I have just been watching My Kid Could Paint That. It is a documentary about a 4 year old girl who is some kind of child prodigy and sells her paintings for thousands of dollars. Questions came up about whether the girl was actually painting the pictures on her own or whether her father was helping her or in fact painting himself. I really wanted to believe that she painted these pictures. But at the movie I mentioned to my wife that there was no proof that she had painted them and shortly after I said that, my suspicions were agreed with by the documentary.
There are a number of ideas brought up by this.
The first is "what is art?". This seems to be a unanswerable question. As the saying goes "Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder". If that is the case, who is anyone to say what is art and what is not? Speaking as a literature major, when I read a book, I try to understand what the author is saying and what message they want to bring across. I imagine the same is true for visual art. The artist is portraying something with their painting or sculpture or whatever. There is a message in their art. If this is the case, then what message is a 4 year old girl trying to give us with her painting? Surely she paints purely for the pleasure. What are we to think of art like this? Is it the same as a picture painted by an elephant or a chimpanzee? They are not delivering a message, the purely putting paint to canvas. Does art need a message? Now, if we accept that a 4 year old can make art but then add that she is painting under the direction of her father, is it still art? Where is that line drawn? To me, it's a truly interesting question.
The second idea I considered as I watched this film was about the child prodigy. How would you know? To discover if your child was a prodigy, would you have to be a pushy parent? Could a child achieve their full potential without your guidance? As a father myself, I wonder this a lot. I could never be the kind of parent to push things onto my son, but sometimes I worry that I am letting whatever talent he has fade away. People often say he is great at sports. Should I pushing him more in that direction? He also seems to have some kind of art ability and maybe I should be helping this somehow? In these two regards he is very different from me. I'm not even sure how to proceed. I suppose it is all about the fine line between encouraging and pushing. I hope I will never be the pushy parent.
If you want to see some of the art, the girl's website is Marla Olmstead. She is now 9.