My Kid Could Paint That (2007)

Friday, March 14, 2008
Marla Olmstead is an adorable albeit shy four year old. A four year old who has been compared to the likes of Picasso and Pollack. A four year old who has sold hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of paintings. A four year old who could be one of the artworld's biggest frauds. My Kid Could Paint That is a documentary about her and her artwork.

Marla's career in art began when a family friend saw some of her paintings and suggested they hang them in his cafe. The family thought it was a laugh and said yes. However, they were soon surprised when the friend then said that they had to start putting prices on the paintings as people wanted to buy them. Enter the local art gallery owner (and artist), Anthony Brunelli. Things really take off when he and Marla's parents put on a show in the gallery, to great success, and a story in the local paper about this supposed prodigy gets picked up by the New York Times. Marla's paintings are selling like hot cakes (what the hell does that expression even cakes?) and soon there's a waiting list of over fifty people waiting to buy her art, sight unseen. That's when things go a bit pear shaped.

The Olmstead's are doing the usual round of interviews you'd expect with all the big name reporters, papers, and TV shows. Marla's also about to open a big show in Los Angeles when 60 Minutes decided to run their own piece about this little girl. The show brought in a psychologist who specializes in dealing with gifted children and at first she states that "You could slip it into the Museum of Modern Art" but after watching the film footage shot of Marla painting, quickly has her doubts. It seems that no one, except her own parents, have in fact ever seen Marla finish a painting from beginning to end.

After the 60 Minutes piece, interest in the paintings began to wane. Collectors and art critics, as well as the general public, began to doubt the pieces were Marla originals. To try and put an end to the nay-sayers and critics, the Olmsteads decide to put together a DVD of Marla creating and finishing a painting using footage that they shot themselves. Apparently it's worked because from what I've been able to gather, Marla's still painting.

"Marla's" Sunflower

The interesting thing about the documentary is that despite even the filmmaker, Amir Bar-Lev, having his own doubts about whether Marla was the original (and only) artist, he doesn't give us an answer. Rather he presents the evidence, the artwork, and the words of the parents and Brunelli, and lets the viewer reach their own conclusions.

Personally, I doubt that she completed these paintings on her own. Her father, Mark, is an artist himself but is working the night shift at a Frito-Lays factory. Throughout the documentary, his answers to everything seem ... shifty, as another reviewer wrote. Perhaps this is a way for him to get his own artwork seen by the world when he wasn't able to be successful on his own. His wife on the other hand seems to be genuinely concerned for her daughter's well being and could care less if this whole rollercoaster ride ended tomorrow. It also seemed odd to me that Brunelli, the art gallery owner/artist, was going with the family to New York, etc to do interviews. What stake does he have in this other than hosting Marla's first show (and other subsequent shows) in his gallery? Part of me thinks that both he and the father, both artists, have something to do with this. It seems clear to my eye that the paintings Marla attempted while on film were like any other child's while the finished gallery pieces were far more polished and mature.

Modern Art, however, has always eluded me so perhaps I'm just out to lunch. Nope, on second thought, I'm not....I believe those aren't her paintings or at least not completely hers. And modern art is a bit of a joke. Could someone kindly explained to me how a couple of flicks, drops and splatters of paint, as you'd find in a Jackson Pollock painting, is considered art? And why it's worth millions? Or, god forbid, Rothko's work. A couple of squares of colour on a piece of paper? I can do that but no one's going to give me even $100 let alone $1,000,000. I'm sure I'll offend numerous people but I think the whole Modern Art movement is a fiasco. Why is something considered a masterpiece? Because some art "critic" tells me it is? Or a supposed expert? No thanks.


Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

Pollock's work was a reaction against thousands of years of rectrictive fine art painting where one was bound to dutifully portray things in a photographic like life manner. By flinging and dripping paint on a canvass he freed himself and others from being forced to paint things as they are in real life. Rothko's work is more of a geometeric deconstruction of what Pollock did, smashing the past and forging something new.

But you're right. You don't have to like art that someone else says is supposed to be "great." Admire what you like and forget the rest. It's all subjective anyway.

Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

Please insert "restrictive" where I ham fistedly typed rectrictive.

Gardenia said...

Good food for thought - Candyminx and Mr. Anchovy could give us some good comments on this post.

I admire Polloack's work and Rothko's had an unearthly glow to it - I just can't do it - I'm either stuck or it isn't in me - I dunno - I'll probably never make it to a New York gallery either!

Making it in art depends on "talent," a certain amount of luck and magical marketing skills - - perseverance and otherworldly passion.......

