I read an interesting quotation this week in a newsletter I subscribe to by another Artist, Robert Genn, translating French Painter, Maurice Golleau’s words, “You would be a very good painter if you included mystery in your paintings.”
This resonated with me very strongly – so much so I thought I’d make my own Blog about the subject. Adding Mystery in one’s paintings is quite some feat, but I understand that it is this ‘Je ne sais quoi’ in all artistic endeavours that makes the difference. It’s that unforgettable Riff in music, tearing at your heartstrings along with every strum – in a sad or joyful way. It’s the mysterious nature of a woman who drives men to distraction pursuing her until she finally opens up to his advances.
It’s what keeps us reading a novel with intrigue, even if the book is not necessarily in this genre and it’s what has us on the edges of our seats in the cinema, waiting for events to unravel.
Why then, should an Art piece be any different? But how could one paint mystery, you ask? There’s no build up of a plot in a single statement on a canvas. How does one paint something unknown or secret? How does one relay an obscure message in the simple medium of paint?
Art is in essence an instant of communication in itself; a brief moment when the viewer loses his or herself in the work. They experience an important split-second of awe – or boredom – this is how quick it is to capture or lose their attention.
Your job as an Artist is to arouse the curiosity of your viewers. You want them to experience a divine moment of speculation, or revelation as to the message your work is transmitting. Sometimes the meanings are as puzzling as poetry can be, where there’s an ambiguity or the deepest meanings seem vague. No message is so beyond us whereby nobody can interpret an artwork anyway other than the manner it ‘speaks’ to him or her, personally. We should read between the lines in Art as we do in Poetry.
Masked balls are an example of tickling our sense of mystery – a chance to speculate who’s behind the mask. Well Art can be the same. Art can relay a message behind a mysterious guise, like Leonardo da Vinci managed to intrigue the world for centuries with his masterpiece – there isn’t a soul alive who hasn’t wondered at some point what lies behind Mona Lisa’s smile.
So, on your next artwork, I suggest you bear this in mind. For example, you could capture one “Kodak” moment which leaves one guessing if it’s about to happen or has already transpired. Alternatively, include something unusual or out of context in your painting to taunt your viewer’s imagination – even in painting God’s masterpieces, nature or landscapes – one could always include a twist: something that shouldn’t be there or someone present, taking in the beauty. Humour or wit also adds a touch of mystery in work and amuses the viewer at the same time.
Give it a try! What have you got to lose? You may just have found that illusive quality that makes a painting a masterpiece – that quality of mystery. An unfathomable secret to success!