Child Art Prodigy, Part 2

Four months ago I posted an entry about Marla Olmstead, a four-year-old child art prodigy whose paintings are selling for thousands of dollars. Tonight I watched a 60 Minutes piece about her, and I've got to say that it was very sad. There seems to be no evidence that Marla is painting these pieces on her own. Her parents claim that she's shy and is unable to paint with anyone but them around (no one but her parents has ever seen her do a painting from start to finish), nor is she able to paint in front of cameras. A hidden camera was installed and what this showed her producing (as her father screamed directions at her from off-camera) was a far cry from the other paintings attributed to her. It seems very likely that her father is the one either entirely creating these paintings, or finishing up what Marla starts. Just watching the father talk, you could tell that he was concealing something by his body language. It's sad that the girl has to be put through this. It'll be interesting to see if people will continue to buy 'her' paintings in light of what 60 Minutes revealed.


Posted on Wed Feb 23, 2005


Well, we can hope this money she's getting for her paintings is going towards college tuition or a nice car for her. I sure wouldn't mind being pushed like that 12 years ago if it meant I'd have a new toyota today.
Posted by Citizen Premier  on  Wed Feb 23, 2005  at  11:54 PM
It's good to live in hope. There is however the danger that this child's earnings will end up in a trust fund, which will eventually be used to pay for her parents' divorce, thus leaving the child with nothing (as happened to McCauley Culkin). Or that it'll just be frittered away on improvements to the house etc.
Posted by Ashley Pomeroy  on  Thu Feb 24, 2005  at  04:16 AM
If this turns out to indeed be a hoax concocted by the girl's father, I truly pity them. To exploit such a small child like that is just awful, especially if the father has done most the work, and they are teaching her to lie and claim it as her own. What great lessons this girl will have to grow up with.
Posted by Sarah  on  Thu Feb 24, 2005  at  05:26 AM
I just think it sucks b/c this means MY kid is gonna grow up to be in this kid's society. I'm doing everything I can to teach right & wrong to my daughter...and 10 minutes after she meets this girl in a college dorm...the damn nut will have corrupted my sweet, intelligent, young adult.
Posted by Maegan  on  Thu Feb 24, 2005  at  05:38 AM
This is all well and good, but how does everyone feel about the new Dusty girl ad??...
Posted by darren  on  Thu Feb 24, 2005  at  09:40 AM
If it's ever discovered or proven that the paintings aren't the childs own creations as claimed, then any buyers of her art should sue the shit out of that guy. He came off to us as a lazy asshole, who wants to support his family in the easiest manner possible. Not only did his body language seem off to us but the whole hidden camera thing was the clincher. Yelling at her from off camera like that! Even if they are her creations, would you want one that was the result of a child getting yelled at by her father like that? There are plenty of other more frivilous lawsuits out there so why not this one? This guy is USING his child to carry his ass, I'd bet when she turns 18 there'll be nothing at all left from this venture. The "buyers" of this art should get their money back so this scam can die out, and hopefully that kid can lead somewhat of a normal life... and perhaps not do too much damage to Maegan's child at college. 😊
Posted by Mark-N-Isa  on  Thu Feb 24, 2005  at  10:06 AM
Hmm, if the kid didn't really do the paintings, then her parents aren't really exploiting her work, are they? They're just lying about her, and exploiting the naive art buyers.

Anybody want to buy one of my cat's drawings?
Posted by Big Gary C  on  Thu Feb 24, 2005  at  11:11 AM
I'm not saying their exploiting her work, I'm saying they're exploiting the girl herself by subjecting her to the burden of being a "creative genius" for a quick buck, something a child this young shouldn't have to experience.
Posted by Sarah  on  Thu Feb 24, 2005  at  12:00 PM
Funny thing, is that people were saying how good the paintings were regardless of who did it. So if it turns out that her dad made the paintings, does it mean that he's a great artist instead of her?

