Friday, April 4, 2008

Could a Four Year Old Paint That?

So, I've been working on this blog for a while, and I've just gotten around to finishing it. Like I said in the opening, I knew that my posting would be erratic. Maybe now that school is coming around the bend, I might post more regularly since I will need to find ways to procrastinate. I also think I have some ideas to post more.


I watched this really awesome documentary the other day that really had me thinking about aesthetics and forgery and creation and the personality/identity/construction of the artist. Amir Bar-Lev's My Kid Could Paint That showcases the rise of infant painter, Marla Olmstead.

I think two of the most important questions that the film posed (and that it left rather open ended for all intents and purposes, which I find is a good thing) are the following:
1) Is art about truth or about lies? (Especially when displayed for the public eye/consumer)
2) Is the story that a painting tells the story of the artist or of the painting?

What slowly develops from this neat, little documentary about an avant-garde prodigy is this sick, twisted interrogation of truth and lies and art. Is Marla the real painter behind the beautiful canvases that are marketed under her name? Are people "buying" (into) the Olmstead's ruse? It becomes rather clear to the filmmaker, who at about twenty minutes into the film, starts to realize that he has not been able to actually film Marla painting at all. [Aside: Before showing her paint, there is a scene with her in the bath tub, in which she puts four lines on the wall and calls it a purse. Child's play or genius imagination or both?]. The filmmaker prods her on the subject, asking her to paint for him, and at several points, he asks the parents to get her to paint. It culminates in the placement of hidden cameras and the filming of one canvas that is certainly painted by Marla albeit a very different type of painting. (The difference is hard to describe with words but is definitely noticeable to the eye.)

Marla's father, Mark, was an amateur artist for years, and like any good parent, (along with the mutual support of his wife), he "enabled" Marla's gifts for painting. They definitely treat her like a child, and it is clear that the mother attempts to protect Marla. However, want to talk to a 40 year old. They sell her first canvas for $250, and her parents said if it would have ended there would have been happy. Yet, the dad secretly books shows behinds the mother's back and wishes/dreams that Marla can get a show in Europe....selfish, much? Could the father perhaps be painting Marla's canvases? It does become very strange when you see him giving her directions on which colors to use and how to move the brush. In fact, he's a constant presence in her painting. Mark has to be there to help her set up. She couldn't just go off and paint. (She would be painting the walls. Why, does she need to be told to paint on the canvas? Is she inherently desiring to do this or being directed to?) Why does she need help really? He's on the phone making plans, while she's being interviewed and saying how she makes joint decisions and then they show him in the house with people filming her painting (yet she is painting a canvas all one color). Mark constantly asserts that this is not normal.

"She reacts differently when the cameras or around."

Is Marla being manipulated?
Certainly the answers to this question enter into the film-maker's mind as he has this on-camera dilemma. He wonders why he cares and about the ethics of film-making? Does he have a truth that he must uphold? And if he does, why doesn't Marla or Mark or Mamma Olmstead (whose name escapes me).

By watching Marla in this video, and the video of her painting that the family markets her and her genuine-ness, makes her in some sense inescapable because you are caught up in these representations of her paintings and her painting, even if some of them are fake and some of her actions are rehearsed. And in some senses, isn't that what art is doing, asking you to come and be a voyeur? To suspend belief and believe lies?
For me, a lot of how I feel about this film and concept is wrapped up in that previous questions and in a comment that the mom says towards the end. "We've put our selves here." It's quite the double entendre. Not only have they littering created the idea Marla as the artist, they have also helped to create her art. Perhaps my prejudice comes out here, but I really don't think that she painted most of those canvases alone. Surely she painted them, maybe started all of them. But finished them? I'm highly suspect of her involvement. Would it really be the first time that a parent has manipulated their own child to gain status or money or achieve personal ambitions?
Surely art is about the suspension of disbelief. Even realism, the most realistic of the real, asks us to use our immagination, to believe lies, to believe truths, to use representations and symbols that have been created for us rather than by us. But could a four year old paint that? I say a heavy maybe, leaning towards no. But who am I to say?

