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Article 2: What do artists and philosophers think of the savanna hypothesis?

In this article two philosophers give their interpretations of the 'People's Choice Project'.
Lake shore - large tree on the left with a few people and animals on the lake shore. There are mountains in the distance.
© Dia


  • abstract (adj) : not realistic
  • aesthetics: study of beauty
  • art critic (n) someone who analyses and evaluates art
  • genetic (adj) coming from genes
  • imprinted (adj): marked on a surface
  • inherited: something you get from your parents and ancestors
  • innate (adj): some trait you do that you were born with
  • habitat: the home of an animal
  • paradise (n): heaven
  • poll (n): a survey to find out what a group of people think about a subject
  • preference (n): something you prefer /like
  • prehistoric (adj): before people started writing history
  • researcher (n): someone who does scientific research
  • universal (n): something that all human beings do

In 1995 a poll was carried out in fourteen different countries to find out the kind of pictures people would most like to see. The poll was called ‘The People’s Choice’ and was carried out by a market research company with the help of two Russian artists, Vitaly Komar and Alex Melamid. The most loved pictures were landscapes with water, people and animals. These pictures they called ‘blue landscapes’.

The two artists were very surprised that people from very different countries such as different as China, Kenya and Iceland liked the same landscapes. In fact, they thought that the blue landscape must be a genetic imprint. They said it is almost as though it is an image of “the paradise within “, the place we came from and most want.

Komar and Melamid produced paintings based on the preferences for each country. You can visit their exhibition at: The Most Wanted Paintings

Two philosophers argue about the blue landscape

Arthur Danto is a philosopher and art critic. He agrees that the blue landscape is universal but he does not think it is genetic. For Danto the blue landscapes look like the ones you often see in calendars all over the world. He believes that the calendars tell people what art they should like.

In addition, Danto argues that when most people think of beautiful art they think of calendar landscape paintings. For example, over 90% of people from Kenya say the art they have in their homes is pictures from calendars. What is more, the painting ‘Kenya’s Most Wanted’ looks like a painting from North American in the nineteenth century. It does not look like the dry landscapes of Africa (see Danto, 1997).

The late Denis Dutton was professor of philosophy at Canterbury University in New Zealand. He disagrees with Danto. He says that there are places in Africa that look like North America, such as Mount Kenya National Park. Furthermore, he thinks Danto’s view people learn what landscapes and paintings to like from calendars is wrong.

According to Dutton, the calendar industry does not influence what we like, but tries to provide us with the pictures we like to see. Dutton believes our attraction to the the blue landscape is part of human nature. We inherited this attraction from our pre-historic ancestors who evolved in Africa 1.6 million years ago. The blue landscape is just the ideal habitat of our ancient African ancestors.


Danto, A (1997) ‘Can it be the ‘Most wanted’ even if nobody wants it?’ in Wypijewski, J. (ed.) 1997, ‘Painitng by Numbers: Komar and Melamid’s Scientific guide to Art’, New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Dutton, D. (2010) ‘The Art Instinct’. Bloomsbury Press, New York.

© Ray Genet NMIT
This article is from the free online

EAL: English Language for Nature Conservation and Sustainability

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