The 60 minutes story said:
Her paintings were even compared to those of Jackson Pollock, the legendary abstract expressionist who was famous for dripping paint freely on his large canvases. Others said her bright colors and shapes reminded them of another modern master, Wassily Kandinsky...
Posted by brian  on  Thu Feb 24, 2005  at  01:00 PM
If they billed the artwork as done by the child, charged more than $1,000 and in fact it was then determined to not be done by the child then at the very least they're guilty of fraud and grand larceny. Possibly more, possibly less depending on what state your talking about. But at these prices, I would imagine that it's at least felony fraud and grand larceny. Or am I mistaken... any lawyers on here?
Posted by Mark-N-Isa  on  Thu Feb 24, 2005  at  02:12 PM
Here's a question: does anyone know how the girl got started, how her work was recognized originally?
Posted by Jackie  on  Thu Feb 24, 2005  at  03:48 PM
The article answers both your questions, but that would mean reading it. She saw daddy painting and wanted to paint, then was discovered from a painting hanging in a cafe that sold, or something to that extent.
Posted by sbnature  on  Thu Feb 24, 2005  at  04:56 PM
Says that the father is an amateur painter himself. My guess is that he's probably had his work rejected before and by making like his daughter is this prodigical kid it would surely gain more publicity than if he were to push the paintings as his own. Don't know why, but such things always seem so much more "special" if the genius in question is a "sweet, adorable little kid". There wouldn't be so much fuss if it were the other way around. That, of course, is just my opinion.

If he is indeed making all of this up, that poor wee ankle biter is going to have some serious issues when she's older. Pity.
Posted by Tornado  on  Thu Feb 24, 2005  at  08:45 PM
To Maegan:
If you teach right & wrong to your daughter, and she grows up to be an honest, upstanding person, she will have come across a lot of crap already by high school. College won't do her any more damage. Plus, you should be able to trust her. She should make the decision to not be friends with people who are dishonest. As this 4 year old will turn out to be because of the parents that are raising her. Even if they get sued. Even if they stop exploiting her. If they were corrupt enough to do something like this to a 4 yr. old (assuming the pictures are not really hers) then, they can only teach her bad things. It would take a lot for them to change, and most people never change.
Posted by thephrog  on  Thu Feb 24, 2005  at  08:50 PM
I've never really considered if this Marla-thing was a "hoax" or not. I personnally hope it isn't. I think this whole mentality of being surprised of a four year old painting "Modernist" works stems from the fact we take abstract works by other artist "geniuses" Pollock, Kandinsky, etc, for granted. Marla doesn't fit their stereotype (middle aged male, struggling artist, etc), so we automatically cast doubt on her. That being said...

In the parent's interview, they admitted to being nervous with the hidden camera on their daughter. I felt they were being honest when they explained why they coached Marla. I wish wish wish they had other cameras around filming the rest of the room or something. Maybe that would help sort this out.

When I sketch for example, I prefer sketching at any place I want, without someone looking over my shoulder. These things can easily distract someone very easily! (Anyone see "The Final Cut" with Robin Williams? 😊 ) Can you imagine how it could be for a four year old girl!? No wonder the work she made with the hidden camera was so different formally than her other works. She was forced to make it in a place she didn't want.

I wonder what she's say years from now when she learns she was secretly filmed and it was nationally aired. I would (probably) be discusted if it were me. Although, I can see obvious benefits to it (ie, study the artist's mentality when they're making a work and what not). I'm pretty sure this sort of thing is done for research.

Posted by Sil  on  Fri Feb 25, 2005  at  01:55 AM
It was because of this girl that I found out about this site. Some time ago I saw the story on a newspaper and I thought "You got to be kidding! This must be fake!" So I went to the Internet to look for some site that would say something on this being a hoax. And that's how I found out about Museum of Hoaxes!

