My google reader informed me yesterday that a pint sized Picasso was having her first solo show at a gallery in New York.

Of course I clicked on the story and was instantly reminded of a documentary and subsequent investigation (journalism style of course) by the American tv program 60 Minutes as to whether a certain child (Marla Olmstead) was responsible for some paintings or whether her parents were doing them.

When I hear the word prodigy thrown around in the art world as it pertains to a child artist, I get ill. Because there is no such thing. The original word come from ‘prodigium‘ which means omen or monster. I believe omen is a more fitting word here. It’s an omen as to what we are willing to accept as value. We are being led by the nose to smell the crap and agree “Hmmm, yes it’s wonderful, may I have some more, please?”

Let’s get some thing straight here. I’m not jealous. I have nothing against this child as I do not know her. SOME of her art I’ve seen online is pleasing to my eye. But most of it looks like a mess. It’s very random and accidental. Cool. Some people like that. Some people like landscapes. To each their own.We can give a name to anything. Another called her a Surrealist….Really? A four year old? She probably can’t even recite a knock knock joke.

The problem is the media hype. They are the first ones to report on the story and they are the ones who create the labels thrown around as if  this four year old is a master. “Prodigy, Picasso, Pollock, Master piece” …all these words or phrases alluding to the greats being used not by respected art critics but the media outlets.Why? Sales, increased web traffic, and revenue for click thru’s. Get more of the story picked up and more people will come thru the various portals to the piece. Or sell more newspapers if that what they’re actually still printing on these days.The bottom line….create hype to get viewers equals money.

Does 60 Minutes add any credibility to this story? Not a bit; ironically the first story was reported by the Aussie version of 60 Minutes and held until their ratings week. In 2005, CBS show 60 Minutes II actually showed that there was a discrepancy between work  child artist Marla Olmstead had done in front of hidden cameras and the work that had been shown and sold as her creation prior to the news piece being taped. The conclusion was “there was collusion between the parents” to illicit money  under false pretense and that Marla wasn’t the only creator of the work. They built of the hype themselves than pulled her apart when it served them.

While evidence has not surfaced that Aelita is not the artist responsible for her work, I see some disturbing parallels. Both parents; not successful in the own right as artists and not known at all; are all of a sudden making more money than they dreamed  and getting press with their little daughter being hyped as some prodigy. Who is making sure that the money from her paintings will be put aside for her for when she is older? Look at what happened with Macaulay Culkin’s millions when he was older. The parents used him as their personal piggy bank. Whenever parents are involved with managing income from their children, I cringe.

And the art is average at best. When you judge the work, I’ve seen the same done by many people. Look on Youtube. I even started painting the same way when I was brand new to painting. It’s all part of the natural process of exploration and seeing what you can do and what you like see. A child has no reference point; which makes it very nice to see. But the child has not established an emotional life yet. She can’t even speak her mother tongue comprehensively. But somehow we are told to think she is saying something with her art. I doubt it. There is no intention, formed thought, intuition or personal choice. It definitely a product of emotions and desires. But that’s what we would expect from a child. It is unusual to see a child doing it at this early age but I think it only suggests that her brain is just wired differently than others her age. If she had written War & Peace , then we would be dealing with a genius prodigy.

The video on the parents web site has this skinny man wearing this outrageous shirt and bow tie combination extolling the artistic virtues of this child as if he is an expert (probably the gallery owner instead) and what he says is whole heartedly agreed to by others in the art world. He is making money off this hype also.

One person claimed if she hadn’t known a three year old did it , she wouldn’t have stopped to give it another glance. And the fact that a buyer in Hong Kong paid 23,000 for a painting does not mean the value of her work is the same. People with that kind of money do strange things and lets not forget the high end art market in London and New York has been inflating art prices for artists that may seem to more ‘flash in the pan’ as opposed to ‘money in the bank’.


In the end, the media is the creator and destroyer of most people singled out as special or unusual. They sell the dream of that everyone is special and everything that one does should be lauded as ‘masterwork’. Then, after a few months, they are forgotten and only returned to when they need a story in order to boost….revenue.

It is artists who learn, shape , and create from their own experience, intention, choice and comprehension that makes a work valuable. Not the media.

“Bad taste is the easiest thing to sell.”- Raymond Loewy

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