Marla Olmstead is a little girl who has taken the art world by storm; she has been hailed as a Picasso-type prodigy and also compared to Jackson Pollock. Her paintings have sold for tens of thousands of dollars. Marla began her painting career just before her 2nd birthday; she is now 6 years old.
When she was featured on 60 Minutes however, questions were raised about whether she actually did all the painting. A child psychologist, Ellen Winner, who has studied gifted children and specializes in visual arts studied the paintings and videos of Marla painting, has grave reservations about whether Marla is the artistic force behind the paintings. According to Winner, videos of Marla show an young girl painting in the manner of ordinary young children, essentially pushing the paint around, playing and experimenting with the paint. Prodigies exhibit a feverish "rage to master", working with an intense focus and drive. In addition, Winner says, “I have never seen a child prodigy paint in art abstractly. I’ve only seen them paint realistically or representationally. I have a drawing of Picasso at age 9. It shows that Picasso was struggling to draw realistically, and he was way ahead of his age."
So, who is the artist doing the paintings for which people are paying many thousands of dollars? Some people think it's her father, an amateur artist who is present when she paints. Her parents, of course, dispute the accusation. They say that while the father does help Marla by priming her canvases, she does all of the painting. The only help they provide Marla is love and encouragement. The 60 Minutes reporter says that while he has a hard time believing Marla created these paintings, he also believes her parents are good people and wouldn't use their little girl to deceive the world.
So which is it? Are Marla's parents horrible monsters using an innocent little girl to commit fraud on the art world? Or, in a "the nail that sticks up is the one that gets beaten down" scenario, is the world so coldly cynical that it cannot accept the explosion of a extraordinary talent in one so young? Either way, the situation is a somewhat sad commentary.
I know that the truth will eventually win out, and that I, for one, hope there is indeed a superlative new artist in the making.
I ran across this today and found it interesting. Do you see the dancer spinning clockwise or counter-clockwise? According news.com.au, you use more of the right side of your brain if you see the dancer spinning clockwise.
Personally, I first saw the dancer spinning counter-clockwise (no big surprise there), but by looking away and back again, I can see her spinning in either direction now. Although, try as I might, I can't see her change direction while looking at her.
Update: The animated dancer illustrates an interesting browser difference. In Internet Explorer, the dancer moves jerkily, leaves blips on the screen, and consumes an inordinate amount of memory. Firefox, on the other hand, displays a smooth animation with no blips and only uses 20%-25% of memory compared to IE.
For the last 20+ years, I've made my living as a computer programmer primarily utilizing the logical left side of my brain. Oddly enough, I spent the first few years of my adult life working as an artist specializing in black and white illustrations. Although, in truth, I find a lot of similarities between developing software and creating a picture. In both professions, I've achieved the best results by "broad brushing" in a general layout and then working in progressively more detailed iterations over the entire project.
Despite the similarities, I'm finding myself chafing at the atrophy of the creative right side of my brain due to two decades of forced submission. I suddenly have a desire to re-awaken my creativity and break down those self-induced limitations. This desire is part of my motivation for keeping this blog; even though this blog is not creative writing, it is a form of personal expression that will hopefully evolve from a forced discipline into an easy and natural act.
I've also picked up my sketchbook again. After two decades, my skills are naturally very rusty. By skills, I mean my ability to "see" what I'm drawing. I maintain that anyone who can write legibly has the technical competency to draw; in other words, they can manipulate a pencil to produce the line they want. After all, anyone can trace a picture right? Tracing lets you "see" your subject in a way that makes it easy for you to reproduce the image using your pencil manipulation skills. To draw from life, you merely need to learn to "see" objects in new ways.
This is the premise of the book Drawing On The Right Side Of The Brain, a classic book on the subject of learning to draw. I've unearthed my 30 year old copy of the book and am working through the exercises in it. While I haven't felt the scale and rust falling away yet, I can definitely see some improvement already. So, I'm pushing out of my comfort zone into areas that I used to habitate but are new again. I have a dim memory of this landscape but am having to learn how to navigate it again. Look at the difference between an idle doodling of a fisherman at rest that I did 25 years ago versus my earnest efforts with some of the exercises from the aforementioned book.
It's like trying to ride a bike again after 30 years; you can still do it, but you sure are wobbly. It will be a while before I can do a wheelie again.