Updated: Mar 1
Considering a sample of the 100 supposedly most famous paintings of all time (as listed at https://www.brushwiz.com/most-famous-paintings/), 26% contain a depiction of some kind of fluidity, including the top three: Da Vinci's Mona Lisa, Van Gogh's Starry Night and Munch's The Scream. All three also contain a solid object of some kind which contrasts with the depicted fluidity, and overall about 25% of the paintings listed contain a fluid, such as water, juxtaposed with a solid object such as a large rock, a sphere or a bridge. Also common is the depiction of a female in juxtaposition with water, brightness and other hypothetically more exciting things. The Mona Lisa is this way, and one might ask how it is that she's set against such a backdrop, of red mountains below and blue mountains above, blue waters and a winding red path but sitting in a wooden chair at the same time. Botticelli's The Birth of Venus, Raphael's The Triumph of Galatea, Bouguereau's Wave, Cabanel's The Birth of Venus, Cassatt's The Boat Trip, Gerome's The Bath and Manet's The Luncheon on the Grass have similar themes. Such depictions are probably popular because we see the female form as round and inward, opposite to things in the more exciting category, and thus the paintings reflect the aesthetic mixtures fluid—round and fluid—in. The Garden of Earthly Delights by Bosch contains numerous examples of roundness disruption, roundness mixed with fluidity and fluidity with solidness. Round objects such as heads are commonly surrounded by fluidity in paintings, similar to the way human hair adds length and flowing form to heads, and reminiscent of baptism. This is true of the Mona Lisa, The Scream, and The Boat Trip by Cassatt. Fluidity is juxtaposed to containment in the many depictions of boats on chaotic waters in the most famous paintings. Round heads are made more exciting by brightness in Da Vinci's Annunciation and Fabriano's Adoration of the Magi.
It's also typical in the most famous paintings for rounder, more square or shapely objects to be brighter than less contained, flowing and long objects, and brighter colors are somewhat more likely to located at the center of the painting than the darker colors. In The Starry Night the brighter colors, red and yellow, are round and square while the darker ones, blue and black, are long and flowing. Impression, Sunrise is mostly blurry blue and green fluidity and disorder with the sun as a bright red circle near the center. In The Happy Accidents of the Swing Fragonard depicts a woman in dynamic motion on a swing in a flowing pink dress, but surrounded by dark foliage. The same painting has an example of the slightly exciting mixture dynamic—out—in=1, because the woman on the swing is kicking off her shoe. In Delacroix's The Liberty Leading the People the woman, her round head and breasts are in aesthetic contrast with a flowing flag, flowing garment, fluidity in clouds and dark chaos all around her. The red part of the flag is nearly square and contained, while the fluid and chaotic elements are dark. In The Creation of Adam the object God is floating around in, possibly a heart, is round and red and contrasts with the darker green and blue objects which are longer and more flowing. The green object, with a darkness in between red and blue, is shorter than the blue one, a pattern which is similar to the coloration scheme typical of pairs or groups of characters with different lengths (or heights) such as the Teletubbies. Seurat's Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte contains numerous relatively orderly round objects on a background of less contained, darker, green vegetation and blue water. In Van Dyck's Charles in Three Positions Charles is wearing red in the center position and relatively flowing, dark black and purple on the left and right. It's notable, perhaps, that he wears the brighter outfit on the right. A dark to bright gradient of coloration from left to right is common in the design of flags, products and symbols and probably also detectable in art. This probably comes about because the hemispheres of the brain differ slightly in physical characteristics. Elder's Tower of Babel is a bright solid container surrounded by darker clouds and water. The bright solid structures in View of Toledo by El Greco are surrounded by a chaotic black and blue storm above and relatively uncontained green colors below. Other famous paintings in the list exemplifying contained brightness and relatively expensive, dark and disorderly fluidity are Homer's Breezing Up, Van Gogh's The Night Cafe in which the bright objects are surrounded by long black lines, Hassam's The Avenue in the Rain in which a rectilinear American flag with regular red lines is surrounded by chaotic blue fluidity. Dozens of relatively bright simple shapes are interrupted by long, random black lines in Kandinsky's Composition VIII, which is brighter and more disorderly on the right side than the left. Most of Kandinsky's paintings appear to follow the same pattern; in Moderately the brightest, reddest object is perfectly round, the longest is blue and second longest is yellow. His paintings clearly exploit the biases long—dark and bright—short. Altdorfer's Battle of Issus a bright, rectangular plaque, adorned with sculpted spirals hangs in a chaotic fluid blue and black sky with flowing pink fabric attached to its sides. The painting as a whole is a balanced mixture of bright solidness below and blue fluidity above, and the sun makes it brighter on the right. Both Cabanel's and Botticelli's versions of The Birth of Venus are based on a bright, female form surrounded by darker flowing forms, The Triumph of Galatea, Large Bathers by Cezanne, Large Seated Nude by Modigliani and The Ladies Waldegrave are similar. Klee's Red Balloon fits this scheme in that the roundest object is perfectly round, the longest is purple, and blue and green colors are less distinct than red and yellow colors. The Girl with a Pearl Earring centers on a shining earring on a girl surrounded by darkness. Many paintings are opposite, with fluid, random or peripheral brightness and shapely or central darkness, but on average famous paintings seem to follow thermoaesthetic patterns like those evident in other realms such as idioms, poetry and dreams.
The way that females are so often mixed with fluidity, chaos, dynamism and brightness in famous paintings suggests that we perceive the female body as less exciting on average than the male body. The current female fashion tendency for long flowing hair, long flowing dresses and bright colors is analogous to the way females are depicted together with these and other exciting things in famous paintings.