The title of this body of work, 44% Blue, is drawn from an extensive survey on preferences in art that was conducted by Vitaly Komar and Alex Melamid in eleven countries in the 1990s. One question from their survey is one we have all likely been asked: “What is your favorite color?” For each of the eleven countries surveyed, the most popular answer was consistent: blue. In the U.S.A., for example, 44% of respondents identified blue as their favorite color.
Using this and other questions as data, Komar and Melamid created a suite of tongue-and-cheek paintings featuring both the “most wanted” and “least wanted” painting for each country. There was a consistency to their many of these paintings. For the majority of countries, the “most wanted” painting was a mostly blue landscape with trees, water, mountains, and humans and animals—it seems almost primordial but is also incredible kitschy. This provocation has led to diverse critical discourse in attempting to determine why such a similar landscape is persistently popular across such diverse countries and cultures.
Arthur Danto, famous for coining the term “artworld,” claimed that the reason was due to consistent culture: the first “art” seen by so many people today are the calendars, desktop images, and postcards of pleasant sunsets and landscapes. Thus, his argument goes, the uninitiated associates this image with art. Dennis Dutton, on the other hand, argued that the a priori reason has more to do with our evolutionary biology: these landscapes are healthy and they can provide us with the means to survive. Their fecundity is what attracts us, and why artists in many cultures have made imagery related to this type of a landscape, often independent of one another.
Though Danto’s take and Dutton’s take on this do seem at odds in many ways, a similar argument was raised in the biological sciences, and the debate led to a fairly ambiguous solution: It is impossible to separate nature from nurture. Just as it is impossible to tell whether the chicken or the egg came first.
And the chicken/egg thing is pretty straightforward. Developing and understanding the reasons behind our more complicated perceptions can be even more challenging. To do so, or attempt to do so, involves models that are complete enough to predict a complex system but abstract enough to understand and react to; it is an imperfect and challenging game. Consider the scientists who study climate change: though they’ve overcome great difficulties in discerning how humanity is altering the incredibly complicated environment, there are still many questions as to how much and precisely why the climate is changing, much less what we can do to slow these changes and how to solve the issues that will arise from them.
In these photographs I struggle to reconcile nature and nurture, rather than try to separate the art historical game of chess from my search for biological connection, intuition, and impulse. Instead I try to wed them together. I am not interested in the hedonism of the trope of nude figure in the landscape as I am of the overly referential and insular images driven entirely by insider context. I love my smart phone as much as I loathe it. One moment I love being out on a hot summer day, the next I am annoyed by the bugs and the sunburn, dreaming of AC.