Andare, Partire, Tornare


A discouse on art and artists

About a month or so ago, I was watching a 60 Minutes segment about a young artist - five years old, I think - who appeared to be something of a child prodidy. She painted these big, splashy, abstract paintings, full of color and movement. Her paintings were routinely selling for thousands of dollars, and she was actually having her own shows, during which she would wander around doing five-year-old things while people admired her work and threw words around like, well...splashy, color, and movement. After which they would take out their checkbooks. Naturally, some people were slightly suspicious that this young child was actually the creator of these paintings, especially since her dad is a painter, and since children this girl's age generally don't think in the abstract. The 60 Minutes piece talked to people who were sure she was a prodigy, and to people who were highly suspicious.

A hidden camera revealed that daddy was doing a whole lot of "direction" when it came to these paintings. Plus, the painting that was executed under the hidden camera turned out to be slightly rougher and cruder than the previous paintings she had executed. Suspicious? Yeah, me too. Her parents justified it by saying that because of the hidden camera, they were acting strangly and the kid picked up on it, and that having the canvas stay where the camera was located made it hard for the moppet artist to paint where she wanted to.

All of this is highly interesting to me, as somebody with a toe or two in the art world and who knows several working artists who fight for gallery space/time to sit down and create their art/people to look at their art in a thoughtful way. Is the artwork valuable because it's truly good, or is it the novelty value of a child prodigy? Are people fooling themselves when they look at the paintings? Are the canvases truly good, but is it the father's more trained hand behind it all?

Digression - wouldn't it totally suck balls if you were a great artist who couldn't get your art noticed (it happens) and ended up funneling it all through your child? Wouldn't it just kill you, on some level, to watch people applaud your tiny child's paintings and whip out their checkbooks to buy them, when it's your skill, your hand behind the artwork? Artists have to have a healthy ego about their work, I think, or they lose the confidence to pursue it in a world that makes it difficult. So if it is indeed the dad who is painting these pieces, can we hope that one day he'll snap and have to retire to an island, where he'll create masterpieces of seagull crap smeared on palm fronds?

Anyway, I tend to classify most of this sort of thing in the "novelty act" category, along with those painting elephants and monkeys. It's possible that the kid is a precocious little tot, because it has happened before. But somehow, I doubt it. And I'm not sure where that places the status of contemporary art, especially with the easy dismissal of abstraction as "something my kid could do in a half-hour." I will confess it here - even after begining to study art history at a grad school level, I had my doubts about abstraction. But my eye became more perceptive as I talked with artists, saw more kinds and types of art, and, in general, made myself more educated. So having an untrained kid come around and outsell artists I respect and admire more, well...on some level, that irritates me. I guess the only way to tell is to hang around for another twenty years, and see if the kid is still creating, studying, and showing art. She's probably got her college fund socked away somewhere, so she won't have to work at Burger King while she goes to art school to fund herself, will she?

8:01 p.m. - 2005-03-13


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