Komar and Melamid: Most Wanted and Least Wanted Paintings

I don’t know why it took me so long to find this, but I’m very glad I did. This is a wonderful art project dating back to the mid 90s in which Vitaly Komar and alex Melamid asked people about their aesthetic preferences and taste in painting in order to discover what ‘people’s art’ would look like, and then they painted it. They did this for several populations around the world. The paintings, at http://awp.diaart.org/km/painting.html, are remarkable and fascinating, but they are not the art work here. The project challenges analytic approaches to design at a fundamental and quite unsettling level.

The lessons are important to any creative endeavour, including to big ones that matter to me personally and professionally like teaching and education, and computer system and interaction design. They matter every time we base our designs and creative activities on feedback, opinion polls, course evaluations, learning styles, analytics information and similar quantification or classification techniques. The problem is not in finding out such things – that is always interesting. The problem is interpreting and using them to drive design and method, without reflection or critique, especially when we lie to ourselves that our interpretation is therefore in some way objective. But the paintings articulate this and the complex loops of meaning that emerge far more clearly than words ever could. The words are good though, and are as much a part of the artwork as the paintings themselves. As Melamid puts it, provocatively:

It’s interesting: we believe in numbers, and numbers never lie. Numbers are innocent. It’s absolutely true data. It doesn’t say anything about personalities, but it says something more about ideals, and about how this world functions. That’s really the truth, as much as we can get to the truth. Truth is a number.”

Address of the bookmark: http://awp.diaart.org/km/intro.html

I am a professional learner, employed as a Full Professor at Athabasca University, where I research lots of things broadly in the area of learning and technology and teach mainly in the School of Computing & Information Systems, of which I am the Chair.
I am married, with two grown-up children, and live in beautiful Vancouver.

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