Translate

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Marla Olmstead: Child Prodigy?.

Anyone who watched 'My kid could paint that' in 2007 was intrigued by the story of four year old abstract painter Marla Olmstead whose colourful paintings sold for extravagent prices. Hailed as a child prodigy, she soon attracted the attentions of the press who questioned the claims of her father Mark that she painted them unassisted.

This is Marla painting, she is a gorgeous child and is great fun to watch lay paint down, you can see, left to her own devices she paints like a four year old would. Tactile and engaging with the paint as a material like clay she just enjoys the play.
A documentary crew was allowed to follow the family for a year, which proved controversial with the father caught in a series of fibs. At first saying her had no knowledge of art, while on the dvd extras boasting of being an artist of some merit as a young man. He was also spotted by the camera coaching his daughter and grinning when an art critic said the paintings showed masterful talent.

Just who was painting these abstracts?.
. Asked to paint on camera by the producer, Mark sets up a canvas for his daughter, who wastes no time making a giant mud pie on it. Then saying to him ' you finish this daddy' and ' you help like before'.

Marla herself seems very happy and one can tell the parents love her very much and she seems to enjoy making art.But with the paintings selling for thousands of dollars, is dishonesty important?.
Do the buyers purchase less so the art, but the story, and if they get something out of the work does it matter that the father painted, or touched up his daughters work?.
Her work still sells, though less than before, after the expose.
Brief interview with the producer , director of the doc.
The vimoe is to the full doc. Well worth a watch.
Here is a 2009 video i found of Maria Olmstead she would be 9 here. And as we can see this wonderful little girl having fun with paint is not showing any sophistication of idea, palette or design. I leave it up to the visitor to decide if she painted the ones shown in the documentary.

On a side note since she is 13 now (d.o.b 2000) i wonder if she will be as interested in being in front of the cameras, according to her website 'her' paintings still sell to the gullible, or not, depending on your view.
She looks like this now, she is still making art.
 (edit-14/6/13)
I thought it might be interesting to juxtopose four paintings associated with Marla,  the first two were made by her during the filming of the documentary when she was 3 years old and the other two were made 'off camera'.




And now the two attributed to her, but made off camera.


Notes on the child prodigy.

Critic Clement Greenberg had this to say on the issue of child prodigies in the area of painting/drawing and sculpture-what we refer to as 'art', though cultural output is art, so technically musicians, writers themselves are artists. But...onward to the quote.
"In visual arts, prodigies don't count. In music and literature, yes, but not in art''.

Greenberg meant that the work prodigies display in painting and drawing, while outstanding
considering their age, lose their status as the creator gets older. Whereas   writing produced at a young age  by prodigies in literature(Rimbaud) and music (Mozart) hold their own, when placed alongside work produced by mature recognised masters. Interesting to note Mozart and Baudelaire died young .
 Symphony number1 -written when Mozart was 8 years old.

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/242790
Link to the full poem written when Rimbaud was 17.
The Drunken Boat is a very famous symbolist poem and established Rimbaud as a boy genius.

Below i will list two 'prodigies' in painting, whose work has brought them fame and money at a very young age. While looking at their work, ask if the art would be astonishing, rather than just 'talented' if it were produced by a twenty five year old. Think of it in comparison to adults artists (living or dead) who we consider to have achieved the pinnacle in their fields, how does the prodigy art stand in comparison.
I'm not asking you to think how their work will improve in ten years, but how their work now, as a prodigy, stands in comparison.

First is Russian American girl Akiane, she has appeared on Oprah Winfrey and numerous other television shows, her works sell for thousand of dollars and she represents herself as a prodigy (or her parents do).










Next is English schoolboy Kieron Williamson, who specialises in watercolour. He is hailed and sold as a prodigy. He has appeared on many t.v shows and many newspaper articles as a prodigy.




Marla herself is sold as a prodigy, regardless of who painted her work, does it stand in comparison to recognised masters of abstract art?
If Marla were in her twenties, how would her work stand up?


