We watched the surprisingly disturbing documentary last night called My Kid Could Paint That. We weren’t 20 minutes into the story when I smelled that these people were conning the public in a big way. Itching to get the 411, I had to go online. The controversy was all over the place.
Although the big turning point of the documentary surprised the filmmaker himself, the story progressed in a predictable direction from my viewpoint. The Frenchman at first defended the art community. “How could they be fooled?”
“Honey, they believe in the Bible! Of course they believe a 4-year-old girl who can barely write her name is producing precise, controlled paint strokes. People want miracles.” I pointed out that Marla could barely paint the letters of her name, but that the paintings themselves had very precise brush strokes in them. Now, the coordination to write is a very special training for the muscles, I admit, but so is the ability to create repeated brush strokes of exactly the same breadth and motion all over a canvas.
Puzzling over the motor coordination of a 4 year old, we argued a bit about whether Mozart actually wrote his first piece at 4. I told him that his father Leopold described little Mozart as having more ink on himself than on the page, but that it was undoubtedly music that he’d written — and good music, at that. The motor coordination he possessed was superior in every way — both in writing and in performing.
Of course, there’s the brilliant film moment when the child confesses on camera that her little brother had actually painted one of the pieces about to be appear in a gallery and not her. But her parents don’t react to that. No one does.
Then there was the weirdly quiet reaction to the 60 Minutes segment that exposed the fraud. The parents sat on the couch and just sort of…smiled. And then wilted. Perhaps they were in shock. If it were me, and my family was being libeled on national television, I’d have hopped off the couch and threatened to punch the tube.
Regardless of whether they’re cons or not, the whole thing is stomach churning — the exploitation of children, the gullibility of adults, the graceless reaction people had to the idea of being fooled. But mostly I felt badly for this sweet little girl, who will have to sort out this huge mess in her head for the rest of her life.