About a year ago, my good friend and fellow artist Cora Waterhouse turned me onto to Robert Genn's twice weekly email letter. Mr. Genn is a brilliant painter and writer who consistently offers thought provoking insights on all topics art related...the craft of painting, sources of inspiration, the natural world, work habits, art book reviews, brain science, art world politics, etc., etc. I read the twice weekly letter religiously and it has ALWAYS been worth my time.
The second letter of this past week was fantastic and shed light on something that I've always felt to be true about my own work but couldn't explain why. This is the idea of 'equivocation' or intentional ambiguity. There is a magic balance in abstract/representational painting where you reach a point that something is 'just enough'. Stepping over that line for me can absolutely ruin a piece; connect too many dots and the picture disappears. Here's what Robert had to say:
"A few minutes ago I was watching a young couple staring at a huge abstract painting in a commercial art gallery. The painting was mysterious, dark, tentative--with perhaps, only perhaps, the whisper of a female figure. Previously, when I'd daringly checked out its very high price, a gallerista swept by and assured me, "We sell a lot of this man's work."
Now I'm sitting on a bench eating coconut ice cream while keeping abreast of brain science on my iPad. V.S. Ramachandran is a professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, San Diego. Looking into various brains, including the brains of people who look at art, he's come to the conclusion that things are better when they are less visible. He calls it "The Peekaboo Principle." In his research, it seems that girls in scanty clothing are more appealing to the average straight male than girls in the buff. To be fair, these findings have been challenged by every frat house west of the Pecos.
According to Ramachandran, concealment works because we are hardwired to solve puzzles. People get turned on by problem solving.
Further, curiosity is more arousing than the part where you get the message. This is how Ramachandran explains the popularity of abstract art. It seems our tiny perfect brains are forever on the lookout for wizardry. He thinks we are hardwired for what he calls "ultranormal stimuli." Yep, it's a bit like religion--many people crave the possibilities of the transcendent, the divine, the paranormal."
To subscribe to Robert Genn's free twice weekly letter, follow this link. It should get you to the current letter, then there's a 'subscribe' button towards the top. You won't be sorry!