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Michael Mize Art Blog


My Kid Could Paint That

by mize , April 22, 2008—12:00 AM

Topics: Family, art films, child artists, inspiration, originality

This was the title of a fascinating documentary I watched last night that followed the "career" of the then four year old artist Marla Olmstead. (pictured at right) The toddler was producing abstract paintings of remarkable quality and sensitivity. The canvases attributed to Marla would be significant no matter what the age of the artist, however, the fact that she was so young certainly added to the sensational aspect with which her story was pursued.

Through an interesting sequence of events, Marla's work began receiving national attention, both on television and in print media, as well as selling in galleries for several thousands of dollars. Eventually though, a 60 Minuntes piece on the family began a frenzy of rumors suggesting that her father was somehow involved in the production of the work, either through coaching or directly painting on the canvases as well. The sales of her work immediately ceased. The family did reciprocate by providing video footage of Marla working on a painting from start to finish over several weeks time. Marla, now six years old, continues to paint and exhibit with her work now fetching prices in the tens of thousands.

The film is exciting, disheartening and thought-provoking all at the same time. Seeing such a young child work with such consideration is really intriguing. However, watching someone being taken apart by the media at such a tender age is more than a litle alarming.

It raises a lot of compelling questions about the nature of art as well. There is a widely held belief that abstract art is somewhat of a con. Paintings that appear they could have been produced by children selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars incite a lot of art lovers. Yet here you have work that actually was produced by a child, and then a resulting controversy swirling around the validity of that claim. It's nearly an oxymoron. Were people engaged by the work becuase of its visual merit or because it was done by a four year old. Is the work any less stunning visually if it was not done entirely by the hands of a four year old? And since when is the age of the artist significant when considering a painting aesthectically? The film inherently presents these questions, and then leaves you to answer them for yourself.

It is really an interesting movie and I'd highly recommend giving it a look.


 

COMMENTS

 
1

  Tom Risher

07/13/2008 * 21:45:39

I also saw this movie and left the theater puzzled and confused. Whenever the camera was on her the little girl could not make a decent painting. The paintings she did do looked like they were done by a 4 year old. Off camera she apparently produced these beautiful mature abstract paintings. Her father was also an artist. I'm of the opinion that Marla's father helped her with her paintings. Which brings up a question. If an abstract painting sells for $25,000 is it because it is sensitively done or because you can say "a 4 year old girl did this"? I think the girl's young age was adding value to the paintings. You're not only buying the painting, but you are buying the story behind the painting: "a 4 year did this."

 
2

  Rhea ( homepage )

04/23/2008 * 22:08:28

I just finished watching the film, too. I watched it with a friend and we are both up in the air as to the true story. Maybe we'll never know...

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