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Painting by Numbers: Komar and Melamid's Scientific Guide to Art Paperback – 18 Mar 1999

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"A wonderfully tricky work of art."--"New York Times

About the Author

JoAnn Wypijewski is a senior editor at The Nation. Her work has appeared there as well as in Harper's, Il Manifesto, and other publications. Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid, pioneers of Soviet conceptual art, were expelled from official Soviet artists' associations and subsequently emigrated to the United States in 1978.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 5 reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Fascinating Look into Tastes in Art 9 Jan. 2002
By hamsterdance - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book will get anyone thinking about what qualifies as "art". Have you ever gone to a modern art museum or picked up a modern art magazine and wondered "how can anyone call that art?" Well this book will get you thinking about questions like that. Using scientific polling methods 2 Russian immigrants canvased the U.S. to find out what the average American considers art.
The results are exactly the kind of works most working modern artists or their patrons would be dismayed over. Get this book. It is a fascinating and entertaining read. One interesting note from the book - the editor of The Nation said that when they published the results of this poll it drew an avalanche of reader mail. It generated the largest reader response of anything they'd published in the history of that magazine to date. Several newspapers interviewed owners of prominant NYC art galleries as well as some prominant artists. All of them were horified by the results of this poll. One commentator sniffed the poll just proves Americans are boors when it comes to art - prefering only the safest, most banal subjects. What is interesting is that the book shows the results of this poll were duplicated in many other countries around the globe. Countries as diverse as Kenya and Iceland showed their own polls duplicated the preferences of the average American - i.e. a liking for landscapes with peaceful blue skies.
The book reproduces in full the entire questionaire used by the polling company along with an interview with Momar and Kelamid. The two Russians also gained notoriety by creating pictures of each countries most-preferred and least-preferred paintings. Each painting had the canvas divied up to match the percentages shown in the poll that respondents wanted (or didn't want in the case of the 'Least Preferred' paintings). Thus if the poll showed 65% preferred landscapes with a blue sky then 65% of the painting surface had a blue sky.
Interviews as well as commentary on the nature of art and what this might mean also fill the book. There is even a chapter by one of my favorite modern-day philosophers - Arthur C. Danto (I have several of his books). He asks the question "Can It Be The 'Most Wanted Painting' Even if Nobody Wants It?"
The results in this book lead to many questions. Not the least of these is 'what is art?' and 'what does this say about human nature?'. One article from the Jan/Feb 2002 issue of American Spectator illustrates this problem very well. It seems a few months ago a very famous photographer was holding a one-man exhibit at a London gallery. He is quite famous for the nauseating and offensive subject matter of his work. That night he gathered together the cigarrette butts, empty paper cups, and other assorted trash from the opening-night party and "artfully" arranged it in a pile in a corner and took a picture of it. The pile was promptly announced by a London art-critic to be worth at least 5K (in pounds). Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell the janitor that night that the pile was art, not trash. So you can guess the ending of this story.
I recount this to make a point. That is, this book will shed some light on why so many people have trouble - even the U.S. Supreme Court - on saying exactly what Art is. Get this book. It is fun and fascinating look into not only the tastes in art around the world but also a window into the science of polls and polling.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
The Art of Statistical Culture 11 July 2000
By Jason Cons - Published on
Format: Paperback
It's hard to express how fantastic this book really is in a review. Komar and Melamid's paintings, which threatened, for a time, to turn the art world on its ear, are supreme farces on what statistics can tell us. Obviously the principle is consiously flawed. The artist's interpretation of the statistical data is largely abstracted, but the paintings themselves are superb and outragiously funny takes on national culture. The question of the book is "What do people want in their art?" It isn't likely that you'll find a more interesting, fascinating, and entertaining answer than "Painting by Numbers."
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Wonderful 27 Nov. 2000
By John C. Martine - Published on
Format: Paperback
This is one of the coolest art books I've seen, Komar and Melamid are geniuses! The whole idea art designed to please isn't that new but the idea using polls and statistics is. By using a random survey from several countries ( THe USA France China Kenya Russia Ukraine ect) they create each countries most and least wanted painting and take you through a wonderful romp discussing what art and expression and stuff are really all about. I gave this sucker out as X-mas presents! I can't reccommend it highly enough. Buy everything by Komar and Melamid...even their souls.... they did a thing in Moscow where they auctioned off their souls.

If you ever get a chance to see their 'Nostalgia' series of paintings, it's a hoot. Sort of satires of Soviet/Stalinist paintings, very good. THey also did a series of NYC as ruins in the jungle....
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
A Laugh, a Guide and a Result to be proud of... 24 Feb. 2007
By Peter Villevoye - Published on
Format: Paperback
After 10 years, I bought the book. I visited the exhibition of the paintings in Rotterdam (Netherlands) back in '97 and was pleasantly shocked by this project and the results. The book was out of stock then, but the surprising results kept haunting my head for a decade. Now I finally have the book and it still makes me laugh.

Although the whole project has an entertaining dosis of irony, it can be a guide in understanding art and demographics - oh well, it can even help you design for the masses !

Lastly, I think every Dutch designer should buy this book or maybe it should be governmentally issued to every Dutch citizen. Why ? Just look at the very last pages of the book. I understood that the "Holland" results came in too late to be submitted to the edited content of the book. But fortunately Komar and Melamid decided that this outcome deserved a very special place, like a well kept secret that defies the other 200 pages...

I'm proud to be Dutch !
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Fascinating and absorbing! 29 Dec. 2007
By Hiram Gomez Pardo - Published on
Format: Paperback
Are our senses previously designed conditioned respect our artistic tastes? , or better still is there a source of genetic origin that really predisposes us before the artistic fact ?.

The question looks so absorbing that really invites to rethink and restate ourselves several premises; the environmental conditions, for instance, must be determinant. Think about in the fact the nest of three of the most important religions (Christian, Jew and Mussulman) were founded in dessert (maybe you think it was a mere casualty, but i really don't) while the Protestant movement and Lutheranism arouse from places in which the four seasons completed its cycle naturally. This circumstance surely made propitious conditions for a major discussion of ideas, keeping in mind if you were not agree you might migrate (an unthinkable possibility in a desert).

This is the final outcome of a series of interviews in several countries about what the people wants to see in their pictures. According Melamid the uniformity of the results suggests a genetic trace. "In every country the favorite color is blue and in almost everywhere the green occupies the second place. In everywhere they wanted outdoor scenes with wild animals, water, trees and some people."

So, on the basis of this invaluable observation, they depicted the most requested image in every country.

That is why this book is so worthy to read, because it states us a plausible chance to other questions. Don't miss it.
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