse about the relation of human perceptions, the eye, and visual without mentioning the works of Rene Magritte. Magritte’s oeuvre always contemplates the way we — our eyes, mind, heart, soul — perceive the daily subjects. While all of his works play with our perception, his La Clairvoyance pretty neatly sums up all of his works in how to stimulate our thinking and seeing. In this work Magritte himself sits in front of his canvas, painting a bird.
It is the outcome of his perception: point of reference, an unhatched egg. This provides reasons for why no one in this world can ever have the same reaction, experience, or methods of dealing with problems, even if we are given the same situation under the same circumstances. It is because people’s experience of the same event or an image is entirely personal.
This is well explained by William James’ “stream of consciousness” theory. He says that, “no state once gone can recur and be identical with what it was before” and this is because “my thought belongs with my other thoughts, and your thoughts with your other thoughts.” Like James, Magritte (specifically in his painting La Clairvoyance) also suggests that although everyone’s behavior towards certain situations or experience is different, if we put our effort into observing the person or the thing, we can predict the next move of the subject. If in our thinking process our consciousness flows as suggested, can we say that, just possibly, we can foresee beyond our present state to our next behavior, next move, next decision, what we imagine when we see certain things?
A Japanese artist, Kusama Yayoi makes artworks that are loved worldwide for their unique style characterized by repeated dots. Her obsession with polka dot patterns were results of what she hallucinated as a child. Her eyes were perceiving these patterns on what she saw. Even if Yayoi and I were both given the same pumpkin, I would view it differently than Yayoi because her oracular consciousness works differently than mine. Polka dots are what she viewed the world in and amidst. They were also her way of coping with her hallucinations. Even the first phase of the eyes perceiving an object (the input) can meet changes by tricks people’s psyche sometimes play on the eyes. Our sight changes. It makes sense that the outcome of it — all of our actions, responses towards it — is vulnerable to providing unparalleled results. Similar example would be the way a colorblind person perceives a visual. For instance, when colorblind people see a traffic light, they perceive it differently than those who can see color. It would be a complete hue of grey, yellow, or red scale tone, depending on which type of colorblind they are. In this case their consciousness would react differently than those of non-colorblind people because the color blinds would have the order of the traffic light memorized. For those who can’t differentiate certain colors, it would be the senses of the memorabilia that is processed within their brain, perhaps, what James would call time-gap. The idea is that they view the world as their eyes receive a different sentiment or sense. And they may experience a moment of more conscious gap in processing the reception.
From the case of Kusama Yayoi, we can hypothesize that her next work will most likely be of polka dots because it is the way she perceives the world in the first place. There is no record of it but no one knows how and what Magritte’s eyes mechanism was perceiving or whether there was any time-gap to fill in that short moment of blankness with what he remembers the aftermath of an egg or his conscious planning and thinking were involved in his decision to paint a full sized bird instead of an egg. But whatever is given to his eyes as a point of reference, we will be ascertain of his point of view — how, or in what form he perceived it. It is probable the unhatched egg did not appear as an unhatched egg in his eyes. It will forever be a mystery as this process of perception via our mind is entirely personal.
The next phase is the process from (ocular)reception leading (decision) to the next action. This is a process which operates in a psychological sense through our conscious, subconscious and unconscious. To consider it in reverse, our behaviors, actions, reactions and responses reflect the flow of our thoughts. This means that by analyzing the behavior and knowing the people we are able to hypothesize their next course of action.
In fact, we can find this idea applied in our reality today. The FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit professionally “profiles” and analyzes the “unknown subject”, the criminal to predict his/her next move to solve the murder cases. The FBI agents analyze the suspect’s moves, reaction to certain questions, situations, facts that they come up with or find during the investigation. The agents search for both conscious and subconscious behavior or if there are any changes in them. The heightened circumstances provide different emotional and psychological conditions to them. The agents must catch and analyze even a minor detail that shows changes in or interrupts their suspect’s flow of thoughts. Similar to how an FBI agent finds out and proves the suspect is a criminal, what Magritte reflects in La Clairvoyance is the whole process happening in his own consciousness after his eyes perceive his point of reference. He reads the unhatched egg and sees what it could become in the future. His mind visualizes further into the egg’s future. His mind projects beyond what his eyes sees — passing of time, the egg cracking open and hatching a hatchling which will eventually grow up to be a full-sized bird.
