Monday, December 17, 2007

"My Kid Could Paint That" -- documentary explores "Truth" in art

My Kid Could Paint That,” from Sony Pictures Classics and A&E Indie, and Axis Films and Passion Films, will indeed probably become stable documentary on the A&E channel, although it enjoys a theatrical release now. Documentary filmmaker Amir Bar-Lev has made his own process of artistry the subject of controversy comparable to the artist that he examines.

Most people by now have heard the basic story. Mark, an amateur painter who sometimes sells realistic paintings of his upstate New York area, and his wife Laura let their four year old have at it with oil paint. Almost with a process of finger-painting followed by some brush and palette, she creates interesting impressions with her dabs, and out of fun, the parents display her work at a local Binghamton NY business. Soon people are making offers for her work, which is compared to the work of Jackson Pollick. After hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales, there is a CBS 60 Minutes and Charlie Rose show examining the family, suggesting that it is a hoax. But the family gets over it and she starts selling again.

The point here seems to be one of Einstein’s relativity principles: beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the observer can change what is seen. The film throughout examines whether abstract art is a put-on (John Stossel even appears). Any story, Laura says, generates its own change, and it’s inevitable if they stumbled into a happening with her art, they can wander into an un-happening. So they do. People write very nasty things about the parents on message boards on the Internet – the film shows images of the boards, and we don’t need to quote the words here; they hurt. But it goes away. The filmmaker is left to reflect: he wanted to tell this story, but is it a real story, or did the filmmaker create it himself? We are left to ponder the eternal feminine, whether art can ever express truth. Well, not exactly (mathematics can), but it can urge us to find the truth for ourselves.

I can think of a good parallel example in my own life, where the perception of my own work has taken sudden turns back and forth, just because the laws of physics and “stalking the wild pendulum” (Bentov) seem to require this oscillation.

One can wonder these things about music, which, after all, invokes art over another dimension, time. Some of the same questions about prodigy and talent can exist. But it’s easy to tell, over time, whether a composer’s work resonates with listeners and moves them into new perceptions, even as the language of music expands from composer to composer. Music, like art (even as Da Vinci knew), has always been systematized in mathematical relationships, and so it is as it moved forward into twelve-tone music and sometimes computer-generated music even back in the 50s.

The implications or art legitimacy and forgery were explored in Clive Barker’s massive 1991 novel Imajica with the character Gentle; perhaps this will see film one day soon.

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