Child Prodigy Marla Olmstead Now

child artist prodigy olmstead

Remember child prodigy Marla Olmstead? She was the 4 year old painter that captured the media’s attention back in 2004. She sold a whole bunch of paintings and prints, had a few exhibitions, was on 60 Minutes, and there was also a documentary made on her called My Kid Could Paint That. I believe her larger paintings were selling for amounts in the tens of thousands but I couldn’t find any record prices that she sold for. Well anyway, that was 10 years ago which would make her about 14 now.

child painter marla olmsteadPeople still search for her and occasionally leave comments on the old Marla Olmstead posts @ Art News Blog, so I thought I better be a good blogger and go see if she has developed as an artist. I couldn’t find much of anything on her.

She did a talk in 2013 at an innovation, entrepreneurship, and social change event called The Intersection but I couldn’t find any of her speech. I just know that her talk was on “artistic creation” and she was interviewed by Randy Haykin.  I couldn’t find any recent reports from any of the hundreds of media outlets that were all over her when she was 4, 5 and 6 years old.

If you haven’t heard of Marla Olmstead before, here’s a short youtube video of her working from back when she was 4 or 5..

So, my report came up empty. Her website is still online though and you can still buy paintings by Marla Olmstead, so I’m assuming she’s still working. Here’s some available works for sale on her website. There’s no information on what year they were painted so I don’t know if 5 year old Marla or teen Marla painted them. There’s also a bunch of prints for sale too..

painting by marla olmsteadMarla Olmstead – A Full Serving of Veggies

child painter marla olmstead 2014Marla Olmstead – Faces

kid painter marlaMarla Olmstead – Zebra

See more of her artwork and contact details at her website here if you’re interested. Also, here’s my list of 5 things child prodigies can teach us grown up artists.

About Dion

Australian artist and observer of things.. all kinds of things. I like a wide variety of art, from the weird and wonderful to the bold and beautiful.. and everything in between.


  1. I hope Marla’s parents kept the money from the paintings for her future.

    • Yeah, in the documentary the mother (I think) said that the money was placed in a bank account for her college funds.

  2. Anonymous says:

    She was a fake wake up

  3. It’s August 2014, and her websites have been taken down. Hmmmmm, maybe as a teen these amazing paintings of “hers” aren’t happening anymore. She’s probably in therapy for all of the confusion her parents have caused in her mind. From all of the lies she has heard her parents spewing over the years. SHE knows the truth. How sad for her.

    • Her site is still online Kathy. Maybe her webhost was just down for a moment.

      For her sake, I hope it wasn’t a total fraud. Either way though, I personally wouldn’t put my child through it.. even she was a genius.

      • She’s not a genius doing the same work as the abstract expressionist her parents would not sell her paintintins if it wasn’t for there money gain art is suppose to be enjoyed as a gift I fell sorry when artist just seen it as a business if they did that instead of selling her she would still be painting today and the artistic genius is when an artist does work never seen before

    • traciee says:

      you people are something else. What does it matter if she had a father that coached her in paintings. the father painted it so why can’t the daughter paint or the little son. Regardless of the money that she had made off of the paintings it should have maybe had her name and her father’s name on there or if he helped out to me if people want to pay that amount of money that’s up to them they don’t know they seen it first hand at the gallery. The worst thing about being famous is that you do have haters. I think people who are non sympathetic towards a family who has been criticized by the media should be shamed on themselves. I hate when people call another person especially a four-year-old a fraud. So if her father was coaching her good for him she did a very good job it’s hard to do things when you’re in front of a camera even if you have a hidden camera some days are good some days are bad doesn’t mean you’re going to pay the same and your child I guess whatever they see that’s in them it’s a big canvas so they just do what they do.I do not blame the parents I actually believed Society for bringing this girl down if she feels this way at this time in 2015. I hope that she goes on and continues painting and learns from criticism from other people that she can still do a very good job without listening to them but listening to the positive.

      • David eric says:

        No one is calling little Marla a fraud. Her parents and the art dealer are frauds. What ever role the media played, Marla’s parents did everything to court and get the attention of the media — they brought this upon themselves. They invited a documentary filmmaker into their home, along with 60 minutes — when things didn’t turn out like they expected, they started whining about how unfair the media treated them. And what kind of parents would do this to their four year old daughter? If the painters were so great, why did they need to subject their daughter to this kind of confusing and emotionally disturbing media scrutiny? They could have simply sold the work through a dealer and sheltered their daughter. But they didn’t. Any way you look at it, her parents and the art dealer exploited Marla, and it’s painful to watch. The pressure and confusion you see Marla going through is terrible. The anger you read about this situation is aimed at the people who lied repeatedly and used this fraud and Marla to soak up every dollar and media spotlight in sight. Marla had nothing to do with any of this. The people who bought her work did so under the illusion she is a genius and a prodigy. The paintings are so dumb and so horribly painted it really defies any ability to put it into words. Call it art, call it genius call it what you like, but what was being sold was snake oil, and the artistic claims that were made for this snake oil were so embarrassingly outlandish as to, once again, defy description. No one wishes Marla anything but the best. But spin it anyway you like, it’s still nothing more than a fraud made possible by people’s ignorance.

