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My Kid Could Paint That
August 10, 2007 7:05 AM   Subscribe

""My Kid Could Paint That." It has been said before on metafilter about Jackson Pollock,and apparently it is being said about another artist. However, this artist is a kid. Is she a Pre-School Pollock? Or just another kid having fun with art supplies? I guess you'll have to wait for the movie to decide. [previously on mefi]
posted by nuclear_soup (92 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well, at least her website has sound. I mean, AWESOME!
posted by inigo2 at 7:16 AM on August 10, 2007


Whenever I hear something like "my kid could paint that" I think: wow, what a compliment. Cause it's the rare adult who can really do something like a kid would do.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:25 AM on August 10, 2007 [4 favorites]


I like the paintings, whether they were done by a child or not. As others have said before, it's not fair to compare her to Pollock or other abstract artists, as they were trained in what they did. It would be better to compare her to other "Outsider Artists".
posted by ColdChef at 7:26 AM on August 10, 2007


What do they go for? Marla's not Pollack's)
posted by oddman at 7:26 AM on August 10, 2007


Apparently 60 Minutes discovered her father has more to do with it than she does.

"I saw no evidence that she was a child prodigy in painting. I saw a normal, charming adorable child painting, the way preschool children paint, except that she had a coach that kept her going."

Her coach is her father, Mark, who is often present when Marla paints. He can be heard on the tape, directing her, sometimes sternly:

"Pssst … Paint the red. Paint the red. You're driving me crazy. Paint the red."

"If you paint, honey, like you were … This is not the way it should be."

Winner suspects that without her father’s urging, Marla would not have the focus or desire to stay with one painting as long as she did on the tapes.

"I think she’s being urged to continue. Many times she says, 'I’m done,' and there would be silence and she would continue to paint,'" says Winner.

posted by miss lynnster at 7:29 AM on August 10, 2007


This girl was the real deal though, as child Picassos go.
posted by miss lynnster at 7:30 AM on August 10, 2007


Sigh.

If she's in preschool, she's four. A four year old does not have the motor control to paint what they want to paint (what they see in their mind).

There are tow things at work here. One, the website says she painted alongside her dad, which means that her dad is a painter, knows how the art world and gallery system work, and knows how to promote. Being past his prime, he turn that marketing knowledge on his daughter.

Second, the general public loves the idea of prodigies, because it justifies the average person complete and total lack of talent which is in fact the result of laziness or unwillingness to spend years perfecting technique, studying, etc. Prodigies can be pointed to whenever they ask themselves whether they should have continued with art class or piano lessons or whatever.

There is no such thing as an abstract art prodigy. Jackson Pollock could actually paint in a traditional style. Picasso could paint properly, All abstract artists learned how to draw or paint properly, that's how they know how and what to render abstractly.

I'm a John Cage prodigy. I had the ability to remain silent for four minutes and thirty three seconds the moment I was born.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:32 AM on August 10, 2007 [4 favorites]


What the filmmakers have here is a win-win situation: it's exceptional and amazing if Marla created the paintings, and it's an exceptionally amazing example of exploiting your kid if she didn't.

I can't wait to see this when it comes out.

Regardless of who made them, I really like the art.
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:33 AM on August 10, 2007


What exactly is the point of abstract art?
posted by Gnostic Novelist at 7:34 AM on August 10, 2007


I guess we'll have to start saying, "I could force my 6 year old to paint that!"

That website totally screams to me that she is being influenced by overbearing forces that are feasting on vicarious attention and validation.

The paintings are nice.
posted by hermitosis at 7:38 AM on August 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


What exactly is the point of abstract art?

Same as all art: getting laid.
posted by ColdChef at 7:38 AM on August 10, 2007 [10 favorites]


Also, I think I'd like the paintings even more if I knew the parents were making her do it. At gunpoint even. "Explore the negative space or I swear to god, I'll drop you where you stand! Paint, goddamn you, paint!" The art world needs a Lindsey Lohan.
posted by ColdChef at 7:40 AM on August 10, 2007 [12 favorites]


She isn't painting like a child would. Not surprised by the eager father just out of shot.
posted by fire&wings at 7:42 AM on August 10, 2007


What do they go for? Marla's not Pollack's)
posted by oddman at 10:26 AM on August 10


For you? $5. Give me a couple of hours to buy the crayola paints and I send it to you in the morning.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:45 AM on August 10, 2007


What exactly is the point of abstract art?

Because there are emotions in colours, lines and shapes and we sometimes need to explore those.
posted by gomichild at 7:46 AM on August 10, 2007 [3 favorites]


Sounds a bit like Mozart, who was another "prodigy" with lots of help from Dad.

I'm all for parents encouraging their kids to excel, and even giving them appropriate evaluation and incentive; my parents taught me to be disciplined by keeping me to a certain amount of musical practice a day. My music teachers would give me lots of positive and negative feedback, telling me I played the note right or wrong, or whatever.