(i shall keep adding to this post , since it seems to be popular, perhaps i can get an interview with her for this blog, would anyone be interested if i contacted her ?)

Please leave your comments, thoughts and opinions. This is my most popular post and its fantastic to see so many people have opinions on this topic. Thanks for viewing and commenting.



51 comments:

  1. Frightening that faked and fecked still sells, greed is the problem!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Lurker, her parents made hundreds of thousands, but the fans of the paintings don't seem to be bothered that the girl probably did not paint them. Of interest is the young watercolour artist http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1203226/Pictured-Incredible-watercolour-paintings-boy-aged-just-SIX.html he actually did paint them. But both his parents have quit work to 'manage' his career and they declared him a limited company and their not paying tax on his earnings, its all dodgy off shore stuff. Hope he has a childhood, because i read they travel all over, Russian tv shows, Italian tv shows...

      Delete
  2. I guess she is still involved in it, but to what extent for each painting I wonder. You have to wonder if they would sell for $25,000 if they were created and sold by her father. Interesting post!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Matt. On the subject of child prodigies i quote the art critic Clement Greenberg
      'In visual arts child prodigies dont count, in literature and music, yes, but in art no'. Ask if the work were produced by a 25 year old would it have merit?. Would anyone hail them as a genius?.
      http://www.artakiane.com/
      This is Akian a child prodigy, certainly she has great technical skill but how does it compare now she is reaching her twenties?. Is it still the work of a prodigy?.

      Delete
  3. I'm not sure it makes their love for the piece any less, nor should it. But still there is something to getting scammed that makes you rather pissed off. Still think it is crazy the prices some of them went for though.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Patt, i agree art is relative to to those who are prepared to buy it. Certain types of art and artists are culturally relevant. But the prices are determined by which rich people want it enough, otherwise they would sit in museums. Robert .E. Howard Conan artist Frank Frazetta was just a jobbing poster artist during his life. But thanks to the wealth increase of the nerds, due to software technology they , now millionaires, collect his work.

      Delete
  4. i suppose people would still buy them for the little girl's sake. what matters most is that the buyers are happy with the work and they have no issues parting with their cash. the dad, however, could have just taken a different way through it. i think if he had marketed it as dad-and-daughter kind of thing, it would have garnered much interest too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That is a great point Jaya, i quite like the idea of father and daughter working on it together, At least she seems happy during the doc, she didn't seem stressed out by it all. Mark the father seemed to want to be recognised as an important artist, i have met a few bitter artists like him who are burning that they were not 'discovered'. Sometimes the devil in me comes out and i would goad them by saying 'Remember that time when that gallery stole your idea'. And they will begin a legendary conspiracy theory laden rant that is always entertaining.

      Delete
  5. I always find these stories interesting I saw something like this the other day where an 18 month old girl was reading. Cool stuff :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Baur, i think so long as the child is not being exploited then its all good fun. Marla seems really happy. On a side note i remember reading about Vanessa Mae the famous English violinist. She was all over the shop for ages, then she took part in a doc in which she said she hated her mother and had not talked to her in a decade and she had never even seen her grand children. Turns out the mother was very domineering and made Mae work a punishing schedule, despite outward appearances of happiness. So who knows, what goes on in such events and families.

      Delete
  6. I wonder what steven hawking was like when he was a kid

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think he was normal, just clever. I watched a doc on him, in which he solved these complex math problems that were Post Graduate level when he was ten. Their a clever family. But if he was not pushed in to it he might have ended up the worlds smartest bin man or something.

      Delete
  7. Its like the campbells soup cans man, anything is art if people are inclined/ stupid enugh to believe it so

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks College, Mark Wallinger (Turner prize winner) said ' It is art, because i the artist says it is , and i am an artist because i say i am'. We get in to this odd place of logic, where we have to define expression versus intent. Ultimately we can only say ' I don't know about art, but i knows what i likes'.

      Delete
  8. Well I'm just glad that the guy was exposed for being a fraud. I think it does matter who did the painting.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Dwei, but does it matter to the people who bought the art?. From the doc, it seems the owners don't care. Most people accept the father painted the images. The people who buy art by a child, will buy for reasons that cannot be disrupted by a revealing truth.