The title of this thought-provoking piece, La Clairvoyance is translated as Insight in English. We utilize our insight in our workplaces all the time. In franchise companies, marketing agencies, advertising firms, they all use this insight to satisfy customer needs and provide what is demanded by the consumers. In marketing, they strategize their campaigns based on what the marketers call “brand funnel.” For their pool of target customers, they position them into different levels of phases regarding the brand — unaided awareness, aided awareness, familiarity, consideration, and purchase. This statistic is developed based on purchasing habits, media consumption habits, etc. Depending on which phase of the group they are targeting, the marketers direct, execute and strategize the campaign differently each with different goals. For instance, for people under “aided awareness” they would plan and develop marketing ideas more rigorously than those under “unaided awareness” with a fundamental level goal of raising awareness of the brand. From these statistics, we know how many of the targets are in “consideration” categories because as this group of people are considering this product, it is highly probable that their next move is going to be purchase. For those under “consideration” category the campaigns even include a call-to-action remarks or promotional notes that would really push the people to go into the store now. For the targets of the “consideration” category, marketer’s next step is to analyze their interests, affinities, hobbies, professions, their position within their family members. This provides leads into predicting their purpose for purchase of the product as well as their specific demand or needs in life. Knowing that they are in search of something that will meet their needs and demands helps the marketers come up with a strategic direction which will most effectively communicate that the product they are selling can be their solution. This is an act of penetrating into someone or something so the marketers can identify and follow their flow of consciousness, subconscious and unconscious thus in the end predicting their future activity (also known as forecasting). Perhaps, in all parts of our lives, from minor to major circumstances we are already performing what we have long considered to have been a superstitious realm — mediumship, telepathy, mind reading. It simply requires hyper-attentiveness and hyper-scrutinization into the person or the subject in communication with us.
Perhaps in the near future, artists may be predictable. But this thought begs the question if they will even be replaced? For instance, there are discussions about David Hockney and the price of his works skyrocketing because of his old age nearing natural death. And it can be imaginable that someone close to him, his assistant or his friend — anyone who has been studying and experienced him for a long enough time, would understand his sentiment, desires, consciousness, soul, heart, and mind. Possibly after his death, they will impersonate Hockney and even continue to work on his unfinished i-Pad oeuvres. This is similar to some writers who claimed to have had spiritual encounters with a deceased writer who used their physical body (an act of being possessed) to finish his/her book that the deceased writer never got to finish when still alive. But could this form of clairvoyance or mediumship, used to the level of impersonating or spiritual possession, be seen as intrusion into a place — mind and thoughts that should be left entirely private and have the right to secrecy? How do we identify ourselves as “ourselves” and human beings if everyone has access to everyone else’s mind?
With La Clairvoyance, Magritte propels us to expend our perspective of the world. The idea he suggests of what projecting into an object or person can provide is simple. We have the ability to work the magic of foretelling or mediumship, but we are blinded by the competitive and desolate reality. This notion is an obvious truth and yet people still fail to accept it, especially in workplaces, institutions, government, companies, agencies — basically any place that has tradition, regulation and authority. They restrict us in how we can act, react, or respond, often expecting everyone to have such experience in the same way. We must have a fundamental belief that all human beings perform differently in response to what they perceive even in the same situation. As long as we have that belief, the opportunities to project into the future will naturally follow. At the end of the day, we will be able to see beyond what is given to our eyes, flourishing our life in the world. And yet, the controversial morality of its use will stay a never-ending discourse.