        • When you go public and become a product you naturally open yourself to scrutiny. The parents should have known better. If you’re going to spend a few thousand on a Louis Vuitton handbag you want it to be made by Louis Vuitton and not Louis Vuitton’s father.
          All the value is in the story being told, which is about a genius child creating masterpieces with her own hands, if that story is fictional then the works become worthless.
          If we were talking about some regular kid producing works to hang on the fridge and every one attacked her then I would agree that people should be ashamed, but that’s far from the case here. People would be stupid to NOT ask questions, especially with all the red flags popping up.

  4. Billy Calloway says:

    I want to remind people that a childs brain is always
    in transition, growing and changing daily. Her earliar
    Work had a more pure experimentation in color choiices
    and desighn. Her works were influenced more every day
    as she experenced life. I could see more effort to capture
    a realistic view on canvis, painting a sun or flower ect. I see her
    painting with color combinations and a natural flow of shapes ,
    capturing feelings instead of thought.
    All the work she does now and in the future , reflects both positive and negative influences.
    What i want to say to everybody is send this wonderful little girl
    your happy and loving wishes, its what every child deserves. That way therev wont be any dissapointmemnts. Good luck and god bless you Marla and family. A fan

    • Annette Claassen says:

      Thank you Billy for your positive comments on a child artist. The kindness in your response shows what a beautiful and loving spirit you have. The paintings are moving and capture a child’s gentle spirit. God bless the child.

      • Anonymous says:


      • Annette, I wholeheartedly agree with you. Joy , success and creative exuberance continue through this young person’s life.

      • Wow, how did so many people get the wool pulled over their eyes? These “parents” are guilty of child abuse as far as I’m concerned. What a selfish thing to put a kid through. And anyone who still believes these pieces were painted by a 4 year old is just plain naive.

        • You know . . . as I see it, art is in the eye of the beholder and there are pieces I would love to have regardless of who painted them at what age. I hope she’s still painting and would imagine that some of those shown in her gallery have been painted by someone much older than 4 years . . an indication that she is indeed still painting. So what I’m saying in my opening statement is I don’t care if it’s a fraud, if the dad really painted them or whomever . . either I like the piece or I don’t (and there are many I don’t care for) which determines whether I’d buy it.

    • Josephine Norman says:

      I just watched the documentary on Marla again, and what struck me most was the hatred expressed by so many of those who sat in judgement on this family. It’s sad and depressing that all that bile could be directed at them so easily over the Internet and via other media. I say, ‘Lhe/she who is without sin cast the first stone,’ … the rest of us could do well to remember that manners maketh the the man (or woman). How I long for a kinder, more caring world.

  5. Current pictures of her, interviews, paintings….all conspicuously absent. Makes me lean towards FAKE but who knows for sure right? A lot of money was made though…we know that is a fact.

    • Yes I agree with you there. I believe the father had a huge part in the paintings. Especially after watching the doc. the ending just blows it for the father. She says it all with her comments at the end. Also he has no clue on how to get out of what she is saying. The more he tries the more obvious of his guilt. Quite funny I thought. Poor Marla though.

  6. Nik Richie says:

    Marla is a SCAM.

  7. I can’t seem to find her site. Anyone know where to look? Is there still paintings for sale does anyone know?? I don’t really care if her father did coach or even help her paint. I love most of the paintings and would love to own one!!! Who cares?!!!

  8. Oh yeah…. thx Dion for info!! :)

  9. Marla’s paintings bear a certain similarity to those of Spanish painter Joan Miro. When I see them, that one painting of his named “Carnival of Harlequin” comes to mind. Click onto
    No, I’m not saying that Marla Olmstead has ever copied his work, but I don’t rule out the possibility that she received inspiration from his work. When I was a little kid, growing up here on the east coast of the United States of America, I often saw parents bring their tykes with them to art museums. They get these kids started in the appreciation of art from when they’re barely out of diapers, and these kids grow to become artistic geniuses, sometimes while they still have their baby teeth. I don’t believe for one minute that Marla Olmstead is a fake. When you look at her, she has this profound and intense facial expression despite her tender years that shows that she really has a natural ability to transfer images from her mind onto a canvas. This characteristic about her becomes most noticeable in videos and pictures of her from when she is 6 years old and older. In any event, Dion, just as you Australians are proud to have Morgana Davies as a prodigy in the acting business, we Americans are proud to have Marla Olmstead as a prodigy in the art industry. Interestingly enough, Morgana Davies and Marla Olmstead are only one year apart in age difference.

