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."
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?