But putting that pressure on the kid to perform to some external standard by billing them as a prodigy-- fame isn't worth it; kids are people *not* just personal playthings.
posted by honest knave at 7:49 AM on August 10, 2007


"My kid could paint that."

"Yes, but could your kid sell his or her paintings like Jackson Pollock?" That is the crucial question, and is what the parents of this child are trying to do here.
posted by moonbiter at 7:59 AM on August 10, 2007


Picasso could paint properly, All abstract artists learned how to draw or paint properly.

What a shame they wasted their lives painting improperly.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:00 AM on August 10, 2007 [5 favorites]


This reminds me of one of my favorite episodes of Murphy Brown in which after being put down by a bunch of snooty art critics she gets revenge by having them critique the work of a new artist at a gallery showing, namely her toddler Avery.
posted by caddis at 8:01 AM on August 10, 2007


What exactly is the point of abstract art?

For me, anyway, the point is that certain abstract works will produce certain feelings in me--sometimes visceral, sometimes just mental. I like these feelings, and when I'm engaging with such a piece, there is no substitute: it's not as if, if you veil the Richter, I can just go look at Primavera and feel the selfsame things.
posted by everichon at 8:02 AM on August 10, 2007


Abstract art was about seeing things in a different way instead of being literal about what is seen. Kinda based on what Aristotle said: "The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance." Where art used to be judged on how realistic it looked, abstract art forced people to look at things and judge them in a new way, in turn seeing the world in a new way. Instead of "this is a building," people had to see a square and take the leap to consider it as a building. That was a revelation at the time. Art challenges people's eyes and minds to reconsider the reality around them... for example, when pointillism first appeared, it TOTALLY freaked people out. Historically, art has changed the way we see everything, it encourages the imagination of the viewer in ways that art never did before. For better and worse.

That said, yes, some abstract art sucks. Definitely not all though. Some of it is pretty cool.

/art school babble
posted by miss lynnster at 8:05 AM on August 10, 2007


According to the legend, Picasso could do representational work at her age.
posted by klangklangston at 8:10 AM on August 10, 2007


What exactly is the point of abstract art?
posted by Gnostic Novelist at 10:34 AM on August 10


The point is to explore the visual world abstractly. To abstract the subject (what the artist sees or thinks or feels) by reducing the subject to its component forms (colors, contrasts, lines, shapes) and then to reproduce the forms as the interpretation dictates. For example, if the subject is a bowl of fruit, and as an artist I look at the fruit I see curves and subtle gradual shadings. So I think about curves and maybe I think about the world around the fruit as curves, or amybe I think about the world as perceived from the perspective of the bowl of fruit, which may be more sensitiove to curves, find them more comforting and natural than the rectilinear world of man. So I paint the bowl of fruit as curves and spheres and circles, interating one into the next, impossible sphere lit by impossible light, curves filling the canvas, a meadow of curves.

Or...

You look at the fruit and you see curves and you despise them, because curves are round and supple and soft and so was she at first but not anymore and now nature mocks you with its softness and its curvatures, its rolling hills and drops of rain, her big round eyes like pools of stars, and even the planet you live on and the other planets in their turn orbiting the massive star that provides warmth and life and but she stole your life and broke your heart and now this bowl of fruit this goddamn motherfucking cocksucking bowl of her impudent shit fruit sits there like a buddha mocking you lush and ripe in its reds and oranges and yellows but not lush for you no she grew lush for the mouth and tongue of another so you stab your brush into your palette and you mix the blues and the whites and the blacks because you know this fruit - her fruit - was rotten and fungal and sharp like her tongue and her bosom that became a pit of razor sharp shards of glass shredding you to pieces as you fell into it and as the tears fill your eyes covering the world with rivulets of ice you attack the canvas like she attacked you and you paint her bowl of fruit as she revealed it you - "Acute Cubic Fruit, Infected".

So, you know, its a reduction to forms, visual, intellectual and emotional and a reconstruction of the same. But what do I know.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:11 AM on August 10, 2007 [24 favorites]


I don't even know where to begin with this...
posted by blaneyphoto at 8:11 AM on August 10, 2007


Second, the general public loves the idea of prodigies,

The general public also loves the idea that they might be unknown artistic wonders themselves. This is what Idol is all about. I happen to believe all of us are born creative in the absolute sense but not many of us retain the childlike ability or willingness to express ourselves freely, and of course few take steps to really encourage and train that ability. One wonders if just about any child raised and coached by the same father wouldn't produce such art while still young and what will happen when his immediate influence is removed from her performance and she becomes, like all of us, more self-aware.
posted by scheptech at 8:11 AM on August 10, 2007


"What exactly is the point of abstract art?"