  10. I think the fact that Marla has been pulled away from the public spot light shows that her parents are good honest people who love their children. To me, they didn’t intend to get the public attention that was received. It grew out of the positive review of Marla`s work. Then when it turned ugly they were shocked. When they saw that there would always be hate directed at their family, they tried to take action. They agreed to be part of a documentary in an attempt to prove that they are honest and Marla did paint those paintings. For some they didn’t prove that, for others they did. Now Marla`s parents shield their family from the dark side of human nature. I wish them all the best of luck.

  11. All authenticity debate aside, the paintings are brilliant no matter who did them. Wouldn’t it make sense for it to be a story about brilliant art and its back sorry rather than a story about whether there’s a scam having to do with paintings?

  12. ArtExpert says:

    I call “scam.”

    Dad was/is an aspiring painter. He was a “night manager at a Frito Lay factory.” That means these painting were all likely done –primarily by him– while his dental hygienist wife was at work. At the very least, canvasses were prepared by him –often painted with backgrounds of solid colors. One featured a nice neat red square floating atop another background over which marks and dribbles were applied. This child couldn’t draw a straight line much less something that precise.

    The financial motives of the dad and gallery owner were obvious. There are other discrepancies. The documentary dates the opening of Marla’s gallery show as being Oct 1, 2004. However, her website was created on 8-23-2004 and is currently registered to mom Laura. The first archived snapshot of this website was taken on 9-11-04 (and can be seen online) and contradicts the documentary by stating — ““Four,” her latest exhibition, opened at Anthony Brunelli Fine Arts, one of Central New York’s premier galleries, in >>August, 2004<< (not Oct 1st). Marla's works attracted unprecedented thousands to the opening and is the Gallery's most lauded exhibition to date." That's two shows ..with dozens of paintings in by a 4 year old who shows little enthusiasm for painting.. in two months???*/ Ironically, snapshots of website from that time don't even mention Marla or her shows.

    Imo 60 Minutes nailed it… and Marla never produced a painting comparable to those her father fabricated. I believe he felt it was Ok to do the underpainting, have Marla smear around a bit, and then he'd do the rest (including giving them pretentious names). Sadly Marla is but one of many children that are presented as being gifted with intellectual superiority and physical skills they simply don't possess. Aside from ripping off an ignorant and gullible public, the real crime is to perpetuate the myth that "genius" simply falls from heaven like rain onto some beings with no real training or effort. Brunelli gloried in being able to stick the modern art in the eye. Funny how irate he became when the legitimacy of his little genius was questioned. Then it became about HIM and HIS reputation and HIS liability as a potential co-conspirator.

    As with virtually all these "modern art prodigies".. the only real story is their age. They typically fade away as quickly as they appear (especially when collectors discover their works fail to appreciate as expected). The only exception I know of is Alexandra Nechita. She was well promoted and became very famous as a kid but actually could, and did, paint her own stuff. She's nearly 30 now and her work hasn't changed a great deal since she was 10 or 12.

    • You stated in your comment above that “the real crime is to perpetuate the myth that “genius” simply falls from heaven like rain onto some beings with no real training or effort.”

      REALLY? Have you heard of Akiane Kramarik? She began painting works of art at the age of four just like Marla Olmstead. She claims that her “genius” fell from heaven LITERALLY. Read about her here by clicking onto
      Tell me what you think about her. I’d be interested in knowing.

      • David Eric says:

        Akiane’s painting are good, very good for a young painter. But, there is nothing even remotely great about her paintings. Any second year art school painter can do what she does. And any self-tought painter can do what she does after two years of steady work. She may indeed become a good adult painter or even a occasionally great painter in the future. But to call this work “genius” is like calling a highschool essay a “genius” work of literature. The academics of painting/drawing are not all that different from the academics of writing literature. How many ten year olds write great novels? Ten year olds speak and write better english than Akiane can draw or mix color. The problem with people labeling children artists great or genius arises from the fact that very few people ever study painting or the arts enough to see how academic these works are. Very few people know anything about painting and the problem is multiplied for the worse when money enters the picture. Salesmanship is just that, salesmanship. 99.9% of every piece of art ever created disappeared into the aether for good reason and that is not going to change. Great works of art are not discovered or created by amateurs. Time weeds out that which is worth engaging with and that which has little or nothing to add to the art dialogue.

        • I appreciate your opinion, David Eric. However, Akiane Kramarik has made a success out of her painting career since the age of four. She has also published numerous literary works and two best-selling novels. She’s in her early twenties and already she has her whole life made in the shade. She is set for life, and she’s a regular phenomenon. Can you really argue with success?

