Komar and Melamid are two Russian artist emigrés who undertook a fascinating project. Their book, Painting by Numbers, explains that “with the help of The Nation Institute and a professional polling team, they discovered that what Americans want in art, regardless of class, race, or gender, is exactly what the art world disdains–a tranquil, realistic, blue landscape.”
Once they received the general consensus, they painted the result. The painting above is what Americans prefer to see, complete with a historic figure (George Washington), deer, and children. It’s an ugly amalgamation for sure, but it is quite revealing of the aesthetic preferences of the general populace. One thing that immediately strikes me is that it looks absolutely nothing like what the Art World tells us is ‘good art.’ Although, I do suspect (like Arthur Danto) that most people would rather not actually hang this on their wall. I know I wouldn’t like to.
Not content to stop there, the duo polled countries from all over the World. The results are in (and not a surprise): People the world over tend to prefer a strikingly similar landscape. The elements we have laid out earlier are all there. What does this tell us about aesthetics and human evolution? The argument has been made that the results are an aberration due to the ubiquity of Hallmark calendars in all the countries polled – that the results have been skewed. I like to think that the ubiquity of Hallmark calendars is exactly the proof we’re looking for: Hallmark is everywhere precisely because that’s what we prefer to look at.
Komar and Melamid have just laid out Hallmark’s market research for them, and Evolutionary Psychology has backed it up: The experience of beauty belongs to our evolved human psychology.
Alan Carroll, An Instinct for Beauty (2011)
Komar and Melamid, USA’s Most Wanted Painting (1993)Komar and Melamid, Russia’s Most Wanted Painting (1995)Komar and Melamid, China’s Most Wanted Painting (1995)Komar and Melamid, France’s Most Wanted Painting (1995)Komar and Melamid, Germany’s Most Wanted Painting (1995)Komar and Melamid, Kenya’s Most Wanted Painting (1995)Komar and Melamid, Italy’s Most Wanted Painting (1995)Komar and Melamid, Holland’s Most Wanted Painting (1995)