Now, about Marla. I don't know much about American laws, only what I see in TV and movies, but I was thinking if "getting advantage" of one's child is not a public crime. I mean, can anybody say "hey, I think these parents are taking advantage of their child, the Police or some public institution for the protection of children should investigate"? Is it possible? Are there any official authorities investigating? Aren't there enough suspicions for someone to investigate? Not to mention fraude as someone else already said. Many, many people are concerned with the education that this girl is getting from her parents, can't anything be done?...
Posted by corax  on  Fri Feb 25, 2005  at  09:10 AM
Sil, there's a bridge in Brooklyn you might be interested in buying.
Posted by Big Gary C  on  Fri Feb 25, 2005  at  05:09 PM
Tornado said:
" ... such things always seem so much more "special" if the genius in question is a "sweet, adorable little kid"...."
I'd prefer art made by a bizarre, neurotic kid. But that's just me.
Posted by Big Gary C  on  Fri Feb 25, 2005  at  05:13 PM
I don't get what you mean Gary, lol.
Posted by Sil  on  Fri Feb 25, 2005  at  06:10 PM
If the works are so widely accepted as "great modern art" and are done by a 4-year-old, what does that say about other "great modern artists" or indeed the concept of modern art in general? Could modern art be a gigantic hoax that has been going on for decades? Most of the modern art I see does nothing for me, or anyone else I know. With few exceptions, modern art is a waste of time/paint/stone/metal/etc as far as I can tell. Abstract and Expressionism work best for me as far as the non-realistic styles although some of the older stuff, realistic, really moves me. I keep trying to find pictures by Adam Henderson, his sea storms especially. The few of those I've seen really stir me. But that may be because I'm a relative. I do wish I could afford some of the Masters such as Van Gogh (sp?) or some of the old Dutch Masters but I'm broke.
Posted by Christopher Cole  on  Sat Feb 26, 2005  at  09:27 AM
...what I was implying w/ my comment was that there are hundreds of kids that will end up like this little girl that will be shot out into the world at 18, corrupting anyone they come into contact with. Think of it like this. If you have a glass of plain water, and a glass of water that has been colored red, and you pour a little of the plain water into the red still have red water. (My daughter's [assumed] goodness may slightly dilute the red water, but it will never turn the red water clear.) If the red water was poured into the clear will end up with 2 glasses of red water. (So, the red glass colored the clear glass, and not the other way around...)

I can partly control the environment my child will be in while in the highschool years...once she's 18 she can either chuck out everything I taught her...or keep going w/ it. It's up to her...assuming I've taught her well enough, she'll be glad to continue being honest & good. Parents like the ones in this article show that no matter how well mannered my child is...she will never turn a red glass clear again.
Posted by Maegan  on  Sun Feb 27, 2005  at  05:50 AM
Well, I just wanted to put in my two cents. I live like 15 minutes away from where this girl lives and as a "neighbor" I was quite excited to hear that someone so talented existed so close to home. I'm not 100% sure that her father helps her though, I guess I'm holding onto a small twinge of hope that maybe something so cool isn't corrupt. But then again, this is a crazy, crazy world we live in.
Posted by Sarah  on  Mon Feb 28, 2005  at  07:09 AM
with the whole thing about people thinking the dad finishes marla's paintings, i think thats just unreasonable. marlas dad is an artist, yes, which means that he knows what it would feel like for someone to either work on one of his paintings or for them to be given the credit for it. No artist wants the credit taken from them, and no artist wants someone else coming in and changing what they've worked so hard on. Since he is an artist, i highly doubt he is going to put his own daughter through that. Besides, why would he paint them or finish them and then put her name on it? Is the only reason they're getting attention is becase a 4 year old did them? If they were the product of the fathers work, then he should have no problem selling them on his own without adding his daughters name to it. Also, i saw the thing on 60 min. why does it prove that she didnt paint the rest? of course its different then other ones she's painted. they're all different. They're all at different stages. Look at the one titled winding road. its just a white line, yet apparently thats good modern art and finished, why is the one she did on the show 'unfinished'. And monster, it doesnt looked finished to me. Also, why does a prodigy have to have this energy and huge urge to paint like what the 'expert' said? She paints more than any child i know, and she obviously thinks in a very different way, so just because she's not jumping around everywhere and getting all excited when she's painting doesnt prove to me that she's not a prodigy. come on, she's four, well, almost 6 now i think. For me, you dont have to be excited to be a prodigy, just good. I have a friend who is brilliant on the piano, but he doesnt like to play. does that mean he's not an artist, not a good pianist because he's not excited to do it? i dont think so. its not the feeling toward the art, its the product, in my mind. sorry this was such a long rant. i didnt think it would be this long. well, at least i got everything out. thanx.
Posted by tess  on  Mon Feb 28, 2005  at  08:46 AM
Well Tess,
It's comforting to know that his "morals" as an artist would prevent him from ever conducting fradulent activities as some of us have suspected. These artistic morals to which you refer must be the reason that there's NEVER been fraud committed by the art community or to the art community right? You asked..."Since he is an artist, i highly doubt he is going to put his own daughter through that. Besides, why would he paint them or finish them and then put her name on it?" The answer... MONEY. His work has repeatedly been turned down, do the works get extra consideration because they were painted by a small child? Of course, everyone when hearing that takes it into consideration. If it didn't make a difference then we would never even know it was done by a child would we? It's called marketing. Are you so naive as to think, as you put it... "marlas dad is an artist, yes, which means that he knows what it would feel like for someone to either work on one of his paintings or for them to be given the credit for it. No artist wants the credit taken from them, and no artist wants someone else coming in and changing what they've worked so hard on. Since he is an artist, i highly doubt he is going to put his own daughter through that." Oh please, people have been taking advantage of their children and their abilities since the dawn of recorded history and MUCH worse... read all the article about this story. The father has been trying to sell his work to no avail for some time, putting a 4 year old's name on it definately would change someone's outlook / opinion of the piece. If you really are this naive as to think this is beyond artist / human capabilities then you should get ahold of Big Gary C... he has a bridge he wants to talk to you about.
Posted by Mark-N-Isa  on  Mon Feb 28, 2005  at  12:57 PM
Someone, get some private footage of the dad making these works to settle this case once and for all. All this talk is circumstantial and going in circles.
Posted by silhouette  on  Mon Feb 28, 2005  at  07:52 PM
You think if he's committing felony fraud that he's going to do it in the back yard? Or even anywhere near an open window? At the prices these paintings are going for, if not done by the child as claimed, it's fraud. There'll NEVER be footage of these pieces being created because he knows it's fraud and is smart enough to be careful about it I'm sure...
Posted by Mark-N-Isa  on  Mon Feb 28, 2005  at  11:17 PM
Well, I'm an artist, and I know damn well that I have more morals than the rest of you put together.
So ner.

