The "Art" of Paint By Number Paintings
For those of you yet to indulge your muse for quasi-art, Paint By Number kits make painting easy. Available since the 1950's, kits include a pre-printed canvas board with the subject depicted by numbered regions. Each number corresponds to a little tub of paint included in the kit. Grab one of the included brushes, and simply fill in the bits of the painting and you get a sort of quantized looking image - like a thermograph or elevation map.
This signature look can be more than a little garish at times, and this stoked an argument in the 50's over Paint By Number's artistic validity. The argument was that Paint By Numbers were detrimental to art, reducing art to mere decor, and lessening the overall value of painting.
The book linked below explores this topic, but it seems a bit silly to me. Paint By Number projects may use the same tools as "artistic" painting, but I suspect that few hobbyists mistook their pre-fab fill-in-the-blank work for actual art. On the upside I imagine that many picked up the hobby of painting who may not have otherwise.
In any case, you can save yourself tens of millions of dollars by creating your own paint-by-number versions of great masterpieces. In some cases the effect actually works, especially those kits inspired by impressionist art, or animal portraits. Those kits that don't copy some established art piece offer sujects like religious imagery, autumn days, or tourist destinations - in other words an efficient and simplified representation of some blandish topic.
Over the last few years, Paint By Number's stock in kitsch and ironic culture has risen. So much so that I often see them at antique stores for $50 instead of thrift stores for $2 as they should be (mine are from the thrift, thank you very much...). The kits are still available today at good prices, so if you're looking for an afternoon's diversion - and whether you're looking for piety or pulchritude - Paint By Numbers may be exactly what you're looking for.