BgArt News Blog
Thursday, September 30, 2004
  4 year old art prodigy?
This story below made me think of this quote from the art critic Clement Greenburg..
"In visual arts, prodigies don't count. In music and literature, yes, but not in art."
Clement Greenburg

Child art prodigy wows New York
"A four-year-old girl is wowing the New York art world with paintings that are drawing comparisons with Jackson Pollock and Wassily Kandinsky.
Marla Olmstead, from Binghamton, in New York state, has been painting since just before she was two years old.
Using brushes, spatulas, her fingers and even ketchup bottles, she is creating canvases of six by six foot.
The prodigy has already sold about 25 paintings, raising $40,000 (£22,000) and a new exhibition opens on Friday."

BgArt News Blog Comments:
i guess clement was wrong.
wow sounds like she has fun:)
Hmm, I'm wondering if Greenburg was wrong. I don't think he was. Rather, this points out that part of the art community accepts art too quickly and doesn't fully realize the artistic limitations of a child. How could a 4-year-old child fully realize and express mature emotion and mature intellect? (That is a rhetorical question.)

But if they are paying so much for her work, I have some pieces from my niece which scream modern art. They are on the fridge, I'll get them.
My cousin is leagally blind, would his art count? I can put some acrylics in the plastic honey jar and tell him to squeezzzzzzzzz.
This is just depressing; the gallery owner in cahoots with the girl's father using this little girl as the lastest gimmick to make money.
And doesn't say much for abstract artists either, if people are willing to believe that a four year old, given good oil paints and a large canvas, can produce work equivalent to an adult's.
There is no such thing as a visual art prodigy, primarily because a small child does not have the fine motor coordination needed to draw or paint realistically.
Many if not most abstract artists can work realistically but choose to express themselves diffferently. A child cannot; they're just learning.
There's also a lot of physical work involved in creating an exhibition of paintings, especially if the works are quite large.. Im not sure a 4 year old would be up to it.
give me a break. unless one can offer a cogent definition of why the painting you're making is art, it's not art. The fountain is still criticized as a piece of plumbing and not a work of art. but at least duchamp argued for the merits of his fountain as art in the letter from "r. mutt" to the juried show. I'm unaware of any writings of interviews or general philosophical positions of this child. I'm not saying that art is restricted to a certain quantity of time or a bottom line age restriction. but I doubt this girl could articulate why ketchup serves as a better medium than acrylic on her pieces...besides saying "I felt like it". (And "I felt like it" isn't a valid position unless one understands the concepts of autographic drawing and surrealism).

You can't say clem is wrong about kid prodigies if this girl probably can't even define the principles of painting. Child music prodigies understand harmony, scale, and the notion of dissonance. The music prodigy can tell you the effect of a seventh chord versus a fifth. Can this "painting prodigy" explain the concept of chiaroscuro, or even the effects of shading? One needs to know why he or she is an artist...why he or she creates...this is not something that one needs to go to the Ecole des beaux-arts to uneducated person can certainly define why he or she creates and what he or she hopes to express through his or her creations. what are the reasons that this 4 year old creates? "because I like the pretty colors?"...why does she feel the need to produce paintings? "because I like to"? why is she working in painting and not sculpture? "my mommie won't let me work with metal because it could hurt me"?...these are not calculated responses (despite the fact that they were calculated when offered by warhol)...does she understand the ramifications of working in paint in a post-modern world...No...nor should she...she's four!...does she understand the significance of working in abstraction and not representation? no...but matisse, picasso and rauschenberg could give her a good lesson on that.

I'm happy this girl makes money for charities. But I hope her parents aren't pimping her out for fame and a career she has yet to understand. I would encourage her to keep painting...they say picasso was a prodigy there were some wonderful pieces from when he was 12 that I saw in a Boston MFA show several years ago...but they didn't refer to him as an artist until he was about 18. She probably has talent...I have no doubt about that. But is she a great artist yet? be a great artist one needs to know what that means first. Clem was right on the money.
A Gimmick. Nothing more.

The question is really one of honesty and integrity. It is very easy and tempting to be dishonest when interpreting and commenting upon art. As the stakes can be very high, we understand why this happens. With the right promotion and backing, an utter piece of garbage can go for thousands of dollars.

What is appalling is the semblance of professional reporting by these alleged "art" critics and journalists.

The claim of her being precocious is utter nonsense. She is playing with paints. However, she is getting away with what many adult artists get away with-- passing off meaningless refuse as art.

I propose we set up a simple controlled study. Any "critic" advocating her alleged genius should be given slides of 10 "paintings" created by 10 different 4-year olds. I highly doubt the critic could pick out the supposed prodigy.