"Since he is an artist, i highly doubt he is going to put his own daughter through that"

Ooh, and we never take advantage of someone who is vulnerable for our own personal gain, either.

We're great, we are.
Posted by Boo  on  Tue Mar 01, 2005  at  02:51 AM
"Since he is an artist, i highly doubt he is going to put his own daughter through that"

Oh yeah? What about the football dad & cheerleader mom who put their kids through hell so that they make first string, or head cheerleader?? Being an 'artist' doesn't make you different from anyone else when it comes to your kid. I know plenty of artists...they're mostly normal, w/ a few spacey moments (they're artists after all...they have a different view of a lot of things), I'm sure that if they felt like their kid could make it into something they'd push their kid hard. Look at the pageant (sp?) moms. They put makeup & spray tan on their toddlers & infants. (I personally think they should be disqualified for that!! My kid looks cute w/o the makeup & fake hair.)

Anywho...what I'm trying to say is that he's a parent. There are pushy parents & there are parents who don't care if their kids grow up to be famous...they just want them to be able to cope. This guy seems like a pushy parent. If he wanted this girl to be a concert pianist, he'd be yelling instruction at her while she sat on the piano bench. Money motivates!
Posted by Maegan  on  Tue Mar 01, 2005  at  05:43 AM
If they payed for the painting and liked them, then no harm done.
Posted by dakidski  on  Tue Apr 19, 2005  at  10:37 AM
the parents, or at least the father, is a criminal, using his daughter to get rich. It had nothing to do with art or passion! Just bloody money. the greed of some people. Do they think we are stupid. I feel sorry for that little Marla when she is old enough to realise what her parents have done, AND SHOWN IT TO THE WORLD. Im in New Zealand.
Posted by carol rakiraki  on  Mon Apr 25, 2005  at  09:40 PM
So I watched the 60 minutes show on alleged child prodigy Marla and was shocked at what I saw. The only thing the poor child seems to have to do with these 'masterpieces' is to have her name assigned to them! Whilst it could be argued that she was unable to work at the best of her artistic abilities due to the camera in place- let's remind ourselves that it was hidden which means that in theory she shouldn't have been aware she was being watched. The difference in quality (if we can use that term) was astounding; the work we saw her create was nothing special and even this was under the coaching and direction from her I'm-a-failed-artist-in-my-own-right daddy.

There were too many questions surrounding this for it to remotely credible. What is most unbelievable is that Marla's paintings are still being sold since the airing of the programme. Her parents must be laughing all the way to the bank. How long for i wonder...
Posted by Nazira Hanna  on  Sun May 15, 2005  at  01:19 PM
It's so obvious that this is her Dad painting and claiming it's her. He knows that these paintings wouldn't catch nearly what it would unless people would think they where done by a 4 year old.

Daddy needs to stop exploiting his little girl!!
Posted by Dawn  on  Fri Jul 15, 2005  at  06:23 PM
This is just a pure CON. These people who bought her work thinking it was really her should ask for their money back.

Does it really surprise anyone that 'dad' is out there orchestrating everything when her paintings are making that much ?

