Michael's commentary from the "Layering
Mystery" feature on Integral Life Art Galleries 2012
"As an art form, painting has the potential to engage both artist and
audience on multiple levels at once. I think a great painting is one that
goes beyond the ordinary in each of these layers. With apologies to
deconstructionists and abstractionists everywhere, for me this is
particularly true of representational painting. The simple reason being
that it contains within it more layers than abstraction. Everything that
is "in" an abstract painting is present within a representational piece,
but not vice-versa.
The first and often most powerful level that lights up in the viewer is
what you might call the "WOW" factor. The immediate aesthetic apprehension
of the piece that arrests the attention. It is the part that transcends
words and analysis. Really, if you don't hit this one...what's the point?
The next layer that impresses itself upon the viewer is usually the
"meaning" of the piece. This depends on the ability of the painter to
convey his concept or idea effectively so that it resonates broadly in the
minds of viewers. It's the "Hey, that's clever" moment.
The next level of depth that may reveal itself to the viewer is the skill
with which the painter manipulates the physical materials themselves.
Mastery of this level can range from the sublime handling of colour and
light of Caravaggio to the sumptuous gobs of Van Gogh's frenetic
expression frozen forever in time and colour. It's the "I can't believe
someone can do that"-ness of a painting. It can be alienating to many
people when this level is so often dismissed by a post-modern art elite
who emphasize concept or expression – sometimes to the exclusion of skill
In general, I would say these are the layers that are present in a great
painting. From "WOW" to "we get it" to "how did he do that?". I think this
aligns rather nicely with the "I", "We"and "It" domains of the Integral
map. The painter is like a juggler of depth - striving to keep every ball
in the air at once with each new canvas. All for the delight and wonder of