Kudos to the family though. It is very hard to convince anyone to part with their money. To sell a worthless playtime remnant for thousands of dollars-- priceless.
Ok, I agree that most children haven't yet developed the motor skills to produce "fine" art, but some children most definitely have developed a need for expression, and the products can be stunning. I've seen a drawing made by a 6 year old boy that displayed such an awareness of form and light and shadow, things that took me YEARS to really get and to fine-tune. For some of us, this kind of awareness can be learned, for others it won't ever be really understood, and for others still, it doesn't need to be taught, only nurtured.
just the perfect example of how curators and gallery owners have lost there touch with what fine arts really is.
wow 4 years old? hhmmmm. next time i decide to paint i will put my canvas in front of me with my brushes and paint then blind fold myself and get to work..maybe if she was 8 i will believe this child prodigy story but 4 years old??? maybe she is with a guided hand ;o)
I think her paintings are beautiful but I am not quite sure about her being the real thing yet...
Let me start off by saying this: I know Mark Olmstead, Marla's father.
Mark always was, and is, a glory hound. He was an athlete in High School, but never a star. He failed to progress because he lacked the ability.
He was a mediocre student at best.
His favorite line when he was in school and shortly thereafter was "don't you know who I am? I'm Mark Olmstead, number 10, quarterback for Binghamton High!" Now it would seem his calling card is "Marla's DAD."
Nobody in this area has ever believed the hype.
Let me say as a person that knows Mark and knows him well I don't believe that his daughter is painting the final product that they are selling.
I do believe that she paints a portion of them and that Mark finishes them. If you watch the film taken by the hidden camera you can plainly see that she sloshes around with the brush, covers over things and randomly places shapes and other globs of paint on the canvas. Not nearly the polished, united presentation you see in the gallery.
I hope that she is a prodigy, but I believe that she is a normal four year old with opportunistic parents.
I know Mark, and this has living vicariously and sucking up the attention written all over it.
7 year old prolific writer with 300,000 words in 14 months, first book "Flying fingers" will be out in Oct.

If you dont believe in child prodigies who can make art as well as conceptualize it with mature intellect and emotions, this will definately make you believe. She is Akiane and she has been painting since she was 4 years old. She writes beautiful poetry too.
I bet Akiane and the bunch are all fakes. (except maybe Marla -- her art just sucks) Why isn't there a video showing Akiane painting from beginning to end. The closest thing is her applying black paint over an area that's already black. There are stills though. It's like, let aunty paint for a while. Now, honey, sit still and hold the brush. Now smile for gullible America
her art looks just as good as many of the modern artists out there now, how can you say she is not a prodigy if people 20 years her senior are painting practicaly the same things?
they do have videos of her painting pieces beginning to end. get one & watch it if you don't believe them. it would be impossible to pull this off, too many people these days would investigate it & rat you out. get the smoking gun on it. they outed james frey to oprah. akiane was on oprah too. i'm sure she would have her family back, & let them have it if they were fakes. give the little girl a break.
THAT is not art. There is no beauty in a bunch of colors randomly splashed all over a canvas. Looking at these canvases with paint on them does make me smile, chuckle even as I wonder what kind of sucker would pay more than the cost of the canvas for these.

Reminds me of all the abstract "art" running rampant in the 80's early 90's that would be no more than a picture of a red square with a yellow circle overlapping it or something, and a squiggly line somewhere else with a few thousand dollar pricetag slapped on it and voila! Art!

Abstract art is just a joke created by people who want to be artists, but have no real talent.
I do think that Mark should get some credit for inspiring Marla to paint. Whether someone help Marla with finishing the painting or not; the documentary has shed light and left an open-end. That is to say that if people are willing to pay a lot for Marla's painting, it is because it is worth that much to the buyers because of its aesthetic appeal or something special about the painting. It is the decision of the buyer themselves. It will not be right to buy Marla's painting simply because of her age and not the creativity or aesthetic appeal in her painting.

I do see that Marla's parents truly love their children from the documentary. Pushing the child too hard to help her express herself and her talents; may have negative effects such as possibly forgoing her play or interaction time with other children of her age.

I do wish that people can be kinder in their words to Marla's paintings and her family. This is a young family, like many others that has struggles in many ways. They do not need to be discouraged by others.

All parents hope that their children would be successful and the family would have stability and happiness. I hope that people will be supportive of this family and be kinder. After all, Marla has put in a great deal of time into each of those painting. And her efforts should not be belittled.

I do feel that Marla's painting are very beautiful, it is "matured" like how the documentary described it, but it also captures Marla's innocence , honesty and intelligence. Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.

Blessings to this very special family!
omg she sucks!
After watching the documentary on Marla, I decided to put my own four-year-old to the test. Low and behold, he was using her same techniques - squeezing a whole bottle of paint onto canvas, swirling it around with a paintbrush, dipping his fingers to make specks, etc. He even turned out some pretty amazing abstract pieces. The only difference is that he hasn't been encouraged to do this on a daily basis because paint costs too much for mommy and daddy's wallet. I'm sure if we could afford to allow him to do this on a daily basis, his curiosity would lead to experimenting with other color combinations, finger swirling, spackle, and the works.

