i’m not jealous of marla olmstead


It’s been two years since I saw the documentary, My Kid Could Paint That, about then 4 year old Marla Olmstead. When I wrote my original post about Marla last winter I said that I was on the fence when it came to knowing if Marla did all of the work herself, but either way I still loved the paintings. I watched it again last night, and I am now firmly on one side of the fence. I decided to see it again just as a refresher for myself, since the post that I wrote close to a year ago still gets a huge number of very ‘passionate’ comments every day. I can safely say I’m no longer jealous of her. I am still jealous of her work, but not of her. I just feel sad for Marla. I’m sure some of you will call me a fool, but after seeing the movie again I absolutely believe that these are her paintings. I’m actually a little upset with myself that I ever doubted it. I think some fancy editing and a father who really, really, really loved the fame and attention that Marla brought, skewed my original view… but I don’t think they defrauded the art world. They never said she was a prodigy, the art world put that on her. And at the end of the day, I really do think her paintings are beautiful. If collectors want to spend $20,000 per painting then by all means go ahead. After all, when it comes to modern art, 9 times out of 10 you’re paying for the story behind the art,or in many cases, the story behind the artist… And let’s face it, this is a really good story.

comments (7)

  1. Fiona /// 11.11.2009 /// 3:48am

    I like this painting, but I question why her family would release such a photo of their daughter. Where are that little girl’s clothes?

  2. The Jealous Curator /// 11.11.2009 /// 9:46am

    : ) Well, apparently she used to paint in just her diaper. Less messy that way.

  3. FL /// 07.26.2010 /// 5:57pm

    Do you believe in Santa Claus too, Jealous Curator?

  4. The Jealous Curator /// 07.26.2010 /// 9:01pm

    i sure do.

  5. Rob /// 11.12.2010 /// 3:43am

    just saw half the movie last night and plan to watch the rest tonight. The one thing that caught my attention was when the little brother is trying to tell the dad he paints too, and dad seems to be brushing him off (excuse the pun). Anyway even Marla sticks up for her little brother and says she didn’t paint the green one, but her brother did. I was really hoping to see the “green one” she was talking about.

    Anyway, I’m not a huge fan of abstract, but strangely found myself attracted to hers. Looking at her latest works, I think you can see a difference from that which she was producing when she was 4 to what she is producing now. Now, is dad’s helping hand in there somewhere, ya maybe, when I’m playing soccer with my “prodigy” children do I sometimes help them, ummm ya 🙂

    Good piece and like your site, cheers!

  6. Movie reviews: Secret Lives « Cultureguru’s Weblog /// 01.03.2011 /// 8:23am

    […] By the way, Marla continues to sell her paintings (she’s now 8), and the movie continues to inspire debate. And more debate. […]

  7. Joseph Kemp /// 03.20.2012 /// 4:01pm

    There little doubt that Marla’s paintings are fakes. They were likely painted by her father. Or, as Ellen Winner said on Sixty Minutes, perhaps Marla painted SOME of them and her father added some details.

    I have been researching gifted children for years. And gifted children are very different from Marla. They’re focused. They’re filled with intensely directed energy. And they know exactly how to go about shaping their work. They’re bright and aware. Artistic prodigies reason out PRECISELY how they want their art to look. And they’re often willing and able to talk about it. They know exactly what they’re doing.

    None of these qualities apply to Marla at all. She seems remarkably slow and dull (by comparison, that is). Not a prodigy at all. There is absolutely nothing in her manner or aspect that suggests unusual intelligence or ability. And she tries to avoid talking about her paintings whenever she is asked. They just don’t seem to interest her. This is NOT prodigy behavior. Actual prodigies are VERY interested and focused on what they do. They wouldn’t bother with it otherwise.

    The paintings that Marla completed on camera are SHOCKINGLY different from her others. Her camera-recorded paintings are blobby and preschool-y. Grimy. All dull colors smudged together like trash.