      Delete
    2. I think the people who bought the pieces are sort of in a defensive mode since 60 Minutes and the film. You could sue, but you'd be hurting a little kid even more than she's already been hurt. Either that, or the fact that they are connected to something news worthy, gives the piece more value. In the end, I think that it does matter to the people who bought the art--but just try to get someone to admit that they are wrong when their job (or their reputation) depends on their dogged insistence that they are right.

      Delete
  9. Replies
    1. Thanks Adam, though i think in this case, it is the father who is good. Since he painted the images not the girl. But she seems happy so Khallas.

      Delete
    2. I object to your outright statement in this reply that “he painted the images not the girl.” I just finished watching the DVD “My Kid Could Paint That” last night, and I admit I felt suspicious of the father from beginning to end. And while it is fine for you to say it seems to you that he did the painting, that has never been proven. As a matter of fact, I came upon this blog because I am now (2013) looking for updated information on the case, to see if any other revelations have surfaced since the time of the DVD (2007). I’m particularly curious to see if the parents have by any chance divorced in the aftermath, as it would be my suspicion that the wife was starting to question whether her husband was, in fact, involved. Nevertheless, I would still never state outright that the father did the painting. Who can know at this point? Unless someone fesses up….

      Delete
    3. I just finished watching the DVD My Kid Could Paint That. My opinion is that even though the painting is done by Marla who was four at the time, her dad could have coached her on the side such as put more red paint on this spot or smudge the paint in circle. Thus, the painting is not the creativity of a four year old. It appears that the father has a financial interest in the kid's painting. Also, the gallery owner, Mark Brunelli, is also interested in the Marla's painting being sold. Thus he gets a commission. The dad could have taken a polygraph test to attest he played no parts in his daughter's painting.

      Delete
  10. Dang I wish I could solve grad level math problems haha, I had a hard enough time passing pre calculus

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Baur, maths is just learning the rules or so mathmaticians say. Im slowly starting to like maths more and more, but only becaseu im teaching myself.Schools are a waste of time.

      Delete
  11. Interesting blog. However, a couple of things: first, you mis-quote Marla, she does not say, "you help like before." She just doesn't. She does ask her father to paint with her, she says, "you do it." It is a short scene in the documentary, not difficult to find. Second thing, Marla's father talks too much, this is true, but to characterize him as being caught in fibs isn't accurate. Granted, his talking on and on is at times painful (or at least it was for me) but he doesn't lie. The gallery owner reveals his own shady character when he offers that he thinks abstract art is a con-game (not his words). In fact, the title of the film is taken from a quote by him. That, "my kid could paint that." Not a very good friend, I would say. Having said all of this, I did come away doubtful that Marla had painted all of those paintings by herself. However, I could not say for certain that she didn't. I find your comment above to Adam a bit over the top, "...it is the father who is good. Since he painted the images, not the girl." Do you know this for fact? If so, how? Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I totally agree with you, Vinnie+. See my comment above. It’s interesting to me that the blog’s author promises “I always reply,” and she has, in fact, replied to everyone here…except you.

      Delete
    2. Marla did not paint all the pictures. If you listen to her & not the father she said at one point while they were going into a show that her brother painted the picture ( I don't remember the little ones name) Marlo said " I didn't paint them all Daddy (BRO) painted the green one. I didn't help him he did it all himself" So to me she obviousle was left to paint alone. As for the Father helping any parent would coach & incourage their child without doing it for them.I would not expect a child to pick up a spatula. So the Father would HELP by showing tools & technique as any art student would learn from their teacher.
      I personally think a lot of modern art is a load of "Pollocks" and at the end of the
      day do the people who buy it buy it because the love the work (fair do's to them) or because they want to brag at what they own. If this is the case fair do's to any artist who can pull the wool over their eyes. I belive Marlo painted these pictures but if the Father did & they were purchesed other than for the beauty of the picture. then that is the stupidity of the buyer

      Delete
    3. Thank you Vinnie! My thoughts exactly.

