My Kid Could Paint That, Too

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(as in “two”.. hahahahahaha get it?)

Last week, I could’ve picked between studying for finals or watching My Kid Could Paint That. A High Five Fantastic Time’s reaction to Bar-Lev’s 2007 doc (though it was mostly a reaction to the reactions from the art majors in her class) had gotten me pretty curious.. Needless to say, I know very little about the French conditional and future perfect tenses, as will undoubtedly show up on my final grade.

It’s been a few days since I watched the film, so some of the initial excitement/anger/ frustration provoked by the doc has died down a little bit. But the fact that something other than Glee could have provoked such an explosion of emotion is enough to prove that watching that film was soooooo worth watching my chances at an A in FREN103 poof into oblivion.

My Kid Could Paint That
1. Marla vs Dad. In Courtney’s blog, she writes that the film proves that 4-year old Marla was responsible for her paintings. Although the doc includes footage of Marla completing a painting on her own, this footage is used to show how unlikely it is that Marla is the sole artist of her work. Bar-Lev compares the painting Marla completed in front of a camera to those that were previously exhibited in galleries and sold for thousands of dollars, and the message is pretty clear; the former looks nothing like the others in the collection in terms of composition, in terms of color palette, in terms of how the brush was used, in terms of overall aesthetics. By the time the documentary gets to this footage of Marla’s 100% pure handiwork, Bar-Lev isn’t redeeming the Olmstead’s stained reputation by proving that Marla is “the real artist”. He’s materializing his doubts about the family’s honesty and gouging your eyes with them. He also documents the doubts expressed by once-loyal Marla art collectors, who swear over their Hummer and all their grandkids’ trust funds that “Ocean” (the redeeming footage painting) looks like it’s done by a completely different artist than the one who made “Ode to Pollock” and “Asian Sunrise”.

The point is, My Kid doesn’t at all prove who was responsible for the all of famous Marla paintings. It proves that when placed in front of a camera and told to act natural, Marla painted “Ocean” without anyone’s help. It showed how eager she was to finish the painting and go to some room not filled with documentary equipment, probably to finish a puzzle or make fun of her younger brother (who has these artsy SHENANIGANS* to blame for his inferiority complex). It showed that “Ocean”, the only painting we knew to be 100% Marla’s handiwork, could be interpreted as being completely different than any of her other paintings.

2. Doc about a Doc. Whether the Marla Vs. Dad question is answered isn’t ever the point of the documentary, because Bar-Lev’s film is a documentary about documentaries. Half an hour into the film, there’s a creepy confessions session during Bar-Lev’s car ride back home where he basically spills that:
– He doesn’t know whether to believe that Marla’s work is genuine anymore
– He wants to believe her family because they’ve been so nice and whatnot
– Is it bad to pretend he believes them to their faces in order to remain on good terms and finish his film?
The story develops around the notion that no one can measure anything without altering the results (PHYSICS FOR POETS**), and that any story is only a compilation of true/false. Should we expect anyone to perform 100% normally in front of a camera, let alone a 4-year-old? Etc.

3. moving on. Going back to a comment from Courtney’s post: “[The people in Courtney’s class] argued that because the girl was a 4 year old that it wasn’t real art and that she shouldn’t be selling paintings for thousands of dollars. It mocks what real artists try to achieve and struggle with.”

The comment addresses some major points: a. what constitutes Real Art, b. the ethics of art marketing,

b. It’s completely reasonable to be outraged by the fact that Marla recieved the recognition she did, because the fact is that all the recognition didn’t have as much to do with the quality of the paintings as it did with the fact that she was four years old. If Marla had finished those same paintings when she was 23, she would probably be living off Ramen in a bathroomless studio. And I have the right to be outraged about that because there’s no way I can justify that Marla’s talent at 4 years old consitutes her as a modern art prodigy. Even when comparing “Ocean” to her “more polished works”, the canvases generally look like accidents, some more aesthetically pleasing than others. This ties us back to point a.

a. Another interpretation of My Kid: It isn’t just the marketing of oblivious 4-year olds that mocks what ‘real artists’ try to achieve, but the fact that work done by oblivious 4-year-olds could even pass as art. Because a piece like “Ocean” looks like it could’ve been done by an oblivious 4-year-old, or a Modern Art major, or a homeless war vet, or a hamster on steroids, or a blender. I’m not yet at a point in my career as an ObsDraw graduate where I can appreciate something like “Ode to Pollock” or Andy Warhol’s soup cans as much as I can appreciate Degas’ dancers. I don’t know. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I was charged $12 to see Penis Hat at the New York Museum of Modern Art. Is it wrong to be bitter about this? Penis Hat looks like it was inspired and completed by a drunk Jace Rustan. Who cares. It’s 2:33 am and I can’t fall asleep and I’m bitter. Suck it, 21st century Modern Art. Oh gosh that ties back to Penis Hat, and I’m so mad/tired I’m not even going to hit the backspace key. 12 effing dollars.


Author: Paulina

Junior at Carleton College. In love with John Mayer. Allergic to erythromycin.

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