Paint-by-Number: “Every Man a Rembrandt!”
I love the kitschy appeal of vintage paint-by-numbers, the midcentury hobby that attempted to make painting accessible to the masses. While Abstract Expressionists like Jackson Pollock ruled the art world, Craft Master, the original 1950s line of paint-by-number kits, optimistically declared, “Every man a Rembrandt!” This midcentury fad took the world by storm, encouraging everyone — including actress Ethel Merman and most of the Eisenhower White House, including FBI director J Edgar Hoover — to take up painting by numbers.
Charmed by this low-brow art form, I slowly curated my own paint-by-number collection, never actually thinking that completing one could be considered a proud accomplishment . . . until I tried to paint my own.
My Paint-by-Number Collection
1. Landscapes picked up for $0.25 each! 2. A gift 3. Poodles found at an antique store in Southern Illinois for $12 4. Pair of ladies purchased for $30 on Etsy.
The pièce de résistance of my collection is Blue Boy by “artist” Anna S., shown in comparison to the original artwork housed at the Huntington Library and Gardens. It’s so bad it’s good.
1. Blue Boy by Anna S. – $13 (c 1950s) 2. Blue Boy by Thomas Gainsborough – $728,800 (c1770)
I Am a Paint-By-Number Failure
Somewhere along the line, I figured if I collect paint-by-numbers I ought to at least paint one, I mean how long could it take? I picked up a “Chicadee Perch” kit from Michael’s shortly before I left for New York. One afternoon turned into two and three, where I cussed and fussed over mixing colors and painting precisely. It’s been months, and as you can see, my progress has stalled.
I am a reluctant disgrace to the paint-by-number hobbyists masters who came before me, as I am unable to muster the required endurance to complete even one painting. I stand in strong opposition to The Smithsonian National Museum of American History’s claim that everyday people could discover, “the liberating pleasures of creativity” by completing a paint-by-number kit. On the contrary, this seemingly simple act of painting by the numbers could not be more gruesomely tedious. No longer will I smugly and ironically collect paint-by-numbers. Au contraire, my failure has given me a respect for those who possess the art of persistence in completing their paint-by-numbers.
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