There's no doubt that Marla's paintings were beautiful but she is NOT doing anything other four-year olds aren't - IF encouraged.

Nonetheless, she is a great marketing tool to make somebody's pocket fat. She's cute and comes from a young hip family that's marketable. In the world of entertainment, IF you're not completely impoverished and have a story to tell about how you beat the odds, you have to be cute, charming, and come in a pretty package.
Everyone is very big with the words. It's easy to say I could paint that, my kid could paint that, my blind cousin could paint that but the reality is it's not so easy to do. Very, very, very few can come out with final paintings as beautiful as those created by Marla. And Marla has done it more than once or twice. She'd done it consistently. And the final kicker is that before all the hype, when Marla's paintings were hanging up in the corner coffee shop, people were painting $200-300 for her work. It's one thing to say you like a painting. It's quite another to reach into your wallet and pay $200-300 for a painting. Marla's work obviously touches a large number of people's minds and hearts. That says it all, doesn't it.
They did a documentary on this girl. "My kid could paint that" It is the best documentary i've seen in my life. Spoiler alert... the child is a hoax... the father "helped" her just enough to get her famous then let her slightly more competent age and fame take over from there.
Take a look at Ocean, the painting filmed from beginning to end, then take a look at the earlier paintings? so very very different. Ocean is the painting of any 4 year old child. This centurys biggest hoax?
I would just like to say that all of you who come here to talk a bunch of crap about this child should really get a life. I'm no art expert, but I do enjoy beautiful artwork. What Marla paints is beautiful, call it what you like, but when I look at it, I like it. Isn't that truly what art is all about? I project onto it what I think it represents, like everyone does with any type of artwork. I honestly couldn't care less who painted it. Beauty comes in many forms, eye of the beholder, all that crap. I just finished watching the documentary and at the end, all I could think was, WHO GIVES A CRAP WHO PAINTED IT??? IT'S GREAT ART!!!
I agree Amanda, it shouldn't matter who painted a painting.

In this case it would matter though as the high prices paid for her paintings are largely influenced by her age and the novelty factor that come with being a "child prodigy". So if they were not by her, the prices would drop dramatically. If these paintings were done by an unknown 40 year old man they would be worth very little.

I have no opinion on whether the paintings are done by Marla or not, but I don't think I would be putting my investment dollars into a painting by the little prodigy anytime soon.
mozart wrote his first concerto when he was three.
this little girl shows the concentration and careful consideration of an artist. she's not scribbling and splattering ...
Has nobody else ever played around with paint or clay and come up with a finished product where they said wow that is kind of cool? Something that was created without a formal plan before hand, that simply was a result of experimentation yet reflected a current mood or sentiment. I don't think you have to have a formal education regarding "art" and all of it's theories to create something that connects with other people and elicits emotion or thought. Isn't that truly what art is? Art is SUBJECTIVE; we all like different things. Just because I may not appreciate what someone else creates, that does not make it art.

Obviously the kid is not a "prodigy" (as deemed by some members of the media) but she is an artist. Congrats to her and her family for making something of it--that is what this country is all about.

One other thing. Regarding the comments that her later creations are not as "polished" and therefore she must have had help with her paintings--this can be explained quite easily based upon early childhood development. There is a point where children begin to be able to create shapes and noticeable figures or representations of figures and objects. It is entirely possible that these skills were not developed during her early works yet as she developed further they began to be seen in more of her later paintings creating a "rougher" look. We walk a dangerous line in society when we quickly dispense people as frauds without sufficient evidence.
Just because I do not appreciate what someone else creates, that does not mean that it is not art.
Art is what you take away from it. If you like it you like it, if not then don't look at it. I think its great that a little girl loves to paint, what little kid does not like to.

My questions are this...Who names them?? in my book only the artist can name it and I'm sorry but a 4 year old is not going to come up with these names. That bugs the crap out of me. Also when a 4 year old or any age child paints, the paper/canvas whatever is taken away at the end of "painting" time. Whats to say every little kid that is given the same paper/canvas day after day month after month for that matter will not come up with the same thing she did? If I was a kid with a huge canvas naked playing in paint what would I have come up with?
This really has to do with what one defines as art. Which every artist should know there is no true definite definition. I believe art is a form of expression, so who's to say this 4-year-old isn't just expressing herself? Just because someone can't draw realistically doesn't mean they cant make art.

I found what "RAFI" (comment) said to be extremely naive and narrow-minded. I don't know if you yourself are an artist but i cannot believe someone would say something like that.

