...The idea of a pervasive Pleistocene taste in landscape received support from an unusual project undertaken by two Russian migr artists, Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid, in 1993. They hired a professional polling organization to conduct a broad survey of art preferences of people living in ten countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas (Wypijewski 1997). Blue turned out to be the favourite colour worldwide, with green in second place. Respondents expressed a liking for realistic representative paintings. Preferred elements included water, trees and other plants, human beings (with a preference for women and children, and also for historical figures, such as Jomo Kenyatta or Sun Yat-sen), and animals, especially large mammals, both wild and domestic. Using the statistical preferences as a guide, Komar and Melamid then produced a favourite painting for each country. Their intent was clearly ironic, as the painting humorously mixed completely incompatible elements "America's Most Wanted," as it was titled, presented a Hudson River School scene, with George Washington standing beside a lake in which a large hippo is bellowing. But there was also a serious side to the project; for the paintings, though created from the choices of different cultures, tended to share a remarkably similar set of preferences --- they looked like ordinary European landscape calendar art, both photographic and painted. In an attempt to explain this odd cross-cultural uniformity --- which had East Africans choosing the lush calendar scenes over landscapes they might be familiar with in their own daily lives --- Arthur Danto claimed that the Komar-Melamid paintings demonstrate the power of the international calendar industry to influence taste away from indigenous values and towards European conventions. While he admits that the Kenyans preferred scenes that looked more like upper New York State than like Kenya, the polling work also indicated that most Kenyans had calendars in their homes (Danto, in Wypijewski 1997). What this does not acknowledge is the question of why worldwide calendars have the same landscape themes---the very themes that evolutionary psychology would predict. The real question is "Why are calendars so uniform in their content worldwide?" a uniformity that includes other, non-landscape, objects of attention, such as babies, pretty girls, children, and animals. It is the calendar industry that has, by meeting market demands, discovered a Pleistocene taste in outdoor scenes.
Ah! The International Calendar Industry Conspiracy. Are we to take that idea seriously? On its face it appears absurd. Is there such a thing? Publishing is very much a nation/language-centered business; and calendars come out of the publishing industry. No? But Dutton, offers Danto's criticism with a seeming straight-face.
But more seriously, I wonder if such landscape prefences apply to urban landscapes?
The question also struck Tony Nelessen and quite a few years ago. He developed a technique of Visual Preference Surveys for use by Urban Planning agencies wishing to write ordinances to control Architecture. The conclusion? In North America, the preferences are marvelously bourgeois --- and with amazing similarity everywhere you go: the preponderance of the evidence from such surveys indicates that everyone says they want the conventional urban village/new urbanist/Three Rules sort of town.
More on Nelessen's work --- pro and con --- when I find some good links. I favor both his approach and the tastes reflected by the surveys; but I am sure that there is a loyal opposition to using the preferences of the common man to design zoning codes and I am curious to hear if he has anything useful to offer.