          • David eric says:

            All of that is fine. And I am happy for her. But what does money have to do with artistic ability or quality? Confusing market value with artistic value renders people dumb and blind. If you think popularity and financial success can’t be argued with, maybe you should ask Caravaggio what he thinks about that. Or Kafka, or Van Gough, or Edgar Allan Poe, or El Greco, or Emily Dickenson, or Egon Schiele, or Vermeer, or any one of a long list of great artists that were unpopular and poor. Akiane isn’t qualified to clean El Greco’s brushes. Your comments are perfect examples of the point I am trying to make. You mention her popularity and financial success, but you say nothing about her work, which I get the impression you know nothing about. What you see is market value. The New Kids On The Block sold millions of albums and made millions of dollars on tours and merchandise, but how well has the music held up over the years? Do you know a single person who actually listens to their music? Like Akiane, they were a cultural novelty and ultimately proved to be entirely disposable.

      • Well, in response to your comment, I won’t deny that I had not heard of Akiane Kramarik until I saw the recent film “Heaven Is For Real” in which the people in that movie made reference to her paintings. However, from what information I have gathered since then, I am able to see that she caters to a more faith-based audience in her paintings than any other group of artwork admirers. I will not ask you whether you are an atheist or an agnostic, because that is your business. However, I will say that I can understand why her artwork would receive greater praise among religious people than from secular audiences. It is the kind of artistic work that she does. Therefore, it would only be understandable that an art critique’s viewpoint on her work is going to be subjective in accordance with that individual’s religious faith or lack thereof. As for your comments about the New Kids On The Block, I will say that they were definitely not the Beatles of the 1980s and early 1990s despite their market success. The Beatles will be remembered likely one hundred years from now because of the mark that they made on the world of music, whereas nobody will even know who the New Kids On The Block are only 20 years from now. However, I don’t think one can justly use that same analogy with Akiane Kramarik. Her work appears to appeal to Christians throughout the world. Such an attribute gives her an edge in the world of art; and like the Vatican, I don’t think it will ever fade away.

        • By the way, I am directing the post directly above as a reply to David Eric’s most recent post to me in case anyone wanted to know.

        • I’m not sure I follow where your going here. But an extremely conservative estimation would be that 90% of all art ever created is faith based. I would actually put that estimate much higher. To whomever a work of art is intended is an interesting aspect of the work, but has very little to do with how long it will last or of what quality it is rendered. Nothing can obscure that fact that Akiane has no ability to draw. Like any self-trained artist who is fawned over because of her age, she never drilled herself in academic drawing and clearly has no understanding of the nuts and bolts of drawing or painting. Without which, good art can not be made. Just as a person who has never drilled themselves in academic writing can write a book. Why don’t we have genius 8 year old writers? Because nearly everyone is relentlessly drilled in reading and writing for at least the first 18 years of their life. So, when shown a book written by an 8 year old, everyone will see that it was written by an 8 year old and no one will be hailing it as a work of genius. painting and drawing are exactly the same, except that that vast majority of people know little or nothing about painting and drawing — and therein lies the ability for salesman and newsmakers to call embarrassingly bad art, genius.

  13. I just saw the documentary and I never imagined it would be about a conspiracy. I thought it would be about art appreciation. I agree that the paintings look less polished when she’s filmed and you don’t know how much of an influence her dad had. But, who cares? At the end of the day if you like abstract painting, that’s all that should count. Abstract painting is not my favorite because I don’t see the beauty in it but for those who do love it, it should be about what was produced. To me a fake would be someone who copies. These are not copied pieces so who are we to judge? Even if the dad did the pieces, they are part of the Olmstead legacy and having his kids spend time painting is 10X more valuable than having them sit in front of a TV watching cartoons. Plus we live in a capitalist society where everyone gets creative to make money. Can you really use ambition against the dad, when it’s a greedy society? It probably started as a joke and spiraled into something more significant. Didn’t they mention in the documentary that a friend put up a piece at their café and it sold for $250? They supposedly didn’t intend to sell anything but I agree that once they saw people’s reaction, they pursued financial gain. Well, that makes them as bad as you and me for making money on an idea.

    • Actually it really does matter who painted them. Much of the appeal of the paintings was that such a young child painted them. I am sure they were marketed by telling people that they could obtain one of her first works and that 30 years down the road when her paintings were selling for 100s of thousands of dollars they would have something super special and valuable. Chances are very slim that anyone would have even given them a second look if they were told they were painted by a middle aged father that worked nights at a factory. I am sure that the people that pays the thousands for them were very upset when the realization of who actually painted them set in.

  14. JayfromQC says:

    Whether her paintings were fake or not, the adults behaved a hundred times worse than she ever could.

