As for the viewer, still lifes give an excellent opportunity to see into the mind of the painter. How is this? In a portrait, a landscape, historical scene, biblical scene, or any other genre of painting, the subject is, to a certain extent, already latent and manifest to the artist before he begins to paint it. But with the still life, the artist has selected himself what is to be painted. Everything we see within the frame is the artist's personal choice of objects. When we see flowers, we can tell that artist has an appreciation for beauty and nature; when we see books, we can assume the artist is learned or probably well-read; when we see a skull, we come to different conclusions; and so on. The images we see are not purposeless drawings; they represent something, either directly or indirectly, about the artist himself.
Many times the artist intentionally picks items to convey a particular message to his audience, not about himself but something else. We will dissect this in greater detail later. Unlike other kinds of paintings—landscapes, portraits, historical scenes, and so on—these works come solely from the artist's imagination as the scene is a created display of items handpicked by the painter, and these items begin to refer to ideas, making the assemblage of objects in a still life like a kind of narrative story, essay, or sermon. The eye "reads" from left to right, after all, and the arrangement of objects is sometimes so precise that it almost forms something of a written text.
There can be many mysteries in a still life that at first hit the viewer with their stark visibility but then resonate back in the deeper sense only after careful study and thought.