      Delete
  12. Where is she today? I cant find anything about her, no recent photo, no nothing. She is now 12 and I think that she can answer some questions and made it somehow clear.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, here she is at 6. It is the second article on the blog.
      http://musicandculture.blogspot.co.uk/2006_06_01_archive.html
      The article states she is still selling for huge sums.
      http://diepresse.com/home/bildung/489839/index?gal=489839&index=8&direct=
      This is another recent photo of her, as you can see from the paint, she is still selling herself as an artist, she looks older in this one.
      Ill keep looking, im sure i can find more info on her, this is the internet after all. I suspect though, since she is heading toward her teenage years, she wants some semi privacy time with her freind and things, so we will see less of her online. And im sure the family has made a small fortune already from her.
      http://www.thejealouscurator.com/blog/2009/03/09/im-jealous-of-marla-olmstead/
      This article seems to suggest ,and from the comments, that no one beleives she painted them, unaided at least.
      Thanks for visiting the blog.

      Delete
    2. The first article you cite in this reply, from Music and Culture, is dated 2006. The DVD “My Kid Could Paint That” is dated 2007, so the former is not exactly an update.

      Delete
    3. I know the father, and have since high school, and he has tried to do as LITTLE as possible to make a living his entire life. I know he probably had good intentions, but would never doubt for a second that this was a complete fraud and once he realized that people were willing to pay for these fraudulent paintings he would not have to work. He claimed throughout that the money would be put aside for her, however I would be interested to see if that is still the case 6-7 YRS after this hysteria has now died down, and I am sure they are not getting the money they did when she could barely talk.

      Delete
  13. The father didn't paint them... The other man you all saw in the DVD painted them. He was a realist painter that was spending 9 months on every painting and took a break from his realist paintings to paint every painting Marla did other than ocean... The family just kept the ball rolling for the hired painter until his work was relevant one more time... And I hope it was the last time

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Why is everyone so sure that she didn't paint them? It's very possible that she did-- It's interesting how so many assume the worst and decide, with no evidence, that THAT is the truth....

      Delete
  14. Wow, how can you people believe you know what actually happened? No one can really know unless they were a part of it, I don't care if you think this is some huge conspiracy, there is no proof that she did or did not paint them.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I completely concur with Vinnie and Pookie who point out that there was nothing conclusive said in the documentary such that the bloggers conclusions are completely unfounded. Before you carry out some Socrates-type persecution of anyone involved, get your facts straight. If I told you that I read Charles Dickens, Shakespeare, Jane Austen and the like at the age of 6-with full understanding-and sketched accurate portraits of people at that age, you probably wouldn't believe me despite it being true.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Essentially, broaden your perspective before making audacious presumptions about what happened for neither you nor I know. From experience I know that being masterful does not come with age...open yourself to the possibility that she may have painted them.

    P.S. Please avail yourself to a true discussion, instead of responding only to "assentors"-art is supposed to encourage intellectual debate after all

    ReplyDelete
  17. iv seen the doc and to be honest yea i had my doubts about the father but looking @ that painting #ocean# i somehow believe she has the ability 2 paint and she's talented.......art is something complicated and has a lot to do with feeling so it comes naturally,you don't just make a painting because everyone is expecting you to,just to prove a point and it was even more hard for her because she did not understand the expectations,and i don't see anything wrong with the father having influence in her daughters interest...like any parent would play a role in polishing their children's talent....i think it was heartless ambushing the family when what could have been done is to see how good she was and try to help her in any area she lacks....she should have been given credit as an artist and respected because not all girls her age could do what she did regardless the influence the father had on her.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Well yes the father is suspicious... I'm watching "my kid could pain that" right now for the 3rd time. And I really thinking she did paint them with her father coaching at times, let me tell you why I think she painted them. A childs mind develops very fast with age, that's why it started looking different because she matured. She learnt to do different things, starts learning how to draw forms etc instead of previously just painting how she felt. If you know a child if you have a child you know they develop very fast.

