My Kid Could Paint That II

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…

3 Replies to “My Kid Could Paint That II”

  1. Its funny that you mention this idea of collecting beauty v. snagging a piece of history(ish)– I had a similar conversation with a band-mate of mine this morning before work.

    He was talking about completely abandoning buying CD’s and movies and only purchasing them on iTunes. I agreed that this would be much simpler, but that the DRM bothers me: If I buy the cd I have a limited amount of times I can burn it for a friend to check out the artist. If I buy a movie I cant take the disc to a friends house for movie night.

    DRM focuses on one idea: do we pay for the intellectual property (the songs), just like we would buy normal property, or a house, or a car, or do we just purchase the right to listen to it when we want– This is so vital for artists, because I think that buying music creates a connection (like the paintings) between artist and fan. I like to think that, when I buy the new Ryan Adams CD, I am supporting his creation of art. I own the song, and it’s a part of my life. I dont want to believe that I’m simply paying to listen to it.

    I guess this isn’t as related as I thought. 🙂

  2. Jeff wrote:
    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.


    I am thinking of all of the amazing albums that he’s missed. So many great bands broke up before their third album. (Lone Justice, for example.)

    Sometimes, visionary artists have such high standards that they rarely release anything. If he had this standard for novels, then he’d have missed out on Marilynne Robinson (until this month, when the third novel of her multi-decade arrived).

    On the other hand… I do think there’s something to be said for longevity, especially when it comes to bands. Bob Dylan’s recent albums are masterpieces, but his achievement there is even more impressive when you take into account how those albums “talk with ” his previous work. He’s changed a lot, and covered so much musical territory. His albums are like encyclopedias, full of references to art and history and his own life in the lyrics and in the music.

  3. funny, because i usually do the opposite. if everyone is raving about it i won’t watch or listen out of spite, i think. i like people’s early stuff and then stop buying it once they’ve sold out and gone global.
    does that make me a snob? naaa… i love too much cheesy stuff. things that everyone pretends not to like. like Maroon 5 and Dirty Dancing.
    wait. did i just contradict myself? ha!

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