May 1, 2008
A funny thing happened to the parents of Marla Olmstead. The story, supposedly, goes as this.
Marla's dad was a painter. One day, little 4 year old Marla asked her dad if she could paint. He decided to give her some bottles of paint and a canvas. What was left was a sheer brilliant piece of abstract art. Dad gave her a few more canvases and more paint. She kept on painting. One after another, pieces who would astonish the crap out of you. Full of color, life, energy. Totally amazing, more so when you think that she was just four years old.
One day a friend who had a bar jokingly told them: let's show the pieces and see what people think.
Then, the shit hit the fan.
The documentary starts off exploring this amazing child, everybody thinking that she is totally gifted. A little Picasso in the works. A small newspaper decides to run a story about Marla and her work. Everybody starts calling and buying her art. 200 bucks. 500 bucks. A thousand bucks... The New York times picks up the story.
The shit hit the fan, again.
CBS decides to explore this more deeply. Is Marla gifted for sure or is there something rotten in the state of Denmark? They decide to interview the little genius and her parents. The dad tells them: Marla does not like to be filmed while painting. When she does... inexplicably... the art turns out to be a normal child's doodles. They decide to try to film her... the final piece sucks. CBS claims that her dad is either helping her... or someone is.
This documentary is simply amazing. It explores the crappy world of art - the commercial side of it, I mean. Come on, think about it. If you have recently gone to the MoMa, you know that there are some pieces that, with loads of paint, you could paint just as good. Why is it there? Because the painter got famous. Period. Marla's paintings puts a spotlight on abstract art: what is art and what isn't? Who are considered masters and who just got so damn lucky that they sold a piece or two?
I studied art, long before I crapped my life and turned to advertising to get a buck. I painted, I drew, and dammit... I was good. Not Picasso good, but decent enough to feel ok about my work. Years later, I started taking photographs and doing a series. I thought, hey, this will be a good hobby. I recently posted my little experiment at Facebook and one of my friends, who is deep in the shit of art and painting, all of the sudden asked me to finish the work so I could exhibit them in a fancy schmanzy gallery. I told him... I am not an artist, honey bunch. I was studying to become one. Now, I just take some pictures with my crappy camera and rework them a little bit. That's all.
Know what he said? It doesn't matter. I think he's wrong. I don't live in that world anymore. Yes, I did exhibit my work when I was in college, I got even a few buyers under my belt. In my university, there is still a painting of mine hanging close to the art department. A decent nude full of color and cross hatching. Nice... Makes me happy but doesn't make me feel like a Toulouse-Lautrec!
Apparently, there is no law, no guidelines to who should show and who shouldn't. Just that if you make decent work and they think that you could sell it: hey! You're an artist!!!
I was married to the greatest artist I have ever seen. He could draw something that could make you think he was Michelangelo. I am not bullshitting you, he was that amazing. One day, I arrived at our apartment in college, crying my eyes out. A stupid teacher told me that my drawing was not good enough. Instead of giving me the "I'm sorry honey, don't you cry" thing, he actually said this: Do you have two eyes? Yes, snif snif, I said. Do you have two hands? Yes, dammit, I said. What is your goddamn point? "You can draw and paint just like anybody with huge talent, you just need to work harder".
He gave me a pencil and a sheet of paper. For the next months, he was teaching me one simple thing: to draw what I saw. Not an interpretation. The real thing. He had a rule that I still believe to this day: if you can't draw exactly what you are seeing, you cannot do abstract art. You have to first learn to construct... to then deconstruct. If you want to be an abstract painter, you better know your shit. I eventually could draw perfectly and started painting. I have never thanked him enough for that. Granted, I left that part of me behind and have never done it again... but his law does raise a few questions.
Is Marla a painter in the "master" department? Or is it just a kid that knows how to move paint around and makes it look cool? I have always had a problem with Jason Pollock, for example. Some consider him a genius... I just think he splashed his way to greatness. Show me a real piece, a perfect painting - think of DaVinci or something - and I will rethink my statement about him. The documentary shines a light on this and many other disturbing things. A million dollars for a red canvas sold at Christies? Huuuuuuuuh?
Anyway. Did Marla paint those wonderful pieces or this is truly the scam of a lifetime? You be the judge. I still cannot make up my mind. But all I know is this: I could, if I had the time, paint just as well as Marla or her dad... or whoever did those pieces.
And the fact that only hype made that little girl sell those paintings worries me a bit.
PS: Live in NYC? GO RIGHT NOW TO THE MOMA. They have an installation of light where you can see in Black and White. I mean, literally your eyes delete any color from real life. Period. It is simply... here goes the pun: a work of art.
Posted by Me at 10:25 PM