Thursday, May 29, 2008

Perspective, form, vision

Sydney Pollack's recent passing reminded me of Jackson Pollock, and that I had a certain documentary about abstract art out from Netflix.

My Kid Could Paint That was an indie documentary about Marla Olmstead, a 4-year-old abstract painter (now 8) whose work has sold for tens of thousands of dollars. The film began as an exploration of the age-old question "What is art?" -- especially modern or abstract art, which is already highly criticized. The interviews with Marla's parents, family friends, art collectors, and art critics at first all addressed the issue of defining art, especially if a preschooler can outsell lifelong artists. The other underlying issue was whether or not Marla is an artistic prodigy, creating sophisticated abstract art. The local paper first featured a story on Marla, which was then picked up by the New York Times, and eventually international press.

Then 60 Minutes aired an expose, featuring a child psychiatrist who declared that Marla was not gifted and insinuated that Marla's paintings were touched up by her parents. The film then became an exploration not just of the nature and definition of art itself but of childhood, the media, and cynicism as well. I thought the ending of the film was great -- the filmmaker expressed his own doubts to Marla's parents, but through a series of interview excerpts (harping back to the notion of how "Art" is selective, including documentaries!) brings it back to Marla herself, leaving the viewers to project their own social meanings, cynicism, and biases.

In the end, who cares? The paintings themselves clearly speak to some art buyers. Personally, I think that's all that matters. I like some of her paintings, though I can't afford them!

The only painting I have was one a friend painted for me as a birthday present a few years ago....

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