But with the collapse of aristocracy in Europe, we have lost this belief that there is a superior class. There's no blue blood any more, and the people who judge now cannot prove their superiority to the rest of us. We don't know if we should trust these people or not. As an artist, I have this problem all the time: who will tell me if a piece of art is good or bad? So, having come to this democratic system, which is socially and politically better than any autocratic system, we decided we would apply it to art.
We started this project five years ago, raising $40,000 and hiring a consumer research company to conduct a poll of 1,001 Americans for us. We wanted to know what basic things Americans wanted to see in a painting, and later the same thing was done in other countries around the world. We took the various elements people favoured, and those that people most cherished, and made paintings with them.
What we found out was that the most popular colour of humanity was blue. Most people around the world liked water, and a nice peaceful landscape. There were some differences between countries, of course: Americans liked a fully-dressed family in a painting, for instance, while the French liked women and children half-naked. Russians liked religious images in their paintings - there are two Jesus Christs in their most wanted painting while Americans wanted none in theirs. Americans liked wild animals (you can see a couple of deer on the right) and political figures, so we put in George Washington. Autumn was their favourite time of the year, and most wanted a painting the size of a dishwasher.
What most Americans didn't like were the colours pink, coral, teal and gold in paintings - and that was true of most other countries. People didn't like sharp angles, a chaotic, unruly composition, or a textured surface, and the least-wanted size for a painting was paperback size.
We also decided to do a poll on the Web, as that is a country, too, nowadays. There, the respondents' tastes were quite coherent, and often different from the national polls: while the favourite colour was still blue, the majority liked artists such as Picasso over artists known for a realistic style, and favoured cityscapes over landscapes. But there was a compromise in our painting based on the results: because they were divided equally between liking an interior and exterior, we did a view from a traditional house terrace into the modern world - the Manhattan skyline. Wild animals were also popular, which is why we included the two doves.
In the least-wanted painting based on the Web poll, there's a boy sleeping on a chair, with a picture of Dali hanging in the background. It's a very smooth, photographic image. Respondents didn't like children in paintings, nor the colours yellow and brown.
Our latest project is organising a camp in Bangkok to teach elephants to paint - by holding brushes in their trunks - and then sell their work for profit all around the world. The situation for elephants is now really dire in Thailand because having worked for centuries in logging and forestry, they are now losing their jobs. We truly believe that selling the work they produce may help to save the species. And, interestingly, in the Thai language, the words for artist and elephant sound the same." Scott Hughes
"Painting By Numbers: Komar and Melamid's Scientific Guide to Art", is published in the US by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, $50Reuse content