    Art expert painter guy : “It is genius”
    Same guy, 20 minutes later, when confronted to doubt : “I’ve always considered modern art to be a scam”

    Bottom line is artists are weak, and if you simply nudge them on the arm they either commit suicide, overdose on drugs, or embarrass themselves publicly because no one understands them. What they want is praise and money, just like everybody else, except it’s so non-artistic to admit it that they are mentally conflicted about it until they die.

    Marla Olmstead was just having fun, surrounded by artists.

    • Kelly Hamilton says:

      Yeah, artists sure are weak. Michaelangelo, Leonardo, Picasso. Those guys were pussies — nudge them on the arm and they overdose. All Van Gogh wanted was praise and money, and he sure made of lot of the latter, right? Sorry you lacked the talent to succeed, Jayfrom QC, but don ‘t take it out on the rest of us, ‘kay?

    • “Bottom line is artists are weak”. How many artists do you know? Personally? Most professional artists are hard working, diciplined & not prone to self destructive behavior, but that’s too boring, so the antithesis of “normal” is what is focused on. How many alcoholics or drug users or depressed people do you know who aren’t artists? There ya go.

  15. Just saw the documentary. I do not think either Marla or her parents are frauds. What the entire episode serves to point up is the utter foolishness of art and culture snobs. What’s the next big thing? Ceramics painted by a cat or chimpanzee? Barnum said there’s a sucker born every minute.

  16. Jake jenkins says:

    I’m writing this months after this article was posted. But I only recently watched the documentary… multiple times. I’m absolutely fascinated by it

    A few of my takes on matters: Marla seemed to have been trained by her father not to talk to the media. The parents claim that she’s shy and just wants to talk to children her age, but it becomes apparent that she’s just honest and they know this can only cause trouble. They can’t prevent her from talking completely so with her filmed constantly for the film, she starts to give clues that things are far from what the parents claim, particularly the father. Some are subtle but many are downright blatant Her brother painted one of ‘her’ poorer pieces and her father ‘helps’ by painting and directing are 2 obvious conclusions you can draw from two scenes.

    She simply has nowhere near the fine motor control necessary to paint some of those works. It’s not a close call. Also, what’s with the titles? ‘Ode To Pollock’? So she studied his work and paid tribute to him? Or did she randomly enter a Pollock phase and her dad just titled it that? It makes absolutely no sense.

    Even with all the smarminess going on with the dad and the art dealer I’d still buy one of the better paintings. The dad is a creepy attention whore, but he’s a really good artist. I’d gladly put up one his works and show the film to visitors. I mean Millie Vanilli’s appeal skyrocketed with me when they came out as frauds.

  17. There is a video in that Marla produces a painting from start to finish by herself with no help or instruction by the parental units.

    • david eric says:

      No there isn’t. There is a series of video snippets of her painting — what went on between those snippets? Probably her dim father coached her every move and brushstroke. But this is all academic, All of the paintings are a joke — anyone who who has even a tiny aesthetic sense, can see that the paintings are worthless — irrespective of who painted them. The only thing that makes them even a remote novelty is the myth that there were painted by a four year old — they weren’t. What you see on the 60 minutes piece is exactly what happened. Her father is yelling at her like a total jerk in order to get her to paint something, anything. But she paints nothing. Only ignorant Americans would willfully swallow this hoax. There is no such thing as a born genius. There are those who work extremely hard and scratch the surface of greatness occasionally; and there is everyone else, who make no progress. Americans are so intellectually childish it’s not surprising they latch onto the myth of a child genius.

      • I absolutely agree, the filming was stopped several times through out the filming. If you notice when film stopped then started again Marla was not in the same place each time. I also wondered ii there was any editing Involved.

  18. A real reporter would get in a car and go find Marla and interview her. You have added nothing new to the story and simply rehashed stuff anyone can find online. Do your damn homework or step away from the keyboard.

  19. I just saw the film and believed the parents. 60 Minutes, just like much of the media are just sleazy. There was no evidence to suggest the Dad had helped. Only innuendo that as always, a gullible public believe.

    And some of you must have watched a different film, but I thought it showed the parents in a great light and vindicated them.

    Plus, I call it the eye test, but they seemed to be honest, decent people that were run over by a sleazy media.

    Is here stuff art? I actually think I could paint that, so I don’t think so, but of course, I think Pollock is just paint splattered on a canvas and I don’t think it required any genius whatsoever.

    I’m glad she succeeded to the point she did, but the art world is just silly. If you saw in the film, an art auction drew millions for paintings that weren’t even as involved as Maria’s, just a color splashed on a canvas. Oh my.

