Saturday, September 02, 2006

Artistic Prodigy?

I recently read about a "child prodigy" who is becoming increasingly famous, Marla Olmstead. Her paintings are selling for $15K+, one video clip on her website states that one painting sold for $24K. She has made a big splash, and has had several art shows including one overseas in Germany. And she's not even in kindergarten yet. You can see her website and view some of her "work" here.

I'll admit that I may not be the best person to write about this, as I know relatively little about art, and don't have a particularly high opinion of modern abstract art. According to the book in which I first read about Marla, Hothouse Kids: The Dilemma of the Gifted Child by Alissa Quart, "Marla's aesthetic style is clearly superior to that of the average four-year-old--critics have noted its abstraction, consistency, color sense, formal balance and maturity." Her paintings still look like finger paintings to my uneducated eye. Yes, they may be better than average finger paintings, they have distinct line and colors, rather than being a mottled gray-brown from mixing all colors together into a mess like many children would. I wonder how much of that has to do with the fact that she is using far superior materials to what most children would use to paint. The fact that the paintings cover the entire canvas and appear "finished" is significant as well. There were a couple paintings on her site that I wouldn't mind having on my wall, Dory is one.

Or maybe the artistic quality of her work has something to do with the fact that it isn't all her independent work, as can be seen here in the second clip on this page (scroll down) from 60 minutes. And here's a link to the transcript of the show. First the canvas was primed by her father, which explains the lack of white space left in her paintings. Then she was coached by her father to keep painting, even when she said she was done, and he offered suggestions on where she ought to paint. The child developmental specialist 60 Minutes interviewed noted that this finished painting looked much less polished than the other work, the creation of which has not been captured on film. The parents' explanation for this does actually make some sense. If they felt pressured to capture Marla's performance, then they would likely pressure her. It would significantly change their behavior.

So why do I care about this? I just find it fascinating that anyone could pay so much money for a piece of artwork done by a four or five year old, and it seems to me that her "success" is due to her young age and some major pushing of her work by her parents and agent.

Or maybe I'm just jealous because my four-year-old isn't earning me thousands of dollars. I'll better figure out what he's good at.


  1. Tom Lehrer once commented, "It is a sobering thought to realize that when Mozart was my age, he'd already been dead for three years." it's got to be somewhat disheartening for those misunderstood artists out there to be beaten out by a four year old.

  2. Bob The Baker9/05/2006 4:18 PM

    Well, I think this adds fuel to my argument that abstract is not art. It also adds fuel to my argument that gravy-train parents should be dragged out into the street and shot.


What do you think? Let me know.