To begin with this question assumes that there needs to be a point to everything. Why? Why can't we do and enjoy pointless things? Seriously.

Second, If you need a point, many people would say that the point of all (I should say most) visual art, not just abstract art, is to create a work that is both aesthetic (not necessarily pretty, but appealing in some way to the senses) and provocative. Great art is captivating.

Many people make the mistake of thinking that art is supposed to be universal in the sense that everyone is supposed to get it or find it appealing, if it's good art. Well not everyone gets every piece, just like not everyone likes Shakespeare or Tolstoy. But, would anyone have the temerity to ask "What's the point of War and Peace?"
posted by oddman at 8:15 AM on August 10, 2007


I think I'd like the paintings even more if I knew the parents were making her do it

Almost like the dad is the artist and his daughter is his paintbrush?

So to me the point of art is not the intention of the artist, but the effect the finished product has on the viewer. Even if its the dad talking over her shoulder, its a unique technique for creation that should be explored.
posted by Gregamell at 8:21 AM on August 10, 2007


"What exactly is the point of abstract art?"

"The Painted Word" by Tom Wolfe.
posted by RavinDave at 8:23 AM on August 10, 2007


Miss lynnster, I was looking through the Alexandra Nechita link and agree that she is at least displaying conscious talent.

It's impossible for me to ignore, however, that even her work seems incredibly uninformed by any enduring thoughts or messages of significance. I know it's a cheap shot at a young artist, but she really doesn't have anything to say. I'm curious to see where she ends up as life shapes her work, but in the meantime it's hard to get excited by skilled, beautiful paintings inspired by how much detangler she has to use to get her hair to behave.
posted by hermitosis at 8:28 AM on August 10, 2007


Yes, you can paint like Jackson Pollock. That doesn't mean that you're a genius and it doesn't mean that he wasn't one.

Odd that everyone is talking about artistic talent in such essentialist terms. Postmodernism is all about calling those barriers into question.
posted by roll truck roll at 8:28 AM on August 10, 2007


"Well, Art is Art, isn't it? Still, on the other hand, water is water. And east is east and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does."

--Groucho Marx
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:41 AM on August 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


So to me the point of art is not the intention of the artist, but the effect the finished product has on the viewer.

Usually if the artist wishes their intention to be taken into consideration by the viewer, they find some way of making it known. Their ability to effectively do this (or not) is just one more tool an artist has, and one more factor determining their skill and talent.

In the case of little Marla, the finished product is virtually all we have to go on, as she is not old enough to even be aware of the extent to which her art is viewed or why.
posted by hermitosis at 8:41 AM on August 10, 2007


honest knave: Sounds a bit like Mozart, who was another "prodigy" with lots of help from Dad.
Uh... what's with the airquotes around the word 'prodigy'?! Mozart was quite possibly the greatest prodigy in history, regardless of the obvious impact having a highly musical and ambitious father had on his development. It's not like Mozart was writing "abstract" music, or having his music ghost authored; he was crafting musically coherent works with an inherent understanding of music theory from an extremely early age, and his adult output pretty clearly shows he was no trumped up "prodigy" that didn't pan out when the marvel of his youth had faded. I suspect we will not even be noticing the adult output of Marla.
posted by hincandenza at 8:45 AM on August 10, 2007


According to the legend, Picasso could do representational work at her age.

I believe this is one of Picasso's paintings from when he was eight years old. As he said himself: “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”

I agree on Alexandray Nechita, she's not my cup of tea necessarily. But she's definitely doing it ALL herself. So even if her paintings are Picasso rip offs about hair gel, at least it's coming from her and is about what SHE is creating from her own mind and talents. When a child is instructed and coached to paint, it's no different than this, really.

There have been child prodigies in art history, but not that many that became famous later as Picasso did. This girl is doing representational stuff too, but she's not exactly Jan Lievens (as a teen he collaborated with & shared a studio with Rembrandt). This girl has today's Christian Art Prodigy market cornered, though...
posted by miss lynnster at 8:50 AM on August 10, 2007


Thankfully, there's no need for me to participate in a discussion of what constitutes "real" art, or whether Jackson Pollock was just wanging paint at the canvas like some monkey, or (God help me) what the "point" of abstract art is... because I already went to college.
posted by nanojath at 8:50 AM on August 10, 2007 [4 favorites]


Pffft, Lets see her paint while drunk.
posted by Gungho at 9:03 AM on August 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


This idiotic monstrosity has been taking up valuable wall space at my University for damn near thirty years. We had been cursed with a pretentious twit who systematically sold off many of the genuinely artistic pieces in order to flood the inventory with modernistic crap. And, if you disapproved, his small cadre of talentless hacks sighed that you were obviously a peasant with no aesthetic sensibilities. It is this type of arrogant pseudo-intellectual horseshit that prevents me from taking modern art very seriously.
posted by RavinDave at 9:11 AM on August 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


As far as the "point" of abstract art, I always heard it this way: people, even painters, used to take it for granted that painting was meant to copy the image of the world as it appears to us. Then photography was invented and it looked like the gig was up for mere humans. But they went into themselves, and went into the tradition of painting, and discovered that painters had been wrong about what they were doing; painting was never just about capturing the literal image. And when this became clear to them, they started explicitly veering more and more away from the literal rendition, exploring their freedom. Then you get impressionisn, expressionisn, etc. As to what art is instead of copying, that's a different argument.