Just a giant scam. 60 minutes didn't promote that piece right. I thought it was all legit.
Posted by eric  on  Thu Oct 27, 2005  at  01:25 AM
Why do people purchase art? Is the value of these works intrinsically dependant on who the artist is? How do you assign a value to a work of art? All these responses assume that the buyers' motives are investments (at least partially) and that the price tags are (at least partially) due to the fact that they were painted by a child. Investments are risky ventures and should be thoroughly analyzed, no? Did the buyers sign a contract at the time of purchase which stated that the little girl had the sole hand involved in creating these painings? What was their proof? Maybe they should have bought the work simply because they liked the art. Maybe they did. Further, if this turns/ed out to be a scandal or "hoax", who's to say that the art won't increase in value more than if it was,original to the child? She might have turned out to be a lousy artist as she grew and these were just flukes... who's to say? This whole "hoax" could be a method piece created by the girl's father as a commentary on how we value art... I mean, really, the possibilities are endless... and even this scandal out to be a "hoax" the people whe purchased the art should have no recourse. It is their own fault if they feel they were "cheated." The whle situation exemplifies that the artwork was overpriced to begin with (like an inflated stock).
Posted by Meridith  on  Fri Dec 09, 2005  at  07:28 PM
I found this site after hearing of the movie about this family at the Sundance festival...

Nobody will sue and it will be for the reasons scammers are rarely brought to justice: the victims have been made too big a fool of. What will happen is the father will be forced out and with a nice story to repair everybody's reputation (buyer's and family's) and also to help the art from depreciating.

Hugely controversial
This is a huge salvo in the arsenal of tradionalists. There's been "upside down syndrome" where dozens of artworks have been documented to have been displayed incorrectly and there's even been attempts at throwing away modern works by janitors. "Spot the one done by a (fill in the blank, usually a kid or animal)" experiments have been done as well. This situation is unique because it took academics in psychology, scientists if you may, to uncover what was really going on in the works: who and how they were created. For once, the inaccurate understanding couldn't be blamed on the "plebes" getting it wrong.

In short, many many people "need" for this girl to be the artist and will not believe their lying eyes.
Posted by Emily  on  Thu Jan 25, 2007  at  10:56 AM
My little girl is 3 and has wonderful art and can read, write, count add, subtract and much more, but to expose her to the public rather than educate her is wrong. Her art is very special to me, but she is amazing. She has a photogenic memory and has just finished a doll house project on her own. So does this make her a prodegy?
Posted by Blue  on  Wed Mar 21, 2007  at  04:30 PM
That to me is not art and should not be sold, my 3 year old paints and draws much better than that and not to mention, she started befor the age of 1 year. Sorry, to me that is not art, just a little girl who is moving her brush in circles as any child of that age can do
Posted by Blue  on  Wed Mar 21, 2007  at  04:34 PM
I would buy your cats art. HA HA, it would be something more realistic than a child not wanting to paint in public. Dont get me wrong, my 3 year old is very shy, but you put other kids and some paint and colors, you would never know she was shy. So malarky to the shy bit. Kids who love to paint will no matter where they are. They may not speak to adults other than there parents, but put them on Disney and have those kids interview her to find out the truth.
Posted by Blue  on  Wed Mar 21, 2007  at  04:38 PM
I just watched the movie about Marla and even though I have my suspicions, what did strike me is that she never once said anything like. "Oh I didn't paint that", or "my Daddy painted that, or "My daddy helped me paint this" At age four it would be very very hard to train her to always say the right thing and not give any hint that her father helped her.
Posted by Gary H.  on  Mon Jun 02, 2008  at  11:08 AM
Regarding Marla not saying that her dad didn't paint them or something like that, my 3 year old daughter frequently says "I did it all myself" or claims that she's done things when she's merely helped or barked directions at one of us. Kids that age have an interesting idea of what doing things themselves means and it's not always accurate.

I have no idea if Marla is doing these paintings by herself or not. I do think it's very suspicious that she can't produce well with a hidden camera and that her dad is an unsuccessful artist.

To everyone who wonders why it should matter to the buyers, it's because people buy art for a variety of reasons. If they bought it just because they liked it, that's probably not going to bother them in the least. Some bought her art as an investment, though, and fraud will lower the value of the work. Others bought it as a conversation could go either way now depending on the person. The point is that when you buy something, whatever your reason for buying it, you should get what you think you're getting. Anything less than that is fraud and it's illegal for a reason.
Posted by Sheri  on  Thu Jan 14, 2010  at  09:28 PM
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