Could Your Kid Paint That?

In a stack of papers called Instruction.

  • Aug
  • 11
  • 2008

After I wrote about King of Kong, I went on to watch another documentary that shows equal promise for the classroom. My Kid Could Paint That presents the question of Marla Olmstead as child prodigy. Like all documentaries you ever bring into a classroom should, this shows both sides of the argument, leaving the decision in the hands of the viewer. The obvious question for writing: did Marla Olmstead create these paintings? We launch questions from that pier.

  1. Who is Marla Olmstead?
  2. What is the controversy surrounding her?
  3. How did this controversy arise?
  4. What evidence suggests that she is the artist?
  5. What evidence suggests otherwise?
  6. What did the 60 Minutes crew hope to get on film? What happened?
  7. When it finally airs, describe the impact of the 60 Minutes segment about Marla.
  8. Why does director Amir Bar-Lev question his involvement in this project?
  9. What does the final Q&A between Bar-Lev and Marla’s parents say about Bar-Lev’s attitude toward the subject?

At the very least, provide a T-chart to keep track of evidence for and against Marla Olmstead as the artist. I’m thinking of putting together a list of important quotations, just like I would for any novel. A quick trip over to Marla’s main gallery and students can see the work up close in order to make specific references. The press kit (PDF), available from the main movie site, could very easily be turned into a set of handouts.

Special Feature

My Kid Could Paint That has the added bonus of a fantastic special feature on the DVD (“Michael Kimmelman On Art”). This segment can be shown independent of the rest of the movie. Michael Kimmelman is the chief art critic at The New York Times and someone I’d love to have come in and talk with my students. His insights cover not only art, but the subjective nature of storytelling:

All writers, all storytellers, are imposing their own narrative on something. I mean, all art, in some ways, is a lie. It looks like a picture of something, but it isn’t that thing, it’s a representation of that thing… Your documentary is, itself, going to be a lie. It’s a construction of things. It’s how you wish to represent the truth and how you’ve decided to tell a particular story.

Movies are every bit as valuable as books as a way to discuss philosophical assumptions about a topic, a key component in any English class. Looking at what directors decide to include and omit, we get a sense for their beliefs. And coming in at 82 minutes, you’d get through My Kid Could Paint That in almost the same amount of time as it would take to read 2 short stories.

Sense Of The World

A final thought from Kimmelman:

We come to like and trust in a certain story, not necessarily because it’s the most absolutely truthful, but because it’s a thing that we tell ourselves which makes sense of the world, at least at this moment.

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