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Gossip Girl (and the Gays)

With numerous reruns crowding the television channels that I watch, I finally segued into an old, favorite station that I've abandoned in recent years--the CW, which was once the glorious WB. Thanks for a wonderful recommendation from a dear friends (shout out to Fink), I found myself watching a rerun of Gossip Girl on Monday night. Catching the season in mid-stride--I was actually watching the Christmas episode--I had no idea what came before or after this rather interesting episode. Of course, the first one I happened to have seen was missing the two of the three reasons I was watching the show. Michael Ausiello, TV Guide's amazing gossip boy and columnist, recently revealed via the Paley Festival that one of the three main male characters was going to be thrown out of the closet when the show's new episodes air in a few weeks. In a desire to see more gays on television, I thought I would scope of the terrain created by the show and check out these possible gays. Two of the main male characters did not happen to be on the show that night, which then led to me to finding full episodes online. Tuesday night arrives, and I ended up watching the only four full episodes that on the CW website.

Well, it looks like they might be some interesting prospects and possibilities as to who will be outed in the near future. Immediately stepping back from the Gossip Girl show, I became obsessed with trying to find out about ever-diminishing population of gay characters on television. So, here is a quick run through of what I watch and what I know: Queer as Folk, The L Word, Will and Grace, Ellen, Brothers and Sisters (one main, two minor characters), As the World Turns (two minor characters, not the whole show) ... [I can't go on any further than this because of something that I think is really interesting.]

Surely there must be more gays on television, you ask? We've all been in theatre, dance, and music departments on campus. To say homosexuality was in vogue would be an understatement. Is it that the gays are more attracted to the stage (i.e., the rather notorious thanked partner at the Tony's rather than lover/spouse at the Oscars) than they are on celluloid? Well, as a matter of fact, there are a number of homosexuals acting in Hollywood, except that a large majority of them on television seem to be playing heterosexuals. [Here, I would say my flair for hyperbole should be evoked since I only actually know of two prominent examples.] Why is it that some of the more prominent members of the gay Hollywood elite aren't playing homosexual characters? Why are people hiding behind the sex-crazed Barney (Neil Patrick Harris on How I Met Your Mother) and the adorable nerd George (T. R. Knight on Grey's Anatomy)? And why is that heterosexuals are playing some of the great homosexuals out there--Brian Kinney (Gale Harold), Will Truman (Eric McCormack), Jack MacFarland (Sean Hayes)?

The reason why I find the need to expound upon this is because of some of my recent viewings, in particular Jennie Livingston's documentary, Paris Is Burning. Watching the film suggested to me that there is a facet of culture (transvestites) that truly epitomize the idea that gender is a construction. In their desires and dreams to be more "heterosexual," the drag kings and queens of the documentary demonstrate that everything under the sun--from sexuality to class to intellect to gender to identity--is about performance. Of course, Judith Butler states all of this rather high-handedly in her works/essays that I've read, and while I've understood the concept for some five years now, it is only recently that I beginning to understand the impact it might have on me and the culture that I inhabit.

Therefore, does it matter that gays or playing straight and straights are playing gay? Yes, it does. Even though it is all about performance and everything we do is about creating and performing who we think we are, I think by passing as heterosexual is somehow inherently false, and I apologize for perhaps not articulating this a bit more clearly. And the very fact that prominent and recognized shows with a major homosexual theme are being canceled disturbs me. Was the cultural swing into accepting homosexuality, particularly of the male variety, via the hot metrosexual male about to shift in the other direction? Unfortunately, I feel that it already has. Look at the number of canceled and failed shows that highlight homosexuality--Queer as Folk, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy/Girl, Boy Meets Boy (which only lasted one season), The L Word (with only one season to go), Will and Grace, and the abysmal, Lifetime failure Gay, Straight, or Taken. It's almost as if those shows that highlighted or fore-fronted homosexuality is gone or about to leave the television screen. Are the gays doomed to reruns (at least of syndicated television)?

I don't have to answers, but I would at least like to return to the first subject--Gossip Girl. Show likes this seem to be doing fine. Heterosexual love and intrigue have always worked well in the entertainment industry, and I think this show does a fine job hooking an audience. It's refreshing to see a show where the primary couple doesn't break up every week to sustain a season worth of episodes. I certainly recommend the show to those still nostalgic about high school, those slightly romantic, and those who think that being an adult makes things easier (because it doesn't). However, I wonder if this show is emblematic of the show for the new 21st century, where the romance and relationships of the adolescents parallel the adults and gays are relegated to a minority?

Enough ranting, peace out.