Plato assigned art to the same category as shadows, images in mirrors, and reflections in water. Art was an untrustworthy form of knowledge, an imitation of higher reality. The tendency of esthetics ever since has been to save art by moving it out of this chancy and unstable realm by stressing its formality, which can be made a metaphor of ideal order. In this way, art, as it approached the ideal, could be made better than the world it imitated. For this reason discussion of figurative art still tends to discount the reality of subject-matter and to stress, instead, prestigeful formal elements. It used to be possible to look at a skull by Cézanne and see only a "spherical form," not an emblem of death. Faced with the subjects of Dine, we are not invited to discover their formal equivalents; nor are we tempted to see the subjects as symbols of vanity, or opulence, or whatever. What we get is the object presented as literally and emphatically as possible.
The question arises: what happens when an artist presents his subjects as literally and emphatically as Dine does? Does he remove his images from the world of imitation? He gives us images of neckties, the same size as life, only buried in paint; or, neckties, partly painted in gaudy facsimile, partly schematic, and partly left as vacant space. Similarly with Beads, a giant ring in which the beads run from three‐ dimensional orbs to flat unshaded circles. These images are incomplete but completely unambiguous. There is no uncertainty about what these signs refer to, but the provisional and arbitrary nature of the signs is ruthlessly celebrated.
Dine refers to hair by covering a canvas with paint tracks like greatly enlarged hairs and by writing in the word "hair" (it might have been "grass"). His Pearls unites the word with a mighty string of pearls (metal-painted halves of rubber balls). René Magritte has written words on paintings, but his words and his images are never congruent; by calling "A" "B," he aimed for poetic disorientation. Dine, on the contrary, presents his image with a maximum unmistakability combined with an absolutely accurate one-word description. Instead of feeling the____________________