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NOVEMBER 16, 2010

In the eye of the beholder?

Sketch of ideal landscape that most humans preferIn a TED talk (watch it below), Denis Dutton explains that beauty is more than a personal preference, unique to each of us. He makes a point that we talk about frequently in my Intro to Visual Communication class.

"There are universal, cross-cultural aesthetic pleasures and values. How can we explain this universality? How did these come to be ingrained in our minds?"

[They are the result of an evolutionary principle called Sexual Selection that drives us to make choices that are best for survival and reproduction.]

"Consider...the magnetic pull of beautiful landscapes. People in very different cultures all over the world tend to like a particular kind of landscape. A landscape that just happens to be similar to the Pleistocene savannahs where we evolved... it shows up in gold-framed pictures than hang in living rooms from New York to New Zealand... This landscape type is regarded as beautiful even in countries that don't have it.

This ideal landscape features mountains with water in the distance, grassy fields and animals, like the drawing above. As I looked at this drawing I noticed how uncannily similar it is to the Most Wanted Paintings project done by Komar and Melamid in the mid-90s.

Two Russian artists used marketing research in more than a dozen countries to find out what people liked most (and least) in paintings.

It's a fascinating project, explained here. But look at the samples below of paintings created to show peoples' preferences in various countries. Compare them to the drawing above.

Most preferred painting - USUnited States

Most preferred painting - IcelandIceland

Most preferred painting - KenyaKenya

Learn more

Watch the entire TED talk, A Darwinian Theory of Beauty, especially if you think that our view of beauty is completely individual and subjective.

See all the paintings and actual survey results from all the countries in the project at the Komar and Melamid website.

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