The first chapter, Landscape and Longing, was an eye-opener! Perhaps I'm too ill-informed and the rest of you already know this, but Dutton mentioned an international project I'd never heard of: Komar and Melamid's People's Choice Project that resulted in a report on the artistic preferences of close to two billion people around the world. I'll summarize the outcome for you as it's stated in the book, but will also refer you to the project's website if you want additional information
- To read about the project itself, look here: http://awp.diaart.org/km/intro.html
- To view the survey itself, look here: http://awp.diaart.org/km/surveyresults.html
- To view the most and least wanted paintings in each surveyed country, look here: http://awp.diaart.org/km/painting.html (I need to clarify that these paintings were produced after the poll was taken to represent the preferences resulting from the poll data. The respondants never saw these paintings. Also, these paintings weren't intended to be good ones, just reflections of the popular preferences).
Here are bits of the author's remarks about this intriguing survey:Komar and Melamid are Soviet artists who were originally trained as socialist realists. They relied on a professional polling institution to administer the poll.
At the conclusion of the poll, these artists actually painted the most wanted and least wanted paintings for each country (website above) based on the favorite colors, shapes, and subject matters.
The least wanted paintings are modernist abstraction. According to the author, people in almost all nations disliked abstract designs, especially jagged shapes created with a thick impasto in the commonly despised colors of gold, orange, yellow, and teal.
Almost without exception in every country, the most wanted paintings are a landscape with water, people, and animals. The overwhelmingly favorite color in the world is blue, according to this poll.
Being a master of graduate-level multivariate statistical analyses, I can tell you that almost all statistical analyses are flawed, and often fatally. This survey is not without problems, some more serious than others as the author points out. Despite the problems with this survey, Dutton finds one stunning fact is revealed by it: people in very different cultures around the world gravitate toward the same general type of pictorial representation of a fairly uniform type: Kenyans appeared to like landscapes that more resembled upstate New York than what we might think of as the terrain of Kenya. So, perhaps the appeal of the blue landscape is universal to mankind.
Why is this so, asks the author? It's not too far a stretch in the imagination of an evolutionary biologist to see the connection. Humans evolved seeking water, vegetation, animals, and other humans to survive. What we've sought for milennia becomes imprinted on our brains as desirable.
But, there's more! Dutton cites any number of scientific studies related to human evolution in specific environments and other psychological polls. I won't enumerate them here, but they're worth reading about if you want to pick up this book. A study by Elizabeth Lyons shows that contemporary women prefer landscapes with vegetation in them more than men do. Her hypothesis is that the role of ancient women as gatherers and men's role as hunters led to this natural preference in art.
The author concludes this chapter with: We are what we are today because our primordial ancestors followed paths and riverbanks over the horizon. At such moments we confront remnants of our species' ancient past.