    • Vicki Wicker says:

      I would like to say to people posting here who don’t understand the art world. It is high stakes gambling. The people buying these paintings knew very well they were taking a risk. The only purchase of art that is a “safe” purchase is art by an artist for whom a purchase record has already been established. (and even then it’s still a gamble). For example, you might pay thousands of dollars, well tens of thousands, for a Norman Rockwell painting, but no matter which painting it is, it will have a value that can be pretty well extrapolated from other paintings of his that have sold. The value will be determined by how closely it matches his typical style and subject matter, etc. When these people bought these paintings by this gal, they knew they were taking a gamble that this might be an up and coming prodigy, they were hoping that her work would take off so to speak and that they were getting in on the ground floor. They were hoping they would get rich. It really shouldn’t matter if the dad collaborated on the paintings or not. If they purchased the paintings because of the age of the painter and not the quality of the work, then they were the ones making a foolish investment. This is not very different from the Margaret Keane story. For years people thought the Big Eye kids were painted by her husband. It made no difference. The art is still what it is. (not all that good, btw). That’s why you saw none of this end up in court. Because all of these people are going to sit on this stuff and hope one day it ends up being worth something. If they brought a court case and lost, their investment would be worth nothing. And it would be pretty much impossible to prove fraud on abstract art.

  20. stereoabs says:

    I’ve got kids… I’ve painted with them… I’m an artist (relatively speaking) and it’s a great way to bond with my children. Although I really love the idea of Marla creating these pieces without any help from her father, I have a feeling they either collaborated or her father touched things up afterwards. There’s no doubt this is an amazing family, but they should have cherished their little artist and protected her innocence instead of looking to profit from a gimmick. Fake is not the right term to describe the situation… Its more like heavily compromised and sad. Best of luck to Marla with whatever she does in life, hopefully she will be as great as she wants to be.

  21. Undecided says:

    I was wondering why nobody mentions the lady at the end of the movie who has a chance to buy the painting says she doesn’t like the painting it looks nothing like the other paintings it got me thinking.

    • Doug chance says:

      Exactly. This non-”expert” says “It doesn’t look like the same person’s painting. It looks like it was… I mean I know it wasn’t. It’s just different from the normal painting she does.” She’s so afraid to say the obvious, but uncomfortable, truth, that she lies to herself.

      A later part of the film that telegraphs the father’s collusion comes when Marla asks him to help her paint. “Your turn to do it. Just help me, dude. Tell me to be done, or help. You have to tell me what to do right now.” He starts drowning in his own babble. “That’s not really the way she paints. No, excuse me, that is the way she paints when she’s playing and having…, her way with me…. So forget about it. For all we know it could be true, but it’s not…” and then on the phone to his wife “I wasn’t asking her to do anything; she was just being silly.”

      Unfortunately, I think the wife has no idea of the truth of the situation. The way he chuckles when she says “I would never ever allow him to influence her.” and then quickly backpedals when she gives him a wtf look. And then the look on *his* face when she says “I want to get a polygraph.”

  22. Paul Schrader says:

    I think she is a true artist. There are always hates and some making accusations on here sound jealous-crazy. Don’t over think a 4 year old and stop acting like the art gods!

    • Yeah, your probably right. People should definitely think less. It’s obvious that anyone who thinks for themselves or thinks critically is “jealous-crazy” and has a severe God complex. Thank you for unwittingly putting this discussion in proper perspective. I mean like totally, dude, why does everyone gotta be such a total hater? And like bro, people ain’t so hella-crazy-smart like they think. Thanks for like totally keeping it crazy-max-real.

  23. I watched the documentary on Marla Olmstead today. I question those of you calling fraud and scam. Perhaps you can’t find her work online because no one, no matter what their age, should be subjected to your scathing ridicule. Some of you went so far as to dub her parents as child abusers. Shame on you. I’ve been an art teacher for 26 years. If people love the work, they will pay the asking price if they can afford to do so. I would love to own a Marla Olmstead. Not because of the ‘trauma drama,’ but because I find her work to be beautiful. I would find her paintings intriguing without ever knowing the name or age of the painter.

    • David eric says:

      Forget about the bad Ohlmstead paintings, the real fraud is your claim that you’ve been teaching art for 26 years. No one with a degree in the arts would talk about art as ignorantly as you do. You may be an after-school TA, but that is babysitting, while children scribble. Anyone who has a degree in education or the arts wouldn’t feel the need to drop their credentials as a reinforcement for a vacuous non-comment on the arts.

      • Vicki Wicker says:

        As I said in my post (also an art teacher, and no I don’t teach kids, I teach college level) art must stand on its own. Folk art by its very nature has no provenance, and yet it has value. The value of art is inherent in the work. It will stand or it will fall. Some that we hold valuable now will ultimately be considered the stuff for wall paper and pillow cases and some that we aren’t even paying attention to will end up selling for millions at Sotheby’s. For time eternal art critics thought they could control what would ultimately be valued, but they have been proven wrong time and time again. Rembrandt died a pauper, Van Gogh sold one painting in his lifetime, for not much more than the value of the paint and the canvas it was on.

