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Recently, the Today Show did a story on Autumn-an 8 year old artist.
As I stood in the kitchen and listened to the 15 second teaser before the commercial break, the cynic in me began to rear its ugly head. I remembered a few years ago watching a documentary on HBO about Marla, a little girl of 4 or 5 who at that tender age was already having solo shows and whose work was selling for tens of thousands of dollars. Never mind the controversy that surrounded her work and accusations that her father was actually directing her and in some cases actually doing some of the painting.
Most of the pieces I saw really impressed me and were......well, good. Really good. And if Marla actually did do all those paintings, then she is an absolute, undeniable prodigy. If she didn't, then it's sad to think that touting a 5 year old as an artistic genius is nothing more than a gimmick.
To my knowledge, those accusations of Marla's paintings not being completely hers have never been proven, but as I mentioned before, I can be a bit cynical.
So back to Autumn.
As the camera panned across 3 of Autumn's paintings, I thought "Wow, for an 8 year old, these are really good". After I heard Autumn speak about her process and about her inspirations (Andy Warhol being one of them), I totally believe that Autumn did those paintings.
And when Matt Lauer said that some of her pieces were selling for upwards of $20,000- well, I'll keep my reaction to myself. The cynic in me thought, "Her paintings are a hot commodity just because she's 8 years old. Another gimmick".
So I started thinking, are her paintings really that good?
For an 8 year old, yes they are. Absolutely. I thought that two of three were beautiful.
But then I thought, what if we had been told that those paintings were done by Helen, a 35 year old? Or Robert, a 40 year old? Would they still be considered that good? And would someone pay $20,000 for them? Are they considered masterful only because of the age of the artist?
That's not for me to answer and I can only speak for myself. If those same paintings had been done by someone middle aged, honestly, I would think they were just ok and change the channel. They would even seem a bit immature. And that reaction really bothered me.
But then I started thinking of the Fauves, Kandinsky's Woman Series, Henri Matisse. How many times have you heard someone say, "That looks like something my 3 year old did last week", in reference to a Picasso? Yes, there are plenty of people who don't consider technique, composition, color, brushwork, etc., and their comments probably come from a lack of understanding and appreciation for a style that just isn't to their liking. You can debate technique until the cows come home but the truth is the artist's studio is the one place on this planet where there are no rules. Unless you want them.
Now, don't misunderstand me, there are good paintings and there are bad paintings. And an artist's tentativeness and uncertainty are just as evident in his/her work as boldness and confidence.
To me, good art comes from within. It's that unshakable belief in what you are creating. It's the bold brush stroke, the emotion of color, the beauty of form. And yeah, a little practice never hurts either!
So, to all the 8 year old Autumns, the 35 year old Helens, and the 40 year old Roberts, creativity is a gift to be nurtured. It's your voice.
What makes art good?
It's the conscious act of boldly putting brush to canvas. It's those unintended "mistakes" that turn out to be game changers that send your piece in a whole new exciting direction. It's never being afraid to experiment. It's accepting failure as nothing more than an opportunity to create something you never thought you could create. It's speaking to masses in your own unique way.
It's never stopping until your creation is everything you envisioned it to be.