Lets pretend i go with your view that realism is the base of art, It still disputes with child prodigy. If you have not heard of her yet i suggest you see 13-year-old Akaine's work:
But here are some questions: whose intent is portrayed in the art Marla makes? Who is making the critical choices here? I sure didn't see her taking Dad into the art store and choosing the colors or brushes -- or for that matter saying, "Dad, would you please build me a 4 ft. by 6 ft. canvas today? I need to work larger." Or "What's with these LIquitex Basics? Get me some real paints to work with!"

The outtakes on the documentary were priceless, espeically the one where some poor fellow started to ask formal questions about Marla's paintings only to be shushed up by an older woman who said he didn't know what he was talking about. Huh? His critique was the only intelligent set of remarks in the entire documentary about the paintings. So what are these people really buying? Not masterworks. They're buying the story of a four-year-old. That's why they freaked out when her dad was accused of being the one who was actually doing the paintings. If the paintings are so great, why would people have a problem with an adult doing them?
The whole story and documentary felt very unsettling. There was definitely fabrication on the family's part. Of course they had no choice but to stick with their original story that the little girl had no help, especially when dealing with large sums of money like that. Paintings being sold to people unaware they were buying a lie. Of course the little girl can paint, kids love to paint. She has talent too, but I think the dad for sure pushed her in many ways and had some hand in those paintings. I would have felt a lot better if the parents could have just admitted that she didn't do every one of those paintings completely by herself. Four year olds don't even have that type of attention span yet to produce what they were selling. They couldn't tell the truth though because then they wouldn't be selling paintings for thousands of dollars now would they...Oh and by the way, keeping your kid in the basement for hours and demanding her to paint does not seem right at all. No wonder it raised doubts.
I found the comments by Marla's father regarding the huge sums of money being spent on abstract art in comparison to what he has been able to sell his own works for to be interesting. He seemed annoyed that because of "marketing" and because these artists were known in the art world they could be sold easily while he slaved away at his photo-realistic works and received scant notice. He seemed almost gleeful that he had perpetrated such a scam on the art world. He has painted these canvases, marketed Marla as the painter, been caught in his little web, and now seems compelled to continue the ruse to save face. Look at his wife during the interviews--she knows but she almost has to protect Marla at this point in time. Even the poor couple looking over his paintings in the exhibit at the end of the documentary know...the wife says, "Ocean seems so different from the rest of the paintings." I felt sorry for the man who, because of his wealth is unable to tell his wife no to buying a colorful scribble by a 4 year old. And what is especially hilarious is to listen to the sincere art "critics" who opine ad nauseum about prodigy, and genius, and remarkable child knowing full well that this 40 year old man is knocking these paintings out in the basement of his home and asking this little girl to then sign her name. No wonder she turns to him and says, "Daddy, it's your turn." Show me one painting that she is filmed doing that looks even remotely like the others that she has allegedly done and I will believe. Until then take Ocean and Flowers side by side with any of the ones done by her father and tell me the same artist is involved. No Way!
wow it is blogs like this that confirm for me how truly shallow most people are in this country.

The majority of the comments seem to me to be made by people who have not seen the documentary and/or don't care for the genre of the art Marla creates.
The last comment really brought this home.

Anonymous; You are unable to follow who the basic players are in the documentary...
The gallery owner is the person you are referring to NOT Marla's father. duh

AND as for a 4 year old not having an attention span to paint for hours at a time... have you heard of video games? Television?
It seems it is ok for kids to participate in these "activities" for long periods of time but when one wants to paint (or read, or play a musical instrument) it is considered inconceivable...

Just because your kids are drooling mouth breathers doesn't mean every kid is...

I really felt the documentary was not that great. I saw it as being this gem dropped in their lap when they caught the family watching the 60 minutes piece and the film makers didn't know what to do with it. Even in the end they didn't know what to think after spending a year with the family. What dummies.
I expect more from the BBC.
And as far as the person on 60 minutes who offered her opinion that Marla was not creating the art because dad said "put some more red in there" give me break.

The real discussion here is what is art... I see art in fall leaves lying on the ground. If I take a picture of the leaves, frame it and hang it on my wall, does that make me an artist?
If someone pays me $20k for the photo does that make it art?

I would go so far as to say all posts here are made by idiots but that is not fair to the few who have made insightful comments. Unfortunately everyone here would think I meant them...
Wow. Just wow. I don't care how she got there. This stuff is awesome. I don't care if she had help from her dad, God, or the ghost of Picasso. This stuff is good. Please make some more.
i watched the documentary movie "My Kid could paint that". I saw that she made all this stuff by her self.. by her innocent mind... i believe that so much!

i believe that all her painting is real.. I really do.
I believe Marla Olmstead. I heart you little girl! :) You have such a wonderfull parents and little brother who loves you much much much. :)

Don't hear all the crappy stuffs around you. Just go go go and make us say another "WOW" word for you! :)
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