Saturday, April 06, 2019

Remembering the Paint by Numbers artist / inventor who has died age 93

There's not many artists who get an obituary in newspapers around the world. However that's what happened this week to Dan Robbins, the commercial artist who had the idea for paint by numbers - a kit which could be sold, combining an outlined and numbered picture with paints which matched the numbers.

He died last week age 93, having helped very many children - and adults - learn how to wield a paint brush and paint to produce a good looking picture.

a paint by numbers kit

I don't know how many of you had a paint by numbers kit when you were young. I know I had several. There again, I was born in the 1950s and the 50s and 60s were the decades when the massive craze for "paint by numbers" swept the USA before venturing further afield.

He claimed that the idea was inspired by Leonardo da Vinci - although art historians have disputed this.
“I remembered hearing that Leonardo used numbered background patterns for his students and apprentices, and I decided to try something like that,” Robbins (2004) 
His boss Max Klein saw potential in the idea - but hated his first effort - and got him to produce more examples. Dab Robbins produced the first 35. Initially he focused on landscapes, and then he branched out to horses, puppies and kittens before returning to landscapes as more artists for involved. However Leonardo's involvement meant they were unable to paint the idea and there were lots of other people who got involved manufacturing paint by numbers kits. (I KNEW there was more than one artist involved. There were some I really liked and others which were naff!). 

The paint by number phenomenon was celebrated by:
  • an exhibition at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History - which received the archive of materials when Max Klein died.
Some within the museum questioned the idea of celebrating the paint-by-numbers craze and its impact on art, at least until the crowds showed up
This is what Dan Robbins had to say at the opening of the exhibition about Paint By Numbers

He was not
“I never claim that painting by number is art. But it is the experience of art, and it brings that experience to the individual who would normally not pick up a brush, not dip it in paint. That’s what it does.”
Your Paintings Are Numbered is an interesting 2017 article in Hyperallergic which is worth a read. It identifies the extent to which paint by numbers annoyed and undermined the art world elite!
The midcentury paint-by-number craze revealed a belief that with enough curiosity, and the ability to follow basic directions, anyone can be an artist.


Like I said - there's not many artists who get comprehensive obituary coverage across the world. Here's a taster of some of them.



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