  24. My ex-husband and I purchased Lady Bug during Sundance when the documentary debuted there. It’s still one of my absolute favorite pieces in my collection. “Haters gonna hate.”

  25. Lukealotapus says:

    I recently came across and watched the doc on Marla. I am extremely skeptical of Marla being the creator or anything more then a paint tube squeezer for the vast majority of her paintings. Honestly the moment that really solidified it for me was when Marla’s mother (who I feel probably has her own suspicions that she would never voice and suppresses with every fiber of her being) states that she just wants to take a damn polygraph to silence all the doubters. It’s in this moment that you see in her husbands eyes, shock and panic, knowing that he would have to do the same and the fact that his wife suggested it looks to have surprised him the most. These parents, the father especially, seem to really desire and need the spotlight or a sense of celebrity. I really wanted to give mom the benefit of doubt, and started to feel bad for her when she breaks down and says how they are to blame for the position their in for a second time no less. That sympathy lasted for a few min at which point in the crdedits you see that Marla and family are having another show retreading the exact same steps. This was quite a sad ending in hindsight. Some of the issues this doc brings to light makes me think of “Exit through the Giftshop” another doc that makes you ask just what is art but it does this in a refreshing, humorous and witty way that I enjoyed much more.

  26. Doug chance says:

    OMIGOD. I don’t believe for a second that Marla is anything other than a normal, bubbly, little girl. There’s no way she completely painted those paintings. Well, I should say she was normal until her parents did such a mind-f&*k to her. The dead giveaway is the scene where she says that one of the paintings was done by her brother, Zane. She has to start the sentence like six times because her Dad tries to ignore her and keeps talking over her, but she gets it out. The look on her dad’s face is horror-struck. A normal parent would’ve responded “Yes, you’re right, Zane *did* help with the green one, honey.” But he can’t even respond. He just stands there stone-faced.

    This kind of dishonesty where you create a world with multiple versions of “truth”, isn’t much different from the dynamic in a family with an alcoholic or drug addict.

    Not to mention the fact that their actions make her an unwitting accomplice in a criminal act of fraud.

    I really hope they had to refund the poor saps who were suckered by this obvious scam.

    – Doug

  27. Vicki Wicker says:

    Michaelangelo painted “Pieta” when he was 24 years old. Caravaggio painted the “Calling of Saint Matthews” in his early 20s. Picasso painted Guernica in 1937, he had done little of significance for years, and would do little of significance again until his death in 1881. Keith Haring was a pop art sensation by the time he was 25, he did nothing much more than repeat himself for the next half decade and then was dead of AIDS at 31 years old. And yet Monet painted some of his best pieces when he was approaching his 80s and losing his eyesight. Beethoven was playing concertos on the piano by age 5. He didn’t hop on the keyboard and start banging out tunes on his own. Someone taught him, someone “coached” him. Someone corrected his mistakes when he made them. Someone had to give this girl the paints, the tubes, the squirt bottles. So what if they encouraged some imagery and discouraged others. That’s what teachers do. I do that for my art students. Occasionally, with their expressed permission, I will take their brush in my hand and make a stroke or draw a line on their paintings. I don’t expect them to include my name on their paintings. The age or name of the artist is irrelevant to the value of the art. Almost no art was signed by artists until the fifteenth century. If the paintings are good, they stand on their own. Folk art is a prime example of that. It is ridiculous for people on here to claim these parents set up this scam. It is obviously people who have no idea how incredibly difficult it is to sell a single painting. They had no way of knowing there was a snowball’s chance in the Sahara that anyone would want to buy a single painting. The first show was in a small potatoes gallery in the middle of nowhere. The whole point of the show by the guy who owned the gallery was to show how ridiculous it is what kind of value is placed on modern art if a little kid could do something that looked pretty darn good. So it doesn’t really matter if the dad helped a little bit or a lot, he had no training either. The point was much of the value of modern art is in the perception, the hype, and the marketing, the networking of being in with the right people who control what gets seen and what gets sold. The right person with the big megaphone saw these paintings, and as the saying goes, the rest is history. There is no way the parents could have predicted this. If anyone is culpable here, I would say it is the gallery owner who put up her first show and then hyped her age. The parents were probably about like any parent who has a kid that is pretty good at something. They got caught up in the excitement. What about all these parents who put there kids on those talent shows to sing or dance and perform? Are they thugs or are they trying to give their child an opportunity to do something pretty unique?

