Hirst's sheep give Britain art failure

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN'S favourite artist is John Constable, the English landscape painter who died more than 160 years ago.

It is his serene landscape The Hay Wain, and not Damien Hirst's pickled sheep, that is the country's idea of what great art should be, according to a Mori survey. Indeed, while Hirst may have a high media profile and be the darling of the London exhibition circuit, the country at large barely notices him.

The poll, of more than 800 adults across Britain, was carried out by Mori for BBC2's new art series, Close Up. In the survey, 41 per cent cite Constable as their favourite artist, with modern artists such as David Hockney and Andy Warhol appealing to less than 10 per cent. Damien Hirst was popular with only 2 per cent, while 70 per cent said they had no opinion of his work at all.

Close Up editor Michael Poole, who, as executive producer of The Late Show helped to promote young British artists such as Hirst, said: "I would like to think this says more about market research and focus groups than it does about British taste in art."

But the findings leave little room for doubt about the nation's preferences. Respondents were given a list of nine artists and asked if the work of each appealed to them.

Constable found favour with 41 per cent. Then came Claude Monet (34 per cent), Vincent van Gogh (31 per cent), Turner (25 per cent), Pablo Picasso (16 per cent), Salvador Dali (11 per cent), Warhol (6 per cent), Hockney (6 per cent) and Hirst (2 per cent).

Among findings in the survey it emerged that Monet had most appealed to women, the middle classes and those aged 55 and over.

Picasso, Dali and Warhol have a strong fan base with the under-35s, particularly among middle-class males. Damien Hirst finds most support from Londoners, who are likelier to have seen his work.

When it comes to the content, paintings of outdoor scenes appeal to 80 per cent of respondents. Regional differences are most apparent in the style of paintings; 63 per cent of Welsh respondents preferred paintings with smooth flat surfaces, while only 30 per cent of those questioned in the West Midlands had the same preference.

When it comes to size, 51 per cent of respondents in Yorkshire prefer their paintings to be as large as a full-sized refrigerator, while only 5 per cent of the Welsh and 14 per cent of Scots like their art this big.

Blue emerges as the nation's most popular colour, with two thirds naming it as their favourite.

The Mori survey appeared to find both sex and class differences in attitudes to art. Middle-class adults preferred bold, stark designs with sharp angles and geometric patterns while working class respondents expressed a preference for playful, whimsical designs with soft curves and more random patterns. Men are more likely than women to opt for darker shades while women generally prefer vibrant or paler colours.

Four out of five people claimed to visit art galleries and museums. Men, middle-class adults and people from London claim to be the most active art gallery visitors. Three out of five support an increase in government funding of the arts, one in four strongly so. And 56 per cent said they definitely do not intend to visit the Millennium Dome.

The study was commissioned by Close Up for the Russian-American artists, Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid who will use the research to create a single painting that sums up the taste of the nation.

Close Up will screen on BBC2 on Wednesday.