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How deep should a painting be?

The depths that people are willing to go to are very shallow indeed. Most people only require that an artwork be pleasing to the eye. Matisse believed that art should have "a soothing, calming influence on the mind, something like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue." Need it be more?

Personally, I prefer something more compelling: an artwork that can be simultaneously sad and hopeful, or perhaps emit elegance whilst being crude. Paintings generally have varying interpretations depending on where, when and by whom they are being viewed. And for how long. The more you look, the more you see. Like a rose, you may peel back the more obvious outer petals to reveal those that are smaller, more subtle and intertwined. Or perhaps it's more like a novel, where in further reading you pick up another piece of the puzzle in the hope of unraveling the true meaning.

However, unlike a novel or a movie, the contemporary painting has no beginning, middle or timely conclusion. A lone painting is a single frame, a snapshot, a fleeting moment. Whilst a narrative may indeed exist, it is unlikely to be linear or straightforward.

Each observer of art must decide the level of storytelling that they are willing to receive. For those that like to delve into the mysteries of a painting, they may analyse it, unpack it, construct multiple narratives or project their own experiences onto it. For them a painting speaks a thousand words.

And for the many who prefer to take things at face value, a single glance will suffice. Like love at first sight, one can appreciate the essence of a painting without having to understand all of its parts. For what is the value of a rose that has been pulled apart and deconstructed? A brief encounter with a work of art is more than enough for most. And if after this short interaction we find the painting attractive and well suited, we may indeed take it home to meet the family. After all, a rose is just a rose and a painting is just that: a painting.

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