Ceci n’est pas une Magritte!

Ceci n’est pas une Magritte!
Ceci n’est pas une Magritte!

A penetrative analysis of René Magritte’s “The Two Mysteries” won last weekend’s hotly-contested final of the 2011 ARTiculation Prize, which challenges sixth formers to give a short presentation on a work of art.

The event, which is run jointly by the Roche Court Educational Trust and the University of Cambridge and was hosted by Clare College, Cambridge, marked the climax of two months of heats involving 38 different schools.

Each entrant is asked to give a five to 10 minute presentation on a work of art of their choice, and is judged on his or her ability to give the listeners a deeper insight into, and enthusiasm for, the artwork in question.

Saturday’s final formed part of a wider conference for students from the schools taking part, in which they were treated to a day at the University of Cambridge learning about art and architecture, and gaining some insight into what life as a student at Cambridge is like.

More than 100 students heard talks from Deborah Howard, Professor of Architectural History; and Rupert Featherstone, Director of the Hamilton Kerr Institute for Art Conservation. There were also tours of gallery and college art collections around the University given by current undergraduates, before the seven ARTiculation finalists locked horns for the afternoon’s contest, which was judged by Sir Christopher Frayling, Professor Emeritus of Cultural History at the Royal College of Art.

After two hours of talks which took in sculpture, surrealism, romanticism, realism, and works ranging from the 16th century to the present, the first prize was awarded to Richard Freeland, from Winchester College, for his talk on "The Two Mysteries" by Magritte.

In a forensic close-reading of his subject, Richard explored both the educative layout of the painting and the philosophical meaning of the cryptic caption "Ceci n’est pas une pipe". He concluded that Magritte examined the tension between representation and reality to the point of near-meaninglessness in order to explain how our minds perceive art and the world around us. He also added that the artist himself would have dismissed the notion of using a powerpoint presentation for the discussion of one of his own paintings, remarking "Ceci n’est pas une Magritte".

Second prize went to Dina Thain from Chenderit School, who spoke on "The Benefits Supervisor Sleeping" by Lucien Freud, and explained the nature of the relationship between artist and sitter before showing how Freud’s careful attention to certain details in the piece drew out the confrontational aspects of the image to full effect and thus sparked widespread debate in the art world and beyond.

A discussion of an even more controversial work - Daphne Todd’s "Last Portrait of Mother" - was given by Aggie Torrance from St Paul’s Girls School to claim third place. Aggie showed how the painting allowed both artist and viewer to come to terms with death far more effectively than the sometimes voyeuristic way in which we experience images of death through other media.

There was also a special commendation for Alistair Wedderburn, from Benton Park School, Leeds, who focused on the role of hope and euphoria in Géricault’s "The Raft of the Medusa" to produce an original reinterpretation of a famous painting perhaps better known for its evocation of fear and despair.

The 2011 contest was the fifth time the ARTiculation Prize has been run, and involved a wider range of schools than ever before. Full details about the Roche Court Educational Trust, which is based at the New Art Centre in Wiltshire and focuses on engaging young people with art, can be found at www.sculpture.uk.com