Agreed that art, any art, doesn't need to have a "point" though, even if it probably happens to serve several important personal and societal functions anyways. To paraphrase Kant badly: a piece of art is that thing that seems to have a point, a message, some sort of object...but all you're left with is that nagging feeling, it never coalesces into a recognition of any particular point. It is purposefulness without specific purpose.
posted by creasy boy at 9:14 AM on August 10, 2007


I think everything is art. The foam on my morning coffee is art. Not $24000 worth tho.*

*Unless you want to buy it.

posted by miss lynnster at 9:15 AM on August 10, 2007


I already went to college.

It must be lonely at the top.

Wait, let me take back that remark and replace it with something about how I hope you choke on your tongue.
posted by hermitosis at 9:15 AM on August 10, 2007


RavinDave: I like Rothko. I get that you don't. But if you like these other "genuinely artistic pieces" better, and I don't, what is your argument that I'm wrong about this?
posted by creasy boy at 9:19 AM on August 10, 2007


(not fatally, old bean.)
posted by hermitosis at 9:29 AM on August 10, 2007


Relevantly, my post from a bajillion years ago on Ruby the painting elephant. It's too bad she and Marla couldn't have met. Would have been a real meeting of the minds.
posted by hermitosis at 9:34 AM on August 10, 2007


I like the paintings a lot. And I'm not very fond of most abstract art, so that probably means they suck. :-)

OTOH I like Pollock's drip paintings a lot too, so maybe it's just taste.
posted by rusty at 9:36 AM on August 10, 2007


As for a professional opinion, here's a quote from deKooning, after he and his wife were asked to analyze a piece art that was later revealed to them to be done by an elephant:

"We felt they had a kind of flair and decisiveness and originality. Needless to say we were dumbfounded when we read that they were made by an elephant. These drawings do not have a random quality. They are not accidental. They have a kind of rhythm and verve one sometimes observes in the litle dance steps elephants perform in zoos and circuses. Mrs de Kooning and I are both interested in following the career of this elephant"

--The Souls of Animals Gary Kowlaski, 1999 New World Library.
posted by hermitosis at 9:40 AM on August 10, 2007


De Kooning might have been well under the influence of Alzheimers when his wife wrote that letter on his behalf.
posted by creasy boy at 9:43 AM on August 10, 2007


A book that has nothing to do with art per se that really helped me understand what abstract art is about is Visual Intelligence: How We Create What We See. It's an in-depth examination of the various rules our brains use to interpret vision, using optical illusions & other carefully crafted images to demonstrate them. It covers everything from how we detect borders in objects to depth & color perception. It really opened my eyes, so to speak, on the visual protocol stack our brains use to let us see the world around us.
posted by scalefree at 9:43 AM on August 10, 2007


My dog could paint that. At least they only exploit their dog I reckon.
posted by haunted by Leonard Cohen at 9:44 AM on August 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


I had a feeling she was receiving parental guidance and coaching, and Miss Lynster's comment confirms it. It looks like she's making the same swirling, scribbly patterns that all children her age make, only with an invasive level of supervision.

I'd guess that her father physically moves the canvasses around (a little girl obviously can't reach across a surface that size) and puts brushes, loaded with colors of his choosing, in her hand. The guy is, in effect, using his daughter as a tool for his work.

It's not terribly far removed from the behavior of those horrid stage mothers who slather their kids in makeup, retouch photos, and enter them into beauty pageants.

It's not child abuse, but it comes close.
posted by aladfar at 9:51 AM on August 10, 2007


Pastabagel: I'm a John Cage prodigy. I had the ability to remain silent for four minutes and thirty three seconds the moment I was born.

Yet you cried, like the rest of us.
posted by dontoine at 9:53 AM on August 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


my elephant could paint that.
posted by benightedly_heedful at 9:54 AM on August 10, 2007


Now Tillie's really starting to piss me off.
posted by haunted by Leonard Cohen at 9:59 AM on August 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


"Uh... what's with the airquotes around the word 'prodigy'?! Mozart was quite possibly the greatest prodigy in history, regardless of the obvious impact having a highly musical and ambitious father had on his development."

It was because he had a drugged-out dancer in the background at all times.

