Botticelli’s Birth of Venus? Monet’s Water Lilies?  Munch’s The Scream? Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring?

It turns out none of the above.  Two digital artists, Vitalyl Komar and Alex Melamid, conducted a number of polls to explore artistic preferences of people in ten countries.  Participants were asked detailed questions about what type of picture they most like to look at, whether they prefer landscapes or interiors scenes, favorite colors, what kinds of animals they like, what sorts of people they enjoy seeing depicted, whether they prefer them clothed or nude, young or old, famous or ordinary, bathing or sitting and so on.

The results across countries were surprisingly uniform: the most-wanted painting was a landscape with a mountain, water, wild animals, a tree, some people and strong blue colors.

Philosopher Denis Dutton argues in his book The Art Instinct that the universal appeal of landscapes with these elements can be explained by evolution. When our ancestors had to search for food and safety, an open space with water and a climbable tree would have represented safe, peaceful and prosperous environment.  In other words, he believes our emotional response to landscape works is part of our survival instinct.  We evolved to appreciate art and see the beauty in landscapes because it helped us survive.

As George Bernard Shaw says:

Without art, the crudeness of the world would make reality unbearable.