French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002) has studied taste in relation to socio-economic class and education. His aim was to give “a scientific answer to the old quesions of Kant’s critique of judgement, by seeking in the structure of the social classes the basis of the systems of classification which designate the objects of aesthetic enjoyment.” One of his books, Distinction: A Cultural Critique of the Judgement of Taste, uncovers clear links between class and preferences in art, music, film and theater. His empirical results “show that despite the apparent freedom of choice in the arts, people’s artistic preferences (e.g. classical music, rock, traditional music) strongly correlate with their social position.” (wikipedia) Many artists have successfully marketed to what Bourdieu calls “low taste” and Clement Greenberg called “kitsch”, artists like Norman Rockwell and Thomas Kinkade.
Artistic taste has also been studied by artists Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid. They surveyed thousands of people from all over the world and, with great irony, created a collection of the Most Wanted Paintings and Least Wanted Paintings by country. Komar and Melamid ask “What would art look like if it were to please the greatest number of people?” Their research shows surprising global similarities, a dislike for the color chartreuse and abstract art, and a strong preference for the color blue and representational landscapes. The survey results were used to create paintings to represent the likes and dislikes of the majority of respondents. For example, what most Americans want in a painting is a landscape with water and mountains, predominantly blue, with a wild animal and a historical subject. The result is a peaceful landscape with George Washington near a river with deer wandering by.
From the survey notes of Americans:
Americans who take a more active interest in the visual arts tend to be less definitive in matters of taste, and to welcome a greater diversity of artistic styles. As a general rule, Americans who might be expected to have a more detailed knowledge of art – those who visit an art museum with some regularity, as well as those with a higher level of academic attainment and those who are more affluent – appear to be less set in their views about what consitutes “good art.” These Americans are, for instance, noticeably less likely to express a firm preference for a particular type of painting or school of art, and more likely to say that their opinion of a given artwork depends on more than one given factor.
Survey highlights from China:
Art plays a very important role in the lives of the Chinese people. Six in ten respondents say that they are frequently willing to spend a little more money for an item of their preferred designs than an equally functional counterpart. An overwhelming majority of the Chinese people give serious thought to color and style when purchasing a commodity. Most of those interviewed think that the way they dress and decorate their homes are important to them. And nearly seven in ten Chinese households (67%) have works of art displayed.
From further interviewing the 67% of the respondents, two important characteristics of the public’s general art preferences surfaced: 1. Chinese people give much more weight to the harmony of artworks displayed in their homes than their personal preferences when selecting artworks, and 2. Most Chinese prefer newer objects as collectibles, and like arts of modern styles better than those of traditional styles.
Though art plays an important part in the lives of the Chinese people, their actual participation in making art in its conventional sense remains very low. Only 2% of the total respondents say that they frequently spend their leisure time in painting, drawing, or doing graphic arts.
Oddly, Italy’s least wanted painting includes the face of Elvis. Or maybe not oddly…
Holland has the distinction of having an abstract painting be its composite preference.
A link to the gallery of Most and Least Wanted Paintings:
What a fascinating project this is, not that any of this would cause any of us to create art specifically to appeal to the masses. I wonder what would happen if they broke the surveys down by educational, professional or economic status and painted the results.