Liza Cowan et al, Paint By Number, at Pine Street Art Works on Art Express, PBS
I've just found this video by Paul Larsen, host of Mountain Lake PBS' popular show Art Express. The show segment is about Paint By Number, Anonymous Works from Mid 20th Century America, one of the most successful, and one of my favorite, of all the exhibits I curated during my five year tenure as Director and owner of the Burlington,Vermont art gallery, Pine Street Art Works.
The video features Harry Bliss, Mark Waskow, Christie Mitchell and Liza Cowan.
Here's what I wrote in 2007 about the exhibit on the Pine Street Art Works Website:
Paint by number. The craze of the 1950's - paint by number swept the nation in the era of Eisenhower, Levittown, post war prosperity, and a post war concept of leisure time - which probably had more to do with women being squeezed out of the workforce and back into the home than with any real decrease in the need for labor. It doesn't seem surprising that paint by number was marketed to women, although plenty of men did enjoy making the paintings.
Is Paint By Number art now? Was it art then? Do time, distance and a changing art market alter our perceptions and judgements?
At Pine Street Art Works we love them, or we wouldn't be showing them. We are fascinated by their subversive allure - the tension created between the pleasure of viewing and the original - and ongoing - horrified responses by the gate keepers of high culture.
Although now PBN has been the subject of a show at the Smithsonian, and of many academic and popular essays, and regularly show up in design magazines and blogs, there is still the vacillating response - are we allowed the pleasure we get from looking at (or making) these paintings?
Most of the paint by number sets of the fifties and early sixties depicted nostolgic scenes: historic and pastoral landscapes, christian religious images, adorable or noble animals, sentimental glimpes of far distant cultures as well as copies from the canon of romanticized European figurative art. Critics at the time were disgusted with the mechanized mass produced nostalgia.
But now, with our vantage point from the 21st century, these paintings have aquired the patina of age and distance. Have they aquired the "aura" that Walter Benjamin wrote about? Or are we nostalgic for the more innocent nostalgia of the 50's? Are we caught up in second order - or even third order -nostalgia?
The August Paint By Number show doesn't answer these questions but provides some gorgeous evidence for future theories.
The website I refer to in the video, where I saw the post about the room-sized Paint By Number that inspired me to curate the show, was Apartmenttherapy.com and the painting was by Curtis Robinson. You can see it HERE. I was very pleased that Curtis actually came to Burlington to see the show.