Four year old Marla Olmstead from Binghamton, New York became the sensation of the art world for her abstract artwork, which have sold for thousands of dollars per piece. The showing of her work started off as a lark, but when the paintings sold without the buyers knowing who the artist was, the media began to run with the story. Through it all, Marla's parents, Mark Olmstead and Laura Olmstead, want to be grounded in what is best for their daughter while exposing her to whatever positive may come from the experience. But some negative and big name media also surfaces, some questioning whether Marla is the real artist behind the work, and some questioning exposing a four year old to such infamy. Regardless, the fact of this art selling brings up the legitimacy of abstract art being quantified as "quality", especially if a four year old can produce it but can't express the emotions or rationale behind its creation. Or is art truly in the eyes of the beholder? Regardless, money, in the ... Written by
Everybody always talks about Marla! Marla Marla Marla!
My Kid Could Paint That, if it's 'about' anything, or as Ebert would say how it's about it, is process. Marla is a four year old who paints, most likely for reasons nobody knows because she's four years old. It just comes from somewhere, maybe even nowhere. We see her process in little pieces, but it's really also, for a good deal of its running time, the process of the art industry today. Does an artist like Marla really stand a chance against or in the same league as other artists who put their heart and soul and body and mind into their art (sometimes the cynical kind, sometimes not)? Perhaps it all has to do with her being four years old and making these paintings that ultimately defies description by someone who isn't an art critic (pretentious or otherwise), and why Marla's parents sell her paintings at galleries and go up for sale in the tens of thousands. Is she any more talented than a Van Gogh? Keep in mind, folks, Van Gogh didn't sell a painting in his life.
So it's not just about the process of a four year old artist- who, as we see argued in the film, may have not even painted all of her paintings as her father is suggested as another- but about the media's scrutiny, of that 60 Minutes piece, and then, ultimately and thankfully, the process of film-making and capturing a family on film. The director gets close to the family and their situation of their daughter, and they by proxy, being recognizable on a national scale. At first the director just wants to take a look, as he's asked point blank by the female journalist seen often in the film, at modern art through this story and Marla in the scope of it. But we see this struggle play out of his subjectivity, of his perception of what's going down, and it shapes the rest of the film for about the last twenty minutes or so. Where before we didn't see much of him, the director, living sometimes 24 hours a day around Marla and the family and filming (and getting great footage) becomes part of the subject.
What is art? How do we define it, or what makes a particular work successful? Jackson Pollock is shown, of course, but as is a lot of 'abstract art', what it means to put a piece out there and how it finds its audience. To be fair, I'm not sure if Marla's works would get the kind of grandiose attention it got if not for the practical gimmick of her age, but some might based on the merits and talent on display. At one point a critic looks at it and interprets a little section of the painting as if its a doorway and a little figure is there. Why does he see the significance there? Who knows? Who cares, even, except that the work makes an impact. And the director's goal with My Kid Could Paint That is to take Marla's story, of a cute little girl who is basically a kid who wants to just be a kid (as we can see inasmuch in a 80 minute film), and may indeed get a little nudging, more or less, from her father in some of her paintings.
Some have questioned about the validity of the works, about how much is really Marla's father, who works in a Frito-Lay factory as a manager (the mother a dental assistant, notching up very middle-class roots), and how much we actually see on film of Marla painting compared to the works when the camera wasn't around. Does this depreciate the value of the paintings then? That's not entirely the point the filmmaker is out to make, though he brings it up in a tense interview late in the film. The film is most successful at bringing to light how we get to conversations about art and artists and the commerce of it in the first place. Some of it is a gimmick that connects, yes. Who knows if Marla will still be painting next year, or even now. But we see the process realistically at work, on and behind the camera, and that makes it interesting.
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