Thursday, May 28, 2009

criticism, fame, a 4 year old, and me

Put 20 toddlers in a room, give them giant canvases and lots of tubes of paint and instruct them to cover the whole surface. I wonder how many of them would make something like that of Marla Olmstead (I finally got netflix and watched My Kid Could Paint That – it’s a documentary about a 4 year old who was deemed a genius, a fake, and then back again).

(Marla - she's cute, that's for sure!)

The problem with kids’ drawings is that often not the right equipment is supplied. Crayons, for example, will make a picture look like crap no matter how talented the artist using them. That’s why you won’t see any books touting on the title page “done in crayon on paper.” The same goes for markers. They usually dry out and don’t cover the surface evenly.

Anyhow, it amazes me (no, not really) that no one wanted 4-year-old Marla’s paintings when they were deemed a hoax by 60 minutes (they indicated that perhaps the father was giving a helping hand). My brain thought, “Wait a minute, SOMEONE did them! You just said a minute ago that the paintings should be in the Moma!” Well, apparently only if they were proven to be done by the 4 year old. If her father gave her some instruction then all bets are off. Wouldn’t the father rather have been the famous one? I think so.

Anyway, someone at my last talk (girl scouts) asked when my parents first detected talent. I said 4 or 5. My mom said there was a definite difference between what I was doing and what my sisters were doing at the same age.

(Mickey - age 5)

However, my goal was to make my drawings look like something. I think that’s what most kids’ goals are. Not many of them are trying to make beautiful abstract paintings—after all, many adults don’t understand them! In my own personal opinion, to become a great abstract painter I think he or she needs to do the training (pay his or her dues) first. Do the realism. To understand that is to then understand the abstract, because after all, a great abstract painting has to have 1) color 2) design – move your eye around the page 3) create an emotion. It’s for this reason that I wonder if that then 4-year-old girl – now 8 – will crash and burn. If she doesn’t practice drawing a car and making it look like a car then I can only say that her “genius” is a fluke. I don’t care whether she got coaching or not. Who cares about that? Don’t all artists need feedback and some coaching? I’ll always say “Hey, what do you think of this red? Or should it be blue?”

A lot of times I feel like my artistic talent has boxed me into a life of living in the middle - or right now lower - middle class (sometimes poor?) If I went for the big bang like Marla I could be making millions. But it’s such a crapshoot and that’s frustrating. On top of this, I have to read comments about my children’s book art that I think are often off them mark. Lots of reviewers comment on my “brushstrokes.” Um… there are none! I blend everything with my finger. If you see brushstrokes in the artwork from one of my books then what you are really seeing is the gesso showing through thanks to the less than stellar print-job. I use a big house painting brush to prime my paper for painting. The big brush leaves big brush strokes. My fine paintbrushes and smooth fingers do not. That is just one obvious thing I can comment on. Other things that irk me are more a matter of opinion. And this again brings me back to Marla. I wonder what would have happened if my parents gave me globs of paint and some giant canvas when I was 4 and asked me to go to town in an abstract sort of way. Would I have ended up on 60 minutes? I guess I’m glad that my parents sheltered me from the criticism until I was an adult and old enough to seek it out myself, despite the dough I’d have in the bank account instead of the pile of unpaid bills.



Lisa Yee said...

Hey, I Netflixed this documentary and watched it last week!

Meghan McCarthy said...

Did you like it? What did you think?

Lisa Yee said...

I really enjoyed the movie. However, I thought she had help. My 12-year old thought she did it all on her own. What did you think?

Meghan McCarthy said...

Good question. I went back and forth on that one. If you look at some of the paintings they do look like they could only happen with some planning and thought and when you watch her paint there is none of that going on--she dumps out tubes of color and pushes it around like any 4 year old would. And then when she asked her dad to help her I thought that was really incriminating. The stuff I saw her do on camera was really child-like but then the finished product was different. The documentary really made me think, which was great.

Marjorie said...

I watched it quite recently too and I have to say, I agree with you, Meghan, though I felt sad that that is what I came down to.

I think it's a really important point you make about what medium children work in - we have a gorgeous oil painting on our wall, painted my our son when he was 9; and a couple of times we've thrown pots that are really wonky - but then they are glazed and fired and they look great!