To me the piece that was filmed (the little girl's art) is not nearly as sophisticated as the other two pieces.

Karen said...

Mr. A was kind enough to send me a couple of his pieces which were very interesting. While I didn't exactly "get them", I did enjoy them. Candy too has sent me postcards which were very unique. Not necessarily my cup of tea but I admire anyone that is that creative. Even Pollock, and I guess you could stretch that to Rothko. However, I wouldn't consider them masterpieces.

mister anchovy said...

I think the first thing to do is take the dollars off the table. Lots of things are worth lots of money for all kinds of reasons, and it really has little to do with anything. Are the musicians that sell the most records necessarily the most interesting musicians?

Many many times, people have grumbled to me about some artist or another, saying "my 4 year old could do that", to which my immediate reaction is usually, yes but your 4 year old didn't, silly....because the work of a mature painter and a 4 year old is different on so many levels, starting with context, no? And so, now I see the 4 year-old who makes paintings that bear resemblance to Modern art. Sure. Har! I should have seen that one coming. There are also 4 year old violin prodigies, and so on. I saw some tv feature once about a young kid with autism, who could make the most wonderfully sophisticated drawings of horses. We see remarkable feats all the time.

Really, the "my 4 year old can do it" comment is an indicator that quite a lot of cultural ideas of the twentieth century make a lot of people uncomfortable. There is a disconnect between what those painters were thinking and what many of the people I know want to receive. Lots of people are suspicious of painters who choose not to make pictures of recognizable objects. For me, that's been a tough one to bite into, as I've found myself drawn to abstract paintings since I was a kid. They have always seemed pretty straightforward to me. I've never found that painterly language so distant. I think it is well worth thinking about what that suspiciousness is all about? What is it about that work or those painters that still to this day causes such a reaction?

Karen, I'm not one of those people who might be offended by your comments. I think you should enjoy the art and literature and music and other cultural activities that satisfy you, and I respect your opinion, even though I don't agree with it. It does make me kind of sad though, that such a complex of ideas and effort and imagination and history which made up that period in the history of the western world we now call Modern, might be dismissed out of hand as being a fiasco or a joke. But then again, I don't think most of the American Ab Ex painters, for instance, were under any illusion that they were going to appeal to the mainstream taste. That didn't come until later, when artists like Warhol co-opted the very images we are sold by mass-marketing efforts every day. I think many people are familiar with some form of Mr. Warhol's comment about fame: *
o What Is Pop Art?" Art News, November 1963

* It's the place where my prediction from the sixties finally came true: "In the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes." I'm bored with that line. I never use it anymore. My new line is, "In fifteen minutes everybody will be famous."

I wouldn't worry about what some critic thinks, but if you every find yourself becoming interested in finding out a little about Modern painting, I can't think of a better way than to simply look at a lot of paintings - and not pictures in books. Confront those damn paintings! Immerse yourself. I had a tai chi teacher once who said, if you wish to learn about something, give it 1,000 days. If after that, you don't like it, by all means, move on. I suggest you also listen to some of the music made at the time (if you're looking at Pollock, for instance, perhaps listen to an American jazz player, such as Ornette Coleman, or Sun Ra). Maybe read some Beat poems to get in the mood. Put the work in context. If you're looking at Picasso, or perhaps at some Surrealist work, maybe also read Freud and Nietzsche, and read about Einstein and what was going on in the physics world in the early 1900s. After all, painting is like everything isn't made in isolation.

I'm not going to mount a defense of Modernism here, but I will say that I do enjoy quite a lot of Modern painting. Our house is full of artworks and for sure many of them would fall into the category of Modern. I live with them every day.

I know there are some people who would put my own work into that camp too..."oh, mister anchovy, your painting seems so charming, so....Modern".....

One thing that hasn't changed in the art world since Modernism, is the restlessness for the new.

* (asterisk) said...

I have come fairly recently to enjoy looking at works by the like of Pollock and Rothko, largely through shows such as The Power of Art. The Rothko show, in particular, was great.

But I hear where you're coming from to some extent. For me, though, it's the journey that's important. So many people don't appreciate that these artists come through a traditional art approach and, for want of a better term, grow out of it, or grow beyond it.

Someone who hates the typical Picasso painting may be surprised to see that he used to paint "properly" years earlier.

This doesn't really address your post as such, and I am interested in seeing this movie. It's playing today after There Will Be Blood actually...

Anonymous said...

I love her art its amazing. breathtaking . It has a sorta vibe to that makes my insides scream .

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