What Makes A Painting Great?


Just finished reading Lisette's List by Susan Vreeland. At one point she is talking to her friend Maxime about the painting she that was a gift to her from Marc Chagall. (Maxime worked in a gallery in Paris.) While they looked at her original Chagall she asked him what makes a great painting. I just loved his reply:

"A great painting encourages us to feel some connection with a truth"..."It allows us to experience times, places, emotions, that we might not otherwise encounter. It invites us to ponder some item -- a piece of fruit or a violin in the sky or a marble figure or a cathedral--until its qualities teach us something, or enrich us." ..."It's capable of grabbing a person and holding him in a trancelike state of union with the subject until he sees who he is or who we are as human beings more clearly" ...."Being completely absorbed by the piece of art, he becomes minutely different than he was before, less limited to his previous, narrower self, and this equips him to live a better life and to avoid getting swallowed by the world's chaos."

Why do some subjects or styles or colors or artists attract you and others do not? You could go into a gallery with someone and never agree on which paintings are the best. If you've gone to an art museum, an art show or gallery sometimes there will be that piece that draws your eyes back. You just can't stop looking at it. Like Maxime says it grabs you and holds you. Those are the ones that you are absorbed in. You want to have it because you will never tire of looking at it.

So what makes them great?

This goes back to the discussion of making a painting that is not just pretty but a "Wow".

As an artist that is drawn to flowers, grapes and plastic flamingos....I can't say I am an expert! However, I do know that what I do choose to paint has "grabbed" me somehow. Maybe it was the light shining through a petal or the boldness of a red, the delicacy of raindrops on a leaf or the absurdity of a pile of pink plastic. The more something about the subject grabs the artist the easier it is for the artist to grab the viewer.

My favorite part of the quote is "It invites us to ponder some item". This resonates with me. When you stand in front of a painting of my grapes, I hope that that you see each one as an individual as I did when I painted it. I hope that the viewer is drawn in to the power of the sunlight that turned the fruit to a rainbow of colors. I hope that you are drawn to the areas in the back where the shadows are cool.

Now I want to take a trip to the Art Museum........to ponder.

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