Avoiding Conceit, a lesson from art history

The Treachery of Images by Rene Magritte

I’m lucky to have a son whose interest in music history overlaps with my interest in art history. We often compare how the protests against the status quo show up for artists and musicians of the same era. Think about the Psychedelic art and music of the 60’s.  In one such discussion, I ended up reading an article about Rene Magritte and the music surrounding him. Basically, they were saying, “Let’s get away from realism and the obsession with presenting perspective correctly, and present something that is greater than reproducing what we see.” The idea of letting the subconscious communicate out into the world was the fascination. And you can kind of see how that’s much more interesting for many artists than striving to master technical details to paint something that could be mistaken for a photograph. I was struck by the idea: there was also protest against the protest and often artists lost sight of the original goals, becoming lost in a new set of rules. 

But even those who were revolting against the status quo had detractors within the same revolution. The criticism was akin to accusing them of a teenager’s rebellious behavior. Are you getting your nose pierced to piss off your parents or because you really enjoy it?  To aspire to make the smug Bourgeoisie uncomfortable was a “conceit.” These are the teenagers just trying to piss of their parents. I love the concept of a conceit. In art and music and design of technology the concept of conceit is so powerful. It basically highlights the tendency for all of us as creators to forget our higher aspirations and jump onto some rules or guidelines because we think will make us look more sophisticated. To truly serve our art or our customers, we have to be willing to be transparent and vulnerable and to be seen as unsophisticated.