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)
Large Parks on disturbed sites should be recognized as landscapes of consumption as well as production. It is tempting for designers of large parks built on abandoned industrial sites to heroicize the buildings and machines that remain. Such strategies, however, privilege the histories of production over the histories of consumption that are also embedded in such sites. This allows visitors to distance themselves from the histories of human, material, and chemical flows on and off the site, and to limit their own culpability in and responsability for such histories.(…)
Toxic discourse is an expression of a collectivity of consumer-citizens who perceive their environment through the lens of uncertainty and risk. Disturbed sites are byproducts of economic policies that viewed nature as a resource and that accepted environmental degradation as the inevitable consequence of technological progress. The experience of designed landscapes on and in disturbed sites can render visible the consequences of the economic, political, and social decisions that led to those risks.
Elizabeth K. Meyer, Uncertain Parks: Disturbed Sites, Citizens and Risk Society (2007)
Edouard Manet, Déjeuner sur l’herbe (1863)
Collectif 6, Déjeuner sur l’herbe version
I have tried to represent a tempest, imitating, as best I could, the effect of violent wind, in air full of obscurity, rain, lightning and thunder, which break out in several places and produce great disturbance.” All the characters play their roles in harmony with the general action. Some go through the cloud of dust in the direction of the wind, and are carried along by it. Others, on the contrary, go against the wind and walk with great difficulty, putting hands before their eyes. At the left we notice a shepherd, who runs and leaves his flock on seeing a lion that, after he has thrown to the ground certain cowherds, attacks others, of whom some defend themselves, while the rest goad on their cattle and try to escape. A dog, at a little distance, is barking furiously and his hair stands on end, but he does not venture to come nearer. In the foreground is seen Pyramis, lying on the ground dead, and by his side Thisbe, who abandons herself to grief.
Nicolas Poussin, Letter to Jacques Stella (1651)
Nicolas Poussin, Landscape with Pyramis and Thisbe (1651)
Moebius, Arzach, 1976
Moebius, Voyage d’Hermès, 2011
Despite their common interest in landscape, artists, writers, planners, landscape architects, and geographers can never share the same definition of the term, nor will they always reach a full agreement within their own domain. Landscape serves a different purpose for each group, and each profession or discipline is unique in terms of its focus, objectives, scales of analysis, epistemologies, and methodologies. Nevertheless, each would benefit immensely from understanding the others’ conception of landscape.
Eugene J. Palka, Coming to grips with the concept of landscape (1995)