"And, if you disapproved, his small cadre of talentless hacks sighed that you were obviously a peasant with no aesthetic sensibilities. It is this type of arrogant pseudo-intellectual horseshit that prevents me from taking modern art very seriously."

To counter with the obvious point— that you consider that Rothko worthless is what prevents me from taking you very seriously.
posted by klangklangston at 10:08 AM on August 10, 2007


"Worthless?" WTF? Mark Rothko was the best religious painter in the Western tradition since Rembrandt.
posted by Haruspex at 10:18 AM on August 10, 2007


Anyone takes Rothko seriously I can't take seriously.
posted by Snyder at 10:18 AM on August 10, 2007


Well then we're at an impasse. We'll just have to agree not to take each other seriously.
posted by creasy boy at 10:23 AM on August 10, 2007


nuclear_soup: nice post. I look forward to watching the movie when it comes out.

RavinDave: no one can make you feel like a peasant with no aesthetic sensibilities unless you let them.

Gnostic Novelist: nice derail. About a third of the commenters fell for it, quick to point out that they understand abstract art.

So, where is the Friday flash fun?
posted by Sailormom at 10:50 AM on August 10, 2007


I can't say whether I take Rothko seriously or not; I never met the man. His painting, however, are awesome. I actually prefer Rothkos over Pollocks.
posted by oddman at 10:57 AM on August 10, 2007


I already went to college.

I've already been to the mall.
posted by contraption at 10:59 AM on August 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


Pastabagel: I'm a John Cage prodigy. I had the ability to remain silent for four minutes and thirty three seconds the moment I was born.
Yet you cried, like the rest of us.
posted by dontoine at 12:53 PM on August 10


True, but you forgot to ask how I crammed four minutes and thirty-three seconds into a single moment. Therein lies the mystery.
posted by Pastabagel at 11:01 AM on August 10, 2007


What's the point of abstract art?

I can't answer that, because I don't look for a "point" in any art. But note that abstract art is everywhere. It's so universal that most people don't think of the bulk of it as art. I'm talking about what we generally call "decoration."

What's the point of stripes on a shirt, colors on dinner plates, swirls on wallpaper? The point is that many of us respond -- in some way that we find interesting -- to colors, lines, shapes and patterns.

Abstract art removes everything except the patterns. There's no plate or shirt. Just the pattern. Many of us respond even more strongly to patterns when we see them by themselves, when they're not adorning some object.

By the way, I love abstract art, but I didn't used to. I had two problems with it:

1) I was trained, by years in academia, to think art had to have some "meaning," and that when looking at a painting, my job was to do something along the lines of figuring out a word-search puzzle. I was supposed to find the hidden meaning that the artist put in the painting. I was never able to do this with abstract art, so it made me feel stupid. Once I quit looking for meaning in art, I loved abstract art. And I enjoyed ALL art a lot more. Art is like food. It's sensual.

2) I only saw prints in art books. But the first time I stood before a gigantic canvas in a museum, it knocked my socks off. My whole visual range was filled with colors. The painting became like a landscape that I might fall into.

I love that girl's painting. I think they're stunning. I don't really care if she did them or her dad did them. They're great.
posted by grumblebee at 11:03 AM on August 10, 2007 [3 favorites]


“Unlike in music, there are no child prodigies in painting. What people regard as premature genius is the genius of childhood. It gradually disappears as they get older. It is possible for such a child to become a real painter one day, perhaps even a great painter. But he would have to start right from the beginning. So far as I am concerned, I did not have that genius. My first drawings could never have been shown at an exhibition of children’s drawings. I lacked the clumsiness of a child, his naivety. I made academic drawings at the age of seven, the minute precision of which frightened me.” -- Picasso.

Here's his first 'major' piece, which he painted at age 14.
http://www.abcgallery.com/P/picasso/picasso172.html
posted by Narual at 11:05 AM on August 10, 2007


err, make that here.
posted by Narual at 11:06 AM on August 10, 2007


Asking "What's the point of looking at abstract art?" is like asking "What's the point of listening to instrumental music?".
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 11:13 AM on August 10, 2007 [5 favorites]


I can understand RavinDave's stance here (though I have little respect for Tom Wolfe's endless, somewhat inexplicable jihads against anything not photorealistic created after, say, 1890) but it always saddens me that it becomes an either / or proposition.

There is tremendous beauty in a Carravagio, or a Rubens, or a Monet. That a Pollock, or a de Kooning, or a Rothko presents a very different visual experience makes them no less beautiful. For me, some art can tell a story, whether it's a specific Biblical passage on the wall of an Italian church or Van Gogh showing us the way the light falls on The Café Terrace on the Place du Forum, Arles, at Night.

