Pretty picture, huh? You’ve got your autumnal colors, blue sky and water, a family walking along the shore while deer frolic, and George Washington. This is the “Most Wanted Painting” in the United States. It’s a painting designed to appeal to the broadest group of Americans possible, based on statistical data. What do you think, do you like it?
The short story is that a pair of Russian born artists conducted an opinion poll of what Americans like and don’t like in a painting. They took these results and created both the “Most Wanted Painting,” that you see above, and the “Least Wanted Painting.” The idea here is that “truth is a number.” Similar polling of other countries created a collection of most and least wanted art from around the world (turns out that most people really like blue skies, with the exception of the Dutch – always iconoclasts).
A few years later, these two set to work again, with the help of an American composer, and applied the same methods to popular music. The results are a soulful mid-tempo crooner with vocals about love and catsup, and a twenty-plus minute epic lead by a rapping operatic soprano, complete with banjo, accordion, and bagpipe solos, and plugs for Wal-Mart.
This stuff cracks me up. I spent a good chunk of Saturday afternoon laughing my ass off at both “The Most Wanted Song” and “The Most Unwanted Song.”
In 1994 I was exposed to the Fluxus movement at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago – that exhibit instilled me with a love of this type of conceptual art; process driven, contrarian, and above all satirical of the way the mainstream views and consumes art. In other words, this stuff is funny, because they’re saying what we’re all thinking – whether “we” know it or not.
From an early age I’ve been attracted to stuff outside of the “norm” – be it music, books, people, or of course wine. I’m not really that different or unique, the age of the WWW has shown us all that there are groups of people out there into anything if you look hard enough. As more and more people start drinking wine, there are more and more people who want something outside of the mainstream, something other than the lowest common denominator – wines meant to get high scores and offend the fewest people. It’s the internet age! We don’t have to look for one “truth.” Folks are reaching out and finding information on Tibetan Yak cheese, or 1960’s Go-Go music from Thailand, why not interesting wines?
I’ve never really felt, nor wanted to be, part of the mainstream. But I’m not the only person in the world who prefers to drink high acid wine. There are lots of people out there who want their wine to “tell them a story” about where it comes from. So here I am now writing my goofy thoughts about wine and culture.
“Numbers are innocent.” An idea that I can’t really argue with, but the desire for some sort of empirical, objective truth tends to give numbers more power than they deserve. By creating art that is statistically supposed to appeal to the majority of people, what we get is something so banal and ridiculous that it’s comical. It stops being funny when you realize that this process is being applied to wine – without any sense of irony.
Wine ratings aren’t evil, in fact they’re basically meaningless – an attempt to create some frame of comparison. Robert Parker isn’t the bad guy, he’s a savvy wine lover (albeit a terrible writer) who found himself in the right place at the right time. The problem lies in the fact that most people don’t understand all of the florid tasting notes that wine writers churn out like carbon dioxide, so the numbers are all that’s left to make any sense of. Wine is confusing, describing taste is nebulous at best. If someone like Parker positions himself as a “consumer advocate,” people are going to look for some kernel of truth in what he has to say. Adjectives are subjective, “truth is a number."
Honestly, I actually like “The Most Unwanted Song” a hell of a lot more. While it is obviously ridiculous, it’s got a lot of elements that I really like in music. And truthfully, the wines I love the most tend to get meager scores in wine publications. I’m not afraid to admit these things, and I hope that if you’re reading this you won’t be either.
2006 Frédéric Giachino Abymes - This is what I mean by "high acid" wine. Super crisp, zippy, and refreshing. It makes you hungry, and you want a second or third glass.
2006 Bonny Doon Ca' del Solo Albariño - I'm very excited about the "new" Bonny Doon. This wines is a delicious summery white.