For art critics, painting-by-numbers was, and is, a byword for robotic repetition and unoriginality…
(Jonathan Jones, “From Warhol to minimalism: how painting by numbers revolutionised art,” The Guardian, 4-5-19)
At some point in my pre-teen years I was given a paint-by-numbers kit. I vaguely recall doing the little project and being pleased, as well as fascinated, by the result. I may or may not have done another kit — I simply can’t recall. I’ve never connected this humble experience with my lifelong interest in, and sporadic practice of, painting. Having found stimulation in paint-by-numbers, even as a youth, seemed like a lowbrow thing to confess. When I have thought of it, however, and with no reputation to protect anyway, I’ve remembered my brief career as a painter-by-numbers with affection.
The more so now, since I’ve encountered this tribute to Dan Robbins, the man who invented paint-by-numbers. I did not know this history of the thing. In the photograph Mr. Robbins looks like a thoroughly likable man who is enjoying a good joke. Having a taste for parody myself, I like the fact that his invention started as parody, but ended up just being damned fun for a lot of people.
I also did not know that Andy Warhol had paid homage to the paint-by-numbers phenomenon. I have cautious respect for Warhol and a certain appreciation for his work, though I haven’t an inkling as to how silkscreening works. I have found on occasion that mention of Warhol can elicit expressions of loathing by serious artists, some of which seem oriented as much toward things he said as toward things he did. I’m not competent nor inclined to take a position in these interesting discussions.With respect and affection, however, I salute Dan Robbins, dead at 93, for inciting my own pale practice of “robotic repetition and unoriginality.”
(c) 2019 JMN.