China's Most Wanted:
(wall size)

China's Least Wanted:
(paperback size)

Survey Notes

The People's Choice -- Survey on Chinese Public Attitudes Toward the Visual Arts" was sponsored by Komar and Melamid Studio as an integral part of its ongoing search for a people's art worldwide. It was conducted by a research group composed of Ji-qiang Rong, an ABD at the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, and Professor Guoming Yu and Xiayang Liu, Directors of Public Opinion Research Institute, People's University of China. The fieldwork was carried out by CCTV Survey Network (China Central Television), whose coverage of China is second only to the Urban and Rural Survey Department of China Bureau of Statistics.

Between May 28 and July 5, 1995, face-to-face interviews with a crosssection of 2,462 Chinese fourteen years of age and above were conducted in respondents' homes. The sample was drawn from a universe of 590 million urban and rural residents covered by the first and second programs of CCTV. Given the fact that most surveys undertaken in China have been limited to the largest cities and new economic zones in the southern and southeastern parts of China, this survey has reached far more extensively to the rank-and-file Chinese people, and gauged their opinions toward the visual arts. A more detailed explanation of the sample composition is contained in the technical appendix.

The questionnaire was provided by Komar and Melamid Studio. Its adaptation for China involved translation from English into Chinese, some modifications in wording, and additions of questions that probed attitudes toward Chinese arts and artists. Beyond the aforementioned changes, the questionnaire remained largely intact, and therefore highly comparable with those surveys Komar and Melamid have conducted in the United States, and other parts of the world for the same purpose.

Statement of Purpose

The art world exists on the belief that one has to possess special knowledge in order to appreciate art and make art. The vast majority of the general public has thus been excluded from it.

Challenging this wildly held conviction, two prominent Russian-born artists Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid contend that people really want art, and know enough about art. But the elite artists do not hear from them and serve them. They resolved on using opinion surveys to "penetrate" the minds of the public, and searching for a people's art.

The survey has three objectives:

Survey Highlights

Importance of Art in People's Daily Lives:

Art plays a very important role in the lives of the Chinese people. Six in ten respondents say that they are frequently willing to spend a little more money for an item of their preferred designs than an equally functional counterpart. An overwhelming majority of the Chinese people give serious thought to color and style when purchasing a commodity. Most of those interviewed think that the way they dress and decorate their homes are important to them. And nearly seven in ten Chinese households (67%) have works of art displayed.

From further interviewing the 67% of the respondents, two important characteristics of the public's general art preferences surfaced: 1. Chinese people give much more weights to the harmony of artworks displayed in their homes than their personal preferences when selecting artworks, and 2. Most Chinese prefer newer objects as collectibles, and like arts of modern styles better than those of traditional styles.

Though art plays an important part in the lives of the Chinese people, their actual participation in making art in its conventional sense remains very low. Only 2% of the total respondents say that they frequently spend their leisure time in painting, drawing, or doing graphic arts.

Specific Art Preferences of the Public:

Moving to the specific art preferences of the public, the general agreement that has characterized the previous summary disappeared partially. The public agrees on many matters of artistic taste, and rightfully disagrees on others.

In general, a large majority of respondents like Chinese paintings better than Western paintings. They prefer paintings in which colors are blended rather than separated. They name blue, green, and white as the most popular colors of the Chinese people. They favor paintings that have festive mood instead of serious mood. They believe that paintings should serve some higher goals. And overwhelmingly, they share the agreement that they like paintings that depict outdoor scenes and natural settings.

To a lesser degree, paintings of domestic animals are favored over wild animals. Spring is selected as the most favorite season of the public. Paintings of famous figures received moderate preference over those of ordinary people. Posed portraits, rather than other paintings of people, are better viewed by most respondents. Simplicity in art is passably preferred. And nudity in paintings is disfavored but not rejected.

Respondents are evenly divided on matters of shades of colors, paintings of exaggerate or imaginary objects, specific outdoor scenes, textured surfaces vs. smooth surfaces, and seeing or not seeing brushstrokes on canvas. In addition, most Chinese will not take a stand on their preferred size of a painting on the basis of the question per se. And a majority of respondents have no decided opinions on paintings of religious themes.

Attitudes Toward Arts and Artists:

In the previous measurement of the importance of art in the lives of the public, art is represented by its basic elements, such as design and color, and used in the sense that art exists everywhere in people's daily lives. When gauged by a more conventionally and narrowly defined concept of art, two distinctive features of the public attitudes toward art and artists exist parallel to each other. On the one hand, the public knowledge of artists and their attendance of art galleries remain extremely low, A total of 81% of respondents go to museums less than once a year, and cannot recognize the names of such well-known artists as Monet and Rembrandt. On the other hand, the general public has strong views and decided opinions on what they consider to be good art. Nearly one in two respondents say that their personal preferences rather than the fame of artists are the determining factor for them to choose works of art. They like the artworks that make people happy and relaxing. They agree that a work of art can be beautiful even if it does not resemble anything in the real world.

The favorable and supportive attitudes toward art are further manifested by the fact that twice as many people say that they would rather receive a piece of art than a sum of money as a gift. A majority of Chinese are willing to spend 50 to about 200 yuan, an equivalent of 1/6 to 1/2 of a worker's monthly income, on a piece of art. As high as 67% of respondents say that they will encourage their child if he or she wanted to become an artist, even though most Chinese restrain themselves from readily supporting their child to marry an artist.

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