Over the weekend, I decided to visit the Menil Museum in Houston to search for some solace after a hectic workweek.  If you have ever been to the Menil, then you already understand that the display provides a full spectrum of visuals to entice almost anyone.  After all, that’s the best part about art, right?  The way it appeals in so many different ways to so many different people.

Then, it happened.  My eyes met that one piece of art that unleashed an entire flood of professional emotions.  I was looking at “Les Origines du Langage” or “The Origins of Language”, 1955, by Belgian Surrealist painter Rene Magritte.

As I studied Magritte’s work, pondering the title over and over in my head, I began to reflect.  Naturally, as a linguist, my brain turned to language, and I soon found myself exploring the very nature of Magritte’s work that hung before my eyes. A large four-sided, flat topped tall stone protrudes from a calm, blue body of water that extends to the horizon. White puffy cumulous clouds dot about where the sea meets the sky. I thought about the nature of my industry, and how, as translation professionals, our singular goal is to examine the linguistic art form and generate understanding from one language to another as though we are interpreting an artist’s meaning.

Now, my interpretation of Rene Magritte’s art took me way beyond the translation that I know so well, such as that of a manual or legal document, and I embarked on a mental quest to translate the surreal nature of the piece, and explore its overarching symbolism.  Was the clue in the boulder?  Was there some coded message in the clouds?  Perhaps the meaning was held somewhere in the transitioning color of the ocean water, I thought.  Art, like language, is about meaning and context.

The vastness of the collective compositions of Magritte’s work lead me to this closing thought – language origins, like the elemental combinations of all these mediums, achieve an intellectual balance that continues to evolve through time. “Les Origines du Langage” and its simplistic, geologic nature – the air, clouds and water, all contribute to the weathering of the boulder over time.  Sure, the shape will change, but the boulder will still remain, much like how languages continue to change over time and across international borders.

Let me be perfectly clear – I am no art critic.  I do not pretend to understand the nature of Magritte’s mind or the inspiration that bled into this particular canvas.  I am but a humble linguist, who deeply enjoys the unadulterated passion that drives artists to create. However, I do know one thing, and that is…

 Translation is a form of art. 

Magnifique, Rene Magritte, and to all global language artists.

Well done.

With more than 10 years of experience in energy sector, Thomas Lacombe, president of Global Speak Translations, stays on the pulse of what is happening in the global buisness arena. He enjoys art and finds translation motivation on display in the worlds museums so that he may turn language and cultural diversity into business opportunities for his clients. Learn more at www.globalspeaktranslations.com.