Enduring masterpieces have two qualities. They INVITE and they DELIGHT.
A picture invites us by presenting a clear effect at a glance. It grabs us from across a room. The composition makes a definite statement. The lighting conveys an unmistakable mood.
The basic idea or situation of the picture must be evident right away. It must be understandable without too much explanation. Avoid concepts that are too intellectual. Avoid illustrations that depend entirely on an extrinsic narrative, unless it is universally recognized. People are easily embarrassed if they cannot begin to respond to a picture right away.
At the same time most masterpieces raise a question, suggest a mystery, leave a doubt, or present an unresolved conflict.
While a strong singular impact invites us into a picture, what really captivates us are the delights that we discover after the first impression.
“Delight” doesn’t mean the picture is necessarily cheery and optimistic; even if the story is horrifying or foreboding, we find a strange pleasure in exploring the sources and consequences of the tragedy. For this reason, we're usually more interested in the moment just before or just after the peak of the action.
We like pictures that let us discover things on our own. We connect with a picture when we find subtle, hidden elements.
We want to study a picture to become familiar with the supporting characters or details. We want to discover hints of a story beyond the obvious. If this is done well, we will say, “I see something new every time I look at that picture.”
When a picture contains human figures, we automatically identify with them. The human factor helps us live inside the scene. We respond to real people in real situations. Poses must be based on life, even if they are idealized.
Emotions, such as humor or pathos, must be sincerely felt by the artist, and transmitted by every pictorial means possible.
In landscape, the human factor can be the mere suggestion of a human presence, such as a road or a tree stump.
Next time you’re planning a picture, let those words dance in your head: “invite, delight.”