    See the top painting here:

    My Kid Could Paint That: http://www.basisdesign.com/2010/06/marla-olmstead-paintings-my-kid-could-paint-that/

    Her other paintings, however, show a high degree of organization. Elegant swirls and carefully separated colors. Tints that are blended so that the eye has trouble settling on any one place. This is something that Van Gogh also used in his paintings. A lot of color-focused artists do this.

    Marla’s other paintings also show evidence of color theory. A red is placed next to a yellow. Or an orange is placed next to a blue. The resulting juxtaposition makes both colors stand out far stronger than when alone.

    For example, see here:

    Color Theory: http://www.colormatters.com/color-and-design/basic-color-theory

    And also here:

    Marla’s Paintings: http://stylestuffinfo.blogspot.ca/2011/10/marla-olmstead.html

    Such painting requires training and knowledge of some very specific artistic methods. Exactly the kind of training that Marla’s Dad might have. I can’t see any way a child like Marla might just “evolve” these techniques on her own. They are just too specific and abstract. Too cerebral. Even other prodigies NEVER paint with this level of abstract conceptualism.

    As far as I’m concerned, the case is closed.

    Also, many of “Marla’s” other paintings tend to have a highly-organized sixty/forty proportioning favored by advanced artists (otherwise known as the Golden Ratio). A large central section of color (sixty percent) fills most of her paintings. A slightly smaller area of some other color or shape fills the rest of them (forty percent).

    See the two top paintings here:

    Marla Olmstead: http://www.coochicoos.com/art/post_24.html

    This kind of proportioning is traditionally thought to make paintings more pleasing to the eye. The “Golden Ratio” is a very specific artistic method indeed. I don’t see any way a child would know it by him/herself. See here:

    Math and Art of the Face: From Da Vinci to Picasso: http://www.share2learn.com/Asilomar09Goularte.pdf

    I am shocked that Marla’s parents would think that a professional child psychologist like Ellen Winner, who works with gifted children, couldn’t figure out their little ruse. But then most people are generally easy to fool. They are often not professionals in much of anything. They lack artistic knowledge. They lack precision. It is astonishing how easy it is to trick people. And if anyone objects, the parents could always just retreat into the murkiness of abstract art: “It’s all subjective. How can you say for sure that some of Marla’s paintings are different than others?”

    But you CAN say for sure. There are some very specific reasons why: color theory, the Golden Ratio, and the subtle blending of color shades so that the eye has a hard time settling on them. Not qualities that naturally appear in the paintings of prodigies at all. Someone has to teach them. And this generally takes many years.

    I am glad Ellen Winner said something. I’ve read her books for years, and she did not disappoint. My respect for her would have been diminished if she had not commented on the oddness of what was going on with Marla.

    Marla paints like a preschooler on camera. The story is no longer about her so-called “talent.” It’s just about her father painting her pictures for her. That’s the sign of a non-talent if ever I saw one.

    As for the Marla’s parents…

    They talk too much. They’re always talking. Always trying to justify themselves. Always trying to give just enough details to make their story believable.

    I once heard an ex-cop who specialized in interrogating criminal suspects talk about behavior like this. Usually, if a person is not guilty of something, and you ask them if they are, they’ll just say “No.” Simple as that.

    But if a person IS guilty of something, and you ask them if they are, they often lie, saying things like, “Oh, how could you ever think me capable of that? I am so offended. How dare you accuse me of something like this? I’m a fine, upstanding citizen in this community. Everybody knows it. Ask anyone you like. People here have known me for years, and nobody would ever say I could do something like this, because of this and that, and blah, blah, blah blah…” And on and on forever.

    Guilty people talk forever. They never just say “No, I didn’t do it.” Just like Marla’s parents. There’s just a little too much detail in their extravagant defense of themselves. Methinks the lady doth protest too much, indeed. And it goes on and on throughout the entire documentary.

    Not good.

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