The People's Painting

When it comes to taste in visual art, the British public does not like sharp angles, religious icons or the colours grey, white and fuchsia. Most people like wild animals but hardly anyone wants a naked woman. The favoured size of painting is as large as a dishwasher - and preferably the colour blue. Can these views, generated by an opinion poll especially for "Close Up", create a work of art?

When it comes to taste in visual art, the British public does not like sharp angles, religious icons or the colours grey, white and fuchsia. Most people like wild animals but hardly anyone wants a naked woman. The favoured size of painting is as large as a dishwasher - and preferably the colour blue. Can these views, generated by an opinion poll especially for "Close Up", create a work of art?

In a humorous and light-hearted examination of the nation's taste, The People's Painting follows Russian-American artists Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid as they explore the Great British taste in art and attempt to create a single painting which reflects it.

Having worked in Soviet Russia before their defection in 1977, Komar and Melamid have always been familiar with the Soviet ideal of People's Art. Working in the West they've been examining what a true 'People's Art' in a free-market economy might be. The use of capitalism's most revered tool - the market research poll - presented itself as the most appropriate means to their end.

In February this year they came to Britain and commissioned MORI to conduct a telephone survey among a representative sample of 801 adults (weighted to reflect the national profile) to establish the British people's taste in art. The British public were asked to give their preference for landscapes or portraits, abstract or figurative painting, large or small canvases. Over 50 questions were asked, the results of which provide the basis for Komar and Melamid's work, even down to the artists' use of colour and texture.

While the MORI researchers canvassed the public's opinion, the artists set out on a tour of Britain to see for themselves what we like from our art. It was certain not to be a straightforward answer, as Komar comments: art is such a small word to describe so many activities."

At London's Royal Academy of Art, they seek the opinion of Director of Exhibitions, Norman Rosenthal as to what he believes art is: art is like science or medicine....you can't repeat what has already been done." But do people want to buy modern, challenging images? At the gallery of Selfridges, Komar and Melamid learn that the best selling works are soft-focus, romantic paintings of women. Is this what the rest of the country enjoy? In Merthyr Tydfil the art society is kept busy producing scenic landscapes of the local area; in Gateshead opinions are divided over the area's largest piece of public art, the Angel of The North; in Glasgow a psychedelic portrait of Sir Robin Day has pride of place in a dining room; and in an executive boardroom the painting has to be abstract and suit the furniture.

With their journey complete and the research collected - Komar and Melamid pick up their brushes and create The People's Painting. The result.... a close up" of the British public's tastes in art? Or as one art lover comments on seeing the finished work, if a camel is a horse designed by committee, then this is a painting designed by MORI."

Technical details

Telephone interviews were conducted among a representative sample of 801 adults aged 15+ across Great Britain between 24-28 February 1998. Data were weighted to reflect the national profile.

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