In my view, the beauty of abstract art is the story it lets me tell. Some years back when I was standing in front of Rothko's Light Red Over Black at the Tate Gallery, I remember a swirl of emotions as I let the color wash over me, and seeing shapes emerge from the darkness that weren't readily visible upon the initial glimpse. Were the shapes really there, or was I creating them? What did they mean? I'd ask that everyone poo-poohing abstract art give it another chance the next time you're able. Be patient, watch and look for a bit. Allow yourself not to seek out the literal right away. You may be surprised.

I can certainly agree that those who dismiss the "classics" are often pretentious twits, but knee-jerk denigration of anything modern or abstract points to a distinct lack of imagination.
posted by jalexei at 11:18 AM on August 10, 2007


"I can't say whether I take Rothko seriously or not; I never met the man. His painting, however, are awesome. I actually prefer Rothkos over Pollocks."

Yeah, frankly. There seem to be a lot more mediocre Pollacks than there are mediocre Rothkos.
posted by klangklangston at 11:35 AM on August 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


It's not like Mozart was writing "abstract" music, or having his music ghost authored

In fact it has been said that his music was being "ghost authored" by his dad. That's exactly what honest knave was referring to.
posted by nzero at 11:35 AM on August 10, 2007


I recently took my then three year old to the De Young in San Francisco and the converation went something like

Him: What's that (a big curly wooden type thingy)
Me: It's art
Him: What's art
Me: Cool stuff to look at

He was quite happy with that explanation and I think it's a pretty decent definition.
posted by zeoslap at 11:43 AM on August 10, 2007 [4 favorites]


Pfff, I'm an artist and I couldn't do that at that age. Then again my dad was a rocket scientist, standing to the side whispering quadratic equations and physics formulas at me and look how I turned out...
posted by 1f2frfbf at 12:05 PM on August 10, 2007


nzero: In fact it has been said that his music was being "ghost authored" by his dad. That's exactly what honest knave was referring to.
See, that's news to me. Every biography I've read mentions that obviously Mozart's father was a rigorous teacher, and made sure Mozart was constantly playing and studying music and theory, possibly to the detriment of his overall emotional development and health. However, I've never heard it said that even his earliest compositions were "ghost authored", and they are quite juvenile in their style (but showing a good grasp of fundamental theory).

Given what we know of Mozart as a young adult through his death, the quality of work he put out, and his obvious and superhuman mastery of theory and structure, I don't know why we'd even suspect he didn't write those early pieces himself. Music is probably the most common prodigy case, and plenty of young prodigies have demonstrated unusual ability to compose (Saint-Saens also wrote his first work when he was 4 or 5), and unlike this Marla, there's no reason to doubt that Mozart wrote those early works given that his later prolific catalogue shows he was no fraud or 18th century media manipulation.
posted by hincandenza at 12:08 PM on August 10, 2007


"I'm all for parents encouraging their kids to excel, and even giving them appropriate evaluation and incentive; my parents taught me to be disciplined by keeping me to a certain amount of musical practice a day."

Honest knave,

I think if your kid is outstandingly talented, just about all their parents' evaluation and incentive looks screwy and inappropriate to carping outsiders.

"Appropriate" is for us ordinary mortals with ordinarily "above average" kids!
posted by Jody Tresidder at 12:13 PM on August 10, 2007


Others’ experiences of art are mostly interesting as reminders of the weirdness of others indicators of the value of further sharing in this area.

E.g.:
(A conversation, c. 1968, never forgotten as classic demonstration of the “other-ness” of others):

Hendrix?!? Wait til you hear that guy from [briefly notorious, mercifully forgotten band]! He’s SO much better!

I’ve heard him; what are you talking about? He’s a boring, mechanical, annoying hack!

What!?! He’s the faster player I’ve ever heard! He makes Hendrix look sick!

No further sharing of musical experiences sought from this quarter. Explanation pointless.
posted by dpcoffin at 12:19 PM on August 10, 2007 [1 favorite]



I don't care. I like the paintings.
posted by alona at 12:19 PM on August 10, 2007


The girl's paintings are awesome. I'd gladly have one on my wall.
Whether or not her father is coaching her isn't really relevant (at least not to me) Clement Greenberg would sit and make "suggestions" as Pollack worked. Still, I'd gladly have a Pollock on my wall. Rothko, too.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:30 PM on August 10, 2007


zeoslap, I'm pretty sure you're a good parent.
posted by roll truck roll at 12:39 PM on August 10, 2007


she gets revenge by having them critique the work of a new artist at a gallery showing, namely her toddler Avery.

somewhat embarrassed to remember this, but, doesn't she then sort of not really get revenge because one critic says it's brilliant and then another says, "no, it looks like a child did it", and then the first says, "well yeah, but that's what makes it brilliant", and they get into a discussion - so she realizes that they aren't just blindly jumping for some random splash of paint, but that why people like modern art is precisely for what it means - that art is not (any longer, if it ever was) just a direct experience of beauty or a congratulation of ability, but includes a complex intellectual interplay of symbol and meaning, and modern art makes this explicit.

