Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Quote of the Day: Paddy Johnson

"I know this sounds snotty, but the media phenomenon of Marla Olmstead, the then 4-year-old painter whose brightly colored abstract canvases sold for upwards of $20,000 dollars each in 2005 represents my worst nightmare as an art critic. I say this not because I believe good fine art can only be made by adults, but because her status as a child prodigy is constructed upon popular myths I work to dispel on a daily basis: that artists have innate talent that cannot be taught; that virtually anyone working in the field of art has the knowledge and background to properly evaluate abstraction; that exacting skill and authorship necessarily correlates to artistic talent or the intrinsic worth of a painting."
That's Paddy Johnson, the blogger behind Art Fag City, reviewing the documentary My Kid Could Paint That in The Reeler.

Marla Olmstead seems to be caught in a limbo between critics who think she had help making her pictures (which implies that they're good) and others who think her art (and the fact that it sold for such high prices) is proof that the art world is nuts. It doesn't help matters, writes Johnson, that the film does nothing to seek any conclusions. The sole art critic featured in the film is the New York Times' Michael Kimmelman, and he "never issues a statement on the child’s actual talent."

Without having seen the movie, I can only comment on the issues brought up in the review. The biggest issue to me is that of talent. The art world has embraced children's art as a sort of "pure vision" for at least a century. Artists like Wassily Kandinsky championed the art of children, the insane, and the un-trained before WWI – not for the talent or technical skill in the art – but for the glimpse into the spiritual world such creations provided.

Then again, once we put a monetary value on such art, all aesthetic criticism fades into the background. Marla Olmstead becomes a fad and her collectors, chumps.

The photo of Marla Olmstead is from Sony Pictures Classics



Anonymous Kristy said...

I haven't seen the documentary either, however, I read a review of it on which mentioned that there was an issue of her talent not being entirely her own. There was a suggestion that she was being 'coached' by her dad, an amateur painter. Evidently, when they filmed her painting, scenes of which she was either finishing or in in the middle of creating, he could be heard in the background making comments on what she should do. Who knows?

5:57 PM  

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