There's often a disconnect between the method intended by the puzzle maker and the method used by the person who solves the puzzle. Let's take the rebus puzzle in the February Panting as a case study:
As we all know, there are three items that make up the solution to the rebus puzzle:
Together they produce: MILL - WALK - KEY or Milwaukee.
We implicitly discard all of the other items: two balls (for the second month), Primrose flower, and a Gem. The common theme is that all of these items correspond to the month associated with the painting, i.e. February. By discarding the items related to the month theme, we reveal the items required for the rebus.
The next thing that we do -- implicitly -- is re-order the items. Generally we read left-to-right and clockwise. For this rebus, we have to start on the right and move to the left, counter clockwise.
We see that the gaze of the juggler is directed at the mill stone. We can take this as an instruction for which item to start with. There doesn't seem to be anything directing us read the remaining items counter clockwise.With only two items left to choose from, we can pretty much work the rest of the rebus by process of elimination, which may have been the intention.
The key takeaways:
The month theme isn't just for the gem/immigration connection, it's important to the puzzle at large
There may be methods intended by the puzzle maker, that we gloss over, even though we still arrive at the right answer.
There are instructions in the paintings that will give us the information need to solve the puzzles in the painting
Can we apply this thinking to other paintings?