Outside The Lines

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Museum Curator Elevates Prestige of Paint by Number Art

December 7, 2012 admin 6 Comments

The argument about what does and does not qualify as art has created tension in the art world for centuries. Some people think only fine art should be considered “real” art. Others believe that primitive, rustic, rugged pieces crafted by the unschooled are indeed genuine works of art. This is just the type of debate that has surrounded paint by number paintings, which were created from mass-produced paint by number kits, for the past several decades.

While many art elitists do not believe paint by number paintings are true works of art, William L. Bird, Jr., believes they are. Bird should know – he is not only the curator at the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, he is also highly educated on the subject of paint by number.

Bird raised the prestige of paint by number art in his book, Paint by Number: The How-To Craze that Swept the Nation. In his book, Bird gives an explanation of how paint by number was born, who marketed it, and why it was such a success. Also, the author explains the level of artistic skill it took to create paint by number kits. Understanding these facets of this technique and brand is helping the public see paint by number paintings for what they truly are – a form of art.

William L. Bird, Jr., further championed paint by number paintings when he displayed them in an art exhibition in 2001 at the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

An individual who visited Bird’s exhibition commented to Bird that several paint by number paintings from “identical kits” had variations painted in them. (These were variations that the artists themselves had “painted outside the lines” to add.) This individual wondered if such artistic inconsistencies helped these particular paintings qualify as art. Bird affirmed, “By expressing preferences and making choices, these painters are taking the first steps toward art. I think you can charitably argue that in these cases it was art.”

Do you love paint by number and Segmation? Whether you like being a perfect painter or great digital artist, or simply have fond childhood memories of coloring inside the lines, your experience is valuable. We want to hear your story in the comment section below. What does paint by number mean to you?




Note: The top photo used in this post does not belong to Segmation; it was found at http://mocoloco.com/art/archives/020982.php.

Coming soon: Read Segmation’s heartwarming article about various individuals’ much-loved childhood memories of paint by number.

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#Art#childhood memories#Christmas#curator#elevates#gift#Jr.#museum#number#Paint#Paint by Number#paintings#prestige#William L. Bird


  1. Rutabaga the Mercenary Researcher
    December 7, 2012 - 4:16 pm

    I’d have to do paint by number b/c drawing and painting is very frustrating for me! Great post!!

    • segmation
      December 8, 2012 - 8:22 am

      Glad you enjoyed my blog. Thank you for stopping by.

  2. petit4chocolatier
    December 9, 2012 - 12:27 pm

    I grew up painting by numbers. But loved when I could allow the flow of my brush to go outside of the lines. Trying to keep the paint inside the lines looks good once done, but frustrating. Because you are not enjoying the art because you are too worried about painting inside the line.

    • segmation
      December 9, 2012 - 1:01 pm

      I think it is possible to keep in the line and come and at the end see beautiful art that you created!

  3. Earl Maloney
    September 16, 2015 - 1:42 am

    I would love to be a “real” artist and paint free hand but despite all my efforts I’m incapable of such original work.

    Paint by number provides me an opportunity to paint an original piece of work that is unique to me despite the mass production of such paintings.

    If I were to paint two of the same paint by number paintings both of them would be different and would have built into them my own unique style of painting.

    I don’t always follow the number scheme and depending on the strength of the mix and the pressure applied from the brush each painting is unique.

    Most people like my paintings and are surprised by finding out they are paint by number.
    Many people say to me that they couldn’t paint by number because they lack the patience.

    I also believe that this activity activates a different part of my brain which helps my mental health.

    Today’s paint by number are difficult to master but the end product is a beautiful painting.


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