One thing that's interesting about the Marla stuff is that the "60 Minutes" piece goes on about how most 4 year olds don't have it in them to do abstract work, how they tend to try to do representational stuff, so this must be her father etc... but I'm not really convinced hers is abstract - "dandelions" seems to have a lot dandelion-looking shapes in it; "fairy-map" seems to be a map of a made-up land, much like many of us used to make when we were toddlers; "lollipop house" is crammed full of round, potentially lollipop-ish objects. I mean, she doesn't seem to draw many figures, which may be unusual, but it strikes me that there's a difference between painting colors and painting poorly rendered dandelions...

I like the paintings well enough, but I would not pay money for them. But I guess I feel that way about jackson pollack, so I'm hardly the one to judge :)
posted by mdn at 12:45 PM on August 10, 2007


I would say that if this is really the product of an older artists compositional skills and a toddlers motor skills, it would be much better if that was just out on the table as an interesting collaborative angle on painting. Dishonesty can be such a horrible thing in the arts.
posted by garethspor at 12:47 PM on August 10, 2007


Great post, thanks!

I can't wait to see this film, but I'm sure I'll have to wait for the DVD since these kinds of movies never come to MON-FRICKIN-TANA!!!!

OK, I feel better now.

Interestingly, this video shows something the trailer doesn't: After she does the painting in the back yard (the one with the sun in the sky, which looks exactly like what you'd think a 4 year old would paint) Marla walks out the gate and says she is done with the painting, and the camera shows the finished work.

Looks like a fascinating movie.
posted by The Deej at 1:14 PM on August 10, 2007


Four year olds, actually, in my experience can't do much other than abstract things. Representationalism doesn't have its first flickers until age five in most kids. Until then, they just splosh and swirl and mix paints together and scribble. Then you ask them what it is, and they get this look on their face like, "oh shit, I was supposed to make it LOOK like something?" and they make something up. "It's my cat," or "It's my mommy."
posted by InnocentBystander at 2:44 PM on August 10, 2007


Okay so many levels to deal with on this.
Child exploitation?
Proving abstract art is crap?
Proving the art world is a sham?
Did the father paint them?
If so then why can't they still be considered as good and worth the high dollar amount?
posted by Rashomon at 3:21 PM on August 10, 2007


Representationalism doesn't have its first flickers until age five in most kids. Until then, they just splosh and swirl and mix paints together and scribble.

It's the non-scientific experience of one, but my three-year-old, from the time she could talk, was always emphatically specific about what it was she was drawing. It's only recently that the sploshes and swirls are starting to resemble their stated inspirations (and they're occasionally quite accurate) , but I don't really recall a time when she spent more than just a moment or two simply scribbling.
posted by jalexei at 4:48 PM on August 10, 2007


Then you ask them what it is, and they get this look on their face like, "oh shit, I was supposed to make it LOOK like something?" and they make something up. "It's my cat," or "It's my mommy."
posted by InnocentBystander


Open ended questions - that's how you discuss artwork with young children. Its as easy as " So, tell me about what you're drawing..." Don't try to guess or make assumptions about what they're doing. Make observations and wait for answers - "I see you used yellow here and blue over here... " Its real easy - kids will tell you all about what they're doing if you let them do it without pressure.
posted by blaneyphoto at 5:29 PM on August 10, 2007


She's a descendant of Frederick Law Olmstead. Now there's a real artist!

This calls for a little psychoanalysis. Obviously, Marla's father has failed to live up to his artistic lineage, having never produced anything along the lines of Central Park or Parc Mont Royal. He is now determined to carry on the Olmstead name through his daughter, the one worthwhile creation he's brought forth. Marla's father uses Marla as a tool, painting through her -- she is the artistic medium in which he works. This plan will work. In time, Marla will enjoy immense acclaim. Galleries will clamor for an authentic Olmstead, never knowing which Olmstead deserves the accolades. This success will continue until Marla one day comes of age, asserts her autonomy, and rebels, refusing to paint ever again. Her father, impotent and left without his tools, will drink himself nearly to death.

Fifteen years later, Marla, now an actuary, will run into her estranged father in Sheep Meadow. He will be crying. Marla will have never escaped the psychological damage that her father caused by treating her as an object used to make great things. This is the only sort of love she knows. At the edge of the Great Lawn, the two will give in to history, consummating the destiny that had been set in place two hundred years previous when the first spade was turned on 59th Street.
posted by painquale at 5:51 PM on August 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


In response to the controversy, her website features "video documentation: of a few of her paintings.

Do these look not-quite-so-polished as the others, though?
posted by The Deej at 7:22 PM on August 10, 2007


Four year olds, actually, in my experience can't do much other than abstract things.