    ReplyDelete
  19. This movie fascinates me. Not only the whole question of Modern Art (money vs aesthetics)but also the relationships in that family. I would love to know if Marla's parents are still married. Her beautiful mom seems like such a lovely, honest woman who wants to protect her child and trust her husband. The dad seems like an opportunistic fool who got busted. There is no doubt in my mind that he and the gallery owner cooked up a plan that they thought would make them rich and sucker in a lot of innocent buyers. From what I saw, I believe that Marla painted SOME of the paintings (except for the "green one" that Zane painted!)but was strongly coached by her father who also 'touched up' the paintings. I don't think their was any doubt in Marla's mother's mind that everything was above board until the 90 minutes piece. The poor woman was at work all day - she didn't know what was going on. I just wonder if she's wised up now. That dad is such a jerk.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sorry for taking so long to reply, i will find out if they are still together. But according to Marlas website they are still a happy family and she is still selling and making art.

      Delete
  20. I like the work, no matter who painted it. If Marla did it all, that's great. If her dad did most of it, that's misrepresentation, but it's nice artwork. But I do wonder why we haven't seen more of her. Her website hasn't been updated in years, and I can't find any recent info about her.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. VRRRRRR6, I am in the process of updating this post to include more information, including updated news on her artwork. Thanks for commening.

      Delete
  21. If art is communication between artist and viewer, the artist intends to "say something" to the viewer. The depth of the viewers' experience in relating to a work of art establishes for him/her the dollar amount the viewer attaches to the piece. Politics and the "market" determine the dollar amount it "fetches". In the documentary the gallery owner said he learned about marketing through his relationship with the Olmsteads: he did not learn about a child's view of the world through her art.
    All of the painters in the documentary achieved a state of integration with the canvas. Watch how Pollack, Marla, even the 2 year old boy are all totally unaware of time, themselves and the external world as they work. We see brush, paint, hand, arm and body movement.However, what are they "saying" to the viewer through their work? Their pieces are "crafted". If there is no intent, no meaning, no communication, they are craftspeople, not artists. Does it matter who crafted Marla's work if it is intended as a craft piece, not a work of art?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. bandera550@comcast.net20 April 2014 09:28

      I am absolutely amazed at how the public in general will do anything to "expose" and devastate anything that starts out as beauty in a child as shown by all the posts here-----I have never liked "modern" art, but the minute I saw her paintings, I completely changed my mind. I have never been so moved as when I took the time to just sit with them and let the art speak for itself. Why on earth are all you people so ready to take this family down? Do any of you have any "real" truth to speak about this little girl and her talent, other than what you have heard second and third hand from others with their own "expose" agendas? As far as I'm concerned, this world is a better place because of her God-given talent and the joy I have experienced just being able to view them. Why are all of you so bound and determined to cry, "fraud---evil--terrible parents--", etc. Why can't you just find something or someone else to try to tear down and cry fraud about and get on with your own lives? I watched the whole video--and after seeing the black journalism that came from 60 Minutes, it made me visibly sick. Is this what we are really capable of doing to a family just to get ratings? I only hope the beauty and joy of that child can manage to be preserved over and above her attackers. Why on earth are you digging through the internet to see what more dirt you can find and scream about? My advice to all who posted here in such a negative way---get a life and leave this child and her family alone.

      Delete
    2. I totally agree. Just looking at her work and the way she paints brings real enjoyment to me. That is what art does for me....makes me happy and the paintings make me happy. I hope she has continued to paint and all of the bad press has not altered her ability to make beautiful works of art.

      Delete
  22. The blogger states "I always reply"....but should say "I always reply to those I agree with or who agree with me". When someone is only interested in representing one side with no proven facts to support it & no dialogue on opposing views, it makes for a rather uninteresting blog.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Art in general is the classic example of "perceived value" - its worth is determined by how much someone will pay for it. If people bought these paintings because they genuinely enjoy the pictures, and felt that the price was reasonable, then good for them. I honestly hope they display the pieces and enjoy them to this day.

