Ever fallen in love with a painting?
Here's a short film about why paintings can trigger the same sort of emotions as falling in love with a person. Ah, those cold, hard calculating artists, playing with the perceptions of the unsuspecting public by detonating their painty emotion-bombs.
In the film, neuropsychiatrist (but not art historian) Eric Kandel talks about how the Viennese Secessionists such as Gustav Klimt shamelessly press the emotional buttons of their viewers.
Gustav Klimt, Judith with the Head of Holofernes (1901, oil on canvas)
Feeling the love yet...?
Now, the most popular paintings in the world are the ones with people in them, because we are social animals (Mona Lisa, anyone?).
Also, paintings with up to 4 or 5 people in them are fine, because we like to identify with a social group, and feel 'in with the in crowd'. Any more than that - and we feel excluded from that social group.
So if you want to be a top painter, paint people. Especially attractive women. Or a small group of people. People that you can imagine a story about, because stories are part of the way we understand the world, and therefore understand paintings.
Now whose work could that help to explain the popularity of...?
Jack Vettriano, The Singing Butler