My daughter drew this at 3. Representational or not?
posted by Wolof at 8:02 PM on August 10, 2007


Firstly, I'm not really bothered whether this child is painting these pictures essentially spontaneously, through intensive coaching, or not at all. I reckon they're alright, but no more than that. If they turned up in a friend's end of year show I'd be fairly impressed; but there must be tens, running in the hundreds, of thousands of decent end of year show pieces displayed every June. So far so meh.

However, the post seems to have produced some genuinely interesting discussion about art, and some really good comments. Initially I found it a little surprising that the validity of abstract art was even a matter of debate after the whole history of art in the 20th century thing, but most comments have been well considered and productive.

Regarded from one aesthetic perspective, then, this has been a very good post. Cheers.
posted by howfar at 8:08 PM on August 10, 2007


What exactly is the point of abstract art?

Your question.

Morton Feldman said something to the effect that abstract expressionism began in this weird moment when suddenly no one knew exactly what art/painting is.
posted by treepour at 10:41 PM on August 10, 2007


The title of the post reminds me of an awkward moment I had a few years ago in front of a particularly brutal DeKooning.

The man next to me chuckled and said "My five year old could paint that."

I replied, without thinking "I should hope he doesn't." Or some smartass thing like that.


At any rate, I don't think Marla seems particularly unhappy. She's gets to play out her developmentally unremarkable artworks on a grand scale, and frankly, my inner five-year-old is incredibly jealous. I imagine "The War of The Animals: Wherein All the Animals Killed Each Other and I Totally Cried When I Drew It" would have been an epic masterpiece, rather than something my parents pull out of a drawer occasionally to contemplate what the fuck is wrong with me.
posted by louche mustachio at 4:37 AM on August 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


What is the point of abstract art?

Try thinking of visual art as the exercise or use of a rich, highly complex, and very much still-evolving language. I think that’s how most visual artists think of what they do, on some level.

Abstract art might then be thought of as the practice of using this language to explore and to extend the language itself, as opposed to using the language for some more easily understood and more usual purpose, such as recording or interpreting external reality, telling a story, or communicating an idea or point of view, or some such function of normal communication.

All these things may be going on as well within any “abstract” piece, to one degree or another, but I suspect that those who gravitate towards the abstract in art are those who to find the language itself and its unexplored potential as, or more, intriguing than any secondary purposes it might be put to.

From this perspective, it’s easy to distinguish those viewers (and those artists) who are interested in the language itself from those who are primarily interested in the “topic,” or from those who have yet to even particularly notice that there is a language being used to “discuss” the “topic.”

For these folk, if the topic seems to be “nothing,” well, then, “What’s the point?” Any child(/idiot/animal/trickster) can babble on about nothing...

But once you do notice the language being used, and if you start to sense how infinite, rich, mysterious and powerful it is all by itself, or if you are perhaps born speaking it and find it your native tongue, well, then, the question might reasonably become, “What’s the point of using this amazing power as a mere tool for exploring other topics when the language itself is so interesting?”

And if your attention begins to extend to the USERS of the language as well as to formal ends they may put the language to, then perhaps you begin to see that an abstract speaker of this language has the potential to reveal themselves in hitherto unavailable, or perhaps more universal, ways than if they were to confine themselves and their language to any particular topic.

Or, maybe not. There’s no law that says you MUST see the point.
posted by dpcoffin at 2:16 PM on August 11, 2007


Anyone who has spent time around kids making art knows that a lot more kids are capable of making really beautiful pictures than our society gives credit for.

Marla's dad may or may not be manipulating the story, not to mention the artworks here, but he might also just be someone who knows the art world and promotion and went for it. Personally I wish there were more parents who took their kids' art at face value and didn't assume, well I'm not an artists and I don't understand art, so my kid's stuff must just be scribbles.

I've been teaching an arts-and-crafts class all summer at, of all things a figure skating camp (I used to be an artist before I discovered that I had to make a living), and I have to tell you, these kids, who are "athletes" not "artists" (as all of the parents assured me) created the most amazing stuff. I'd hang it on my wall anytime.

That said, there are in fact prodigies, but frankly I'd be more impressed if Marla was a prodigy who could draw really well representationally, which would indicate some awareness of the world, and some intentionality (for me a biggy in whether it's art or not). Plus the whole tiny-tot makes big bucks aspect just gives me the creeps.
posted by nax at 3:10 PM on August 11, 2007


I agree with aladfar the most. I can't believe the main arguments on this thread are about abstract art. Whether or not she creates the paintings is not really relevant. Whether or not they are good does not matter either.

If you would like to be able to say you have a beautiful product of child labor on your wall, then it seems to me that you should buy one of her paintings.
posted by Inside Out Girl at 11:05 AM on August 12, 2007


Man, my shoes are already beautiful products of child labor...
posted by klangklangston at 11:40 AM on August 12, 2007


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