    On the other hand, if they bought the pieces solely based on the age of the artist, then they got what they paid for. Caveat Emptor, as they said centuries ago. Let the buyer beware.

    200 years from now, will anyone really care about the age of the artist? Or will they judge the paintings simply for their appearance - will the images be strong enough to even be thought of 200 years from now? Only time will tell.

    ReplyDelete
  24. It's amazing to me that so many people who know very little about this girl and her family are willing to judge them. I've seen no proof to suggest that any of her paintings are anything but authentic. I would be very surprised if they were doctored in any way. I think that a lot of people who are willing to pass judgement on her work are probably just jealous that a four year old sold paintings for more money than they ever will.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Invisible Boy, a fictional character from the movie "Mystery Men," could only become invisible when nobody was looking. Marla has the same superpowers.
    Need proof? Close your eyes and I will bend spoons using my psycho-kinetic powers.

    Better yet, ask yourself why Mom and Dad were afraid to take money from a corporation like Crayola Crayons and focused on bilking idiots who stumble into the sleazy art gallery when their Humvees make a wrong turn on the way to the AmWay convention.
    I bet Marla's sidewalk evidence, I mean "genius," was hosed off the driveway by Dad faster than a New York minute.

    ReplyDelete
  26. I call "scam."

    Dad was/is an aspiring painter. He was a "night manager at a Frito Lay factory." That means these painting were all likely done --primarily by him-- while his dental hygienist wife was at work. At the very least, canvasses were prepared by him --often painted with backgrounds of solid colors. One featured a nice neat red square floating atop another background over which marks and dribbles were applied. This child couldn't draw a straight line much less something that precise.

    The financial motives of the dad and gallery owner were obvious. There are other discrepancies. The documentary dates the opening of Marla's gallery show as being Oct 1, 2004. However, her website was created on 8-23-2004 and is currently registered to mom Laura. The first archived snapshot of this website was taken on 9-11-04 (and can be seen online) and contradicts the documentary by stating -- "“Four,” her latest exhibition, opened at Anthony Brunelli Fine Arts, one of Central New York's premier galleries, in >>August, 2004<< (not Oct 1st). Marla's works attracted unprecedented thousands to the opening and is the Gallery's most lauded exhibition to date." That's two shows ..with dozens of paintings selling in two months by a 4 year old who apparently had little enthusiasm for painting. https://web.archive.org/web/20040201000000*/http://marlaolmstead.com Ironically, snapshots of anthonybrunelli.com website from that time don't even mention Marla or her shows.

    Imo 60 Minutes nailed it... and Marla never produced a painting comparable to those her father fabricated. I believe he felt it was Ok to do the underpainting, have Marla smear around a bit, and then he'd do the rest (including giving them pretentious names). Sadly Marla is but one of many children that are presented as being gifted with intellectual superiority and physical skills they simply don't possess. Aside from ripping off an ignorant and gullible public, the real crime is to perpetuate the myth that "genius" simply falls from heaven like rain onto some beings with no real training or effort. Brunelli gloried in being able to stick the modern art in the eye. Funny how irate he became when the legitimacy of his little genius was questioned. Then it became about HIM and HIS reputation and HIS liability as a potential co-conspirator.

    As with virtually all these "modern art prodigies".. the only real story is their age. They typically fade away as quickly as they appear (especially when collectors discover their works fail to appreciate as expected). The only exception I know of is Alexandra Nechita. She was well promoted and became very famous as a kid but actually could, and did, paint her own stuff. She's nearly 30 now and her work hasn't changed a great deal since she was 10 or 12.

    ReplyDelete
  27. I just finished watching "my child..."
    As a mother I found the story sad.
    So I got online to see if there was anything current on Marla.
    I wanted to see if her paintings had matured beyond that which could be produced by any typical four year old with the right tools and encouragement.
    Apparently you have not found anything recent either.
    I do not know or care if she painted alone or with help, I wouldn't buy one, I have plenty of my own children's modern works of art.
    I just wanted to know what her art is like now

    ReplyDelete

Message me, i always reply. I love hearing peoples thoughts or views about what i make.