Art imitates life said Aristotle. Is he right? If he is, there’s not much of it being made these days. Let’s define terms. What is life?

If nothing else, can we all agree that life is a mystery, a knot that is hard to untie, and those secrets overrun it?

In that case, the mystery is a no-show in an awful lot of art these days. Instead, what you get is imagery in your face like a slap – obvious and stupidly certain.

I’m thinking of the sculpture “Illegal Abortion.” Edward Kienholz made it after his wife suffered the procedure.

All prose, no poetry

Not a metaphor in sight.

Too many paintings and sculptures are like that now. But this week, a painting in The Guardian caught my eye.

This painting, titled “Infection II” by Bagdad-born Mohammed Sami, pictures a human experience in a metaphorical way. It pictures uncertainty.

What you see is a small cluster of walls, corners, and a closed door with an oversized black spider crawling up one of the walls. Questions fill your head.

Is the insect the venomous Black Widow spider? Does the giant size of the insect indicate that it’s imagined that it’s part of a dream? Instead of walls and bugs, “Infection II” looks to be about apprehension.

Sami’s painting calls to mind the 19th-century painter Henri Rousseau’s “Sleeping Gypsy,” which suggests a disquieting dream.

What Rousseau painted was a female sleeping on an empty beach with a lion standing over her. You’re left wondering: is the lion actually there, or does it simply appear in the woman’s dream? Nothing is certain. See? Like life.

In a 1968 book about the origins of the French avant-garde – “The Banquet Years” – historian Roger Shattuck wrote that Rousseau’s sense of life was so overpowering to him that when he painted, he sometimes took such fright that had to open a window.

Another of Rousseau’s paintings, “The Waterfall,” also is about trepidation, fear of the unknown. What you see is a jungle with foliage with leaves so oversized that they look menacing.

And like Sami’s “Infestation II,” there’s no human presence in this picture. Only the menacing air makes anxiety plain.

Film director Alfred Hitchcock did this a lot.

In the movie “The Birds,” a growing number of ravens perched ominously on a schoolyard jungle gym created an air of anxiety.

What is especially commendable about Sami’s paints is the look of vulnerability without a single figure in sight. Clearly, his life in Iraq informs his work – his memory of tensions that made him wary.

You believe every brushstroke

When you look at “Infection II” there are no painters’ tricks, no pictorial device to clue you in, to tell you what to think. There are also no raucous colors to manipulate your reaction.

You’re on your own with your own thoughts about what you see. In that sense, Sami provides a genuine art experience – just you and the image.

And while “Infection II” looks to be a portrait of Sami’s remembered tensions growing up in war-torn Iraq, his painting is about tension occurring in everyone’s life.