The Wednesday Night Film Fest at my house watched My Kid Could Paint That last night. I blogged about the film last week, so I won’t cover old ground, but the story follows the meteoric rise of Marla Olmstead’s art career. Marla is four-years-old at the time of the making of the film, so the fact that her abstract paintings sell in the tens of thousands of dollars makes for an intriguing tale. Throw in the 60 Minutes suggestion that perhaps Marla doesn’t paint these things after all, add a talented documentary filmmaker who knows a changing story when he sees one, and you have an hour and a half’s worth of pretty great viewing.
The conversation after wandered around familiar territory, landing squarely on the notion that aesthetics are not really a big deal, at least not in the same way morality is a big deal. Questions of worth–“How can anyone pay $20 million for a painting?”–and value were bothersome to folks. When the 60 Minutes crew questioned whether Marla had painted her paintings by herself, the sales of the paintings immediately dropped, and some customers called worried they had been snookered. But why, we wondered, would customers change their minds, if they were indeed buying a painting they loved. What difference does it make who painted it?
I’m no art investor, though it would be fun if I had the cash. But we speculated that collectors don’t just buy art, they buy stories and a shot at history. Collectors aren’t responding to simple aesthetics or meaning; they are buying an entire sensibility about a particular artist, hoping that their $20,000 spent on a “Marla Olmstead” will, in twenty years, turn into a cool several million. And if they’re really lucky, Marla will become a cultural icon, and they will somehow trade in that celebrity. It’s pretty different than wandering the bins at Ikea looking for what will look good over the couch.
The idea that we buy aesthetic pleasure partially because of its connection to an artist’s story is fascinating. One guy in our group talked about how he’s not interested in one-hit wonders (music, now) no matter how good the single song is. He said he’s not really interested in a band until they’ve released a third CD. (Made me sad because I’ve only written one book. I’ll call him when I finish my third.) But his perspective speaks to a curiosity that arises when we encounter great art, or maybe just mediocre art that appeals to us. We become curious about the artist, about where these choices come from, about the story driving the color choices, chord choices, the action choices.
Reminds me of Alejandra Rivera-Garcia again, the notion that an encounter with beauty contains a call from the maker. We perhaps ache to know what stands behind these moments when transcendence breaks my heart.
Hence, the search for God…