What makes a really great painting? Is it strictly technical skills of competent paint application and good composition? I don’t think so. Different things appeal to different people and it’s sometimes hard to know what it is exactly you’re responding to when looking at a painting that really appeals to you; but given 2 very well executed paintings, it’s possible that one jumps out at you and really speaks to you, while the other is just blah. What makes the difference? It’s that Wow Factor, but what gives one painting the wow factor and not the other? And how do you get that wow factor into YOUR paintings?
I think there are 2 basic things that people respond to. Either it’s a recognition factor, or it’s an esthetic one. What do I mean by that?
By far the majority of people enjoy a painting that depicts something they can identify with. For example, landscapes, depicting an area that either brings back memories, or a scene that brings forth feelings of longing, like a beautiful peaceful place, or a majestic scenery. Or a still-life of beautiful objects, particularly flowers. Whatever it is, the viewer recognizes something he either remembers, or longs for, or simply something he loves. That’s the recognition factor. That painting speaks to the viewer based on his emotional reaction to something he knows and remembers.
The other factor, which would apply to more abstract works but can and should also apply to other paintings, is a reaction to the colours, shapes and forms in the painting. Colours that are harmonious and sing together. A contrast between 2 colours that makes each one shine and grab you. That’s the esthetic factor. The beauty of the arrangement and combination of shapes and colours and contrasts.
What you want to do is strive to have both elements in your paintings, if possible. A well-executed landscape won’t have that wow factor if you don’t have, somewhere in there, that harmony of colour, shapes that work off each other and that colour contrast that becomes your focal point and gives the painting depth and beauty. With abstract work, it’s a little more difficult as you most likely won’t have the recognition factor, so you must try that much harder to emphasize the esthetic factor to give the work that punch.
Whatever the wow factor is, you know it when you see it. It’s entirely possible that the wow factor is different for everyone, that the reaction to it is very individual and personal. I would bet that if you manage to achieve the wow factor in your own paintings (in your own eyes that is), there’s a good chance that others will see it too. If you don’t see it, nobody else will.
It’s something to strive for in any case. Accurate rendition is fine, but look for more, look for that special something that will make your work sing.
“It is not what you look at that matters, but what you see” (Henry David Thoreau)
“It’s not what you see that matters, but what you feel” (Suzette Fram)