Last week’s 3 longs & 3 shorts contained a piece by Janan Ganesh of the Financial Times in which he commented on the rise of elite sport and decline of intellectual discourse in daily life – see
This week’s first long read from Alex Murrell attacks the same issue from another angle (an angle that has significant relevance for entrepreneurs). Mr Murrell begins his article by describing a striking piece of market research:
“In the early 1990s, two Russian artists named Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid took the unusual step of hiring a market research firm. Their brief was simple. Understand what Americans desire most in a work of art.
Over 11 days the researchers at Marttila & Kiley Inc. asked 1,001 US citizens a series of survey questions.
What’s your favourite colour? Do you prefer sharp angles or soft curves? Do you like smooth canvases or thick brushstrokes? Would you rather figures that are nude or clothed? Should they be at leisure or working? Indoors or outside? In what kind of landscape?
Komar and Melamid then set about painting a piece that reflected the results. The pair repeated this process in a number of countries including Russia, China, France and Kenya.
Each piece in the series, titled “People’s Choice”, was intended to be a unique a collaboration with the people of a different country and culture.
But it didn’t quite go to plan.
Describing the work in his book Playing to the Gallery, the artist Grayson Perry said:
“In nearly every country all people really wanted was a landscape with a few figures around, animals in the foreground, mainly blue.”
Despite soliciting the opinions of over 11,000 people, from 11 different countries, each of the paintings looked almost exactly the same.
After completing the work, Komar quipped:
“We have been travelling to different countries, engaging in dull negotiations with representatives of polling companies, raising money for further polls, receiving more or less the same results, and painting more or less the same blue landscapes. Looking for freedom, we found slavery.””
In his blog Alex Murrell says that 30 years on from Komar & Melamid’s survey, in a range of fields from “film to fashion and architecture to advertising, creative fields have become dominated and defined by convention and cliché. Distinctiveness has died. In every field we look at, we find that everything looks the same.”
Mr Murrell’s blog then goes on to explain in detail just how modern art & architecture, building designs, car designs, clothes designs, etc in every country now resembles the stuff being produced in the rest of the world. [In case you don’t believe that this is happening in India, we suggest you read Mr Murrell’s piece and you will see that our clothes, cars, interior designs, adverts, brands, cosmetics, etc are just the same as the pap being flogged elsewhere in the world.]
The question that then arises is “Why is this happening? Why is it hard so hard to be original?”. No one seems to know the answer. So, Mr Murrell speculates: “There are many reasons why this might have happened.
Perhaps when times are turbulent, people seek the safety of the familiar. Perhaps it’s our obsession with quantification and optimisation. Or maybe it’s the inevitable result of inspiration becoming globalised.
Regardless of the reasons, it seems that just as Komar and Melamid produced the “people’s choice” in art, contemporary companies produce the people’s choice in almost every category of creativity.”
And you can guess what happens next – like Mr Murrell, we see this sameness as an opportunity, almost like a call-to-arms: “I believe that the age of average is the age of opportunity.
When every supermarket aisle looks like a sea of sameness, when every category abides by the same conventions, when every industry has converged on its own singular style, bold brands and courageous companies have the chance to chart a different course. To be different, distinctive and disruptive.
So, this is your call to arms. Whether you’re in film or fashion, media or marketing, architecture, automotive or advertising, it doesn’t matter. Our visual culture is flatlining and the only cure is creativity.
It’s time to cast aside conformity. It’s time to exorcise the expected. It’s time to decline the indistinguishable.
For years the world has been moving in the same stylistic direction. And it’s time we reintroduced some originality.”

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Note: the above material is neither investment research, nor financial advice. Marcellus does not seek payment for or business from this publication in any shape or form. Marcellus Investment Managers is regulated by the Securities and Exchange Board of India as a provider of Portfolio Management Services. Marcellus Investment Managers is also regulated in the United States as an Investment Advisor.

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