  28. Vicki Wicker says:

    One other point I would like to make to people posting here who don’t understand the art world. It is high stakes gambling. The people buying these paintings knew very well they were taking a risk. The only purchase of art that is a “safe” purchase is art by an artist for whom a purchase record has already been established. (and even then it’s still a gamble). For example, you might pay thousands of dollars, well tens of thousands, for a Norman Rockwell painting, but no matter which painting it is, it will have a value that can be pretty well extrapolated from other paintings of his that have sold. The value will be determined by how closely it matches his typical style and subject matter, etc. When these people bought these paintings by this gal, they knew they were taking a gamble that this might be an up and coming prodigy, they were hoping that her work would take off so to speak and that they were getting in on the ground floor. They were hoping they would get rich. It really shouldn’t matter if the dad collaborated on the paintings or not. If they purchased the paintings because of the age of the painter and not the quality of the work, then they were the ones making a foolish investment. This is not very different from the Margaret Keane story. For years people thought the Big Eye kids were painted by her husband. It made no difference. The art is still what it is. (not all that good, btw). That’s why you saw none of this end up in court. Because all of these people are going to sit on this stuff and hope one day it ends up being worth something. If they brought a court case and lost, their investment would be worth nothing. And it would be pretty much impossible to prove fraud on abstract art.

  29. It never ceases to amaze me how people write or say online that which they would never say in person–especially about a child. But I digress…

    I run an art gallery that will be entering its 30th year in a few months. We do not exhibit abstract expressionism. We are a figurative, narrative gallery, which allows for people to enjoy the technical aspects of a work without needing to appreciate the more academic elements also present, but I have a great appreciation for abstract expressionism. The reason that the general public is so skeptical about such work is that the overwhelming majority of museums, galleries, and academics who have championed the genre have done so without doing the work of educating the general public on its merits. In fact, there exists an almost intentional divide, which causes many otherwise reasonable people to feel slighted and to respond with proud ignorance. Without an education from an institution that specializes in art, color theory, non-figurative composition, symbolism, and possibly thousands of other characteristics which might elevate a work’s importance or significance are inherently less visible. Such is the blindness of an untrained eye. And even within academia there are disputes about whether any of the post-war art movements, like abstract expressionism (as practiced by contemporary artists), are still meritorious.

    But to me, and I spend a lot of my time translating academic ideas into layman’s terms, what makes the work of a child artist so powerful is that it is undirected. In other words, if left to their own devices, children have the potential to create much more personal and unaffected art than adults, who conform to all kinds of aesthetic pressures. It is no surprise to see Marla’s work change once she has become aware of the fact that there are expectations thrown onto it. And it is that very attention that (likely has) destroyed the unfettered joy of creation visible in the early pieces. Marla was and is not an island, and therefore is subject to peer pressure. Other children in her environment are likely to have heard that her paintings are sold for a lot of money, and children being children, are very likely to have criticized her for creating non-figurative work. Can’t you just imagine hearing some mean kid saying, “That doesn’t look like anything!”
    It’s not difficult to imagine, because it’s the type of thing envious adults would say around their kids and the type of unsolicited and unsophisticated criticism that a person uneducated in the merits of abstract expressionism would espouse. Which is almost everybody.

    There is a very brief window for a child to be able to produce this type of work because kids take criticism to heart. Once praised, they will strive to please, which is likely to change their unfiltered instinct. Once criticized, they will conform. Rare is the parent who has the foresight to allow this form of creativity to blossom, and rarer still is a child with a natural gift for color and composition. Given the incredible specialness of these combined forces, the question isn’t “Why are these so expensive?”
    The real question should be, “Why isn’t this perfect combination of naive vision and natural talent more appreciated?”

    To me, one of the reasons why the paintings of an artist like Jackson Pollock are so valuable is that they represent the ability of a grown man to completely shun outside opinion to create earnestly, child-like work. It’s almost impossible to make it through life without caving to outside influence. He was an innovator and the work holds historic as well as aesthetic value. That is easy to appreciate. It’s much more difficult to argue for the validity of an artist in 2015 doing the same thing. But a child with the natural ability to choose complex and bold color combinations is a timeless classic, whether producing figurative or abstract work.

    So why no more Marla in the public eye?

    Because it is no longer possible for her to create in a vacuum, and what was once a joyous activity was turned into a job at the near expense of a lost childhood. Her parents have chosen to turn off the spotlight and let their daughter be a normal kid. Whether or not she continues to produce work, it will not be the same. It will not be as naive as it was, and figurative elements that started to creep into the work may become more or less prominent. If the work had stayed the same THAT would be evidence that perhaps someone else was doing it, but the fact that it did change is proof that feedback altered the work.

    Scientists have discovered that electrons–the smallest of microscopic particles, act differently when observed, so is it any surprise that people do, too? And children probably even more so.

    There is no evidence of wrong-doing in the case of Marla Olmstead. If Mark Olmstead had painted the early pieces, he would have been able to replicate what worked about them, but he doesn’t have a strong enough artistic background to even identify what makes a painting any good or not, and having seen his use of color and composition in his own paintings, it would be a stretch to claim that he had happened upon this new style.

    Attention for talent is something that instills pride in parents, so it’s not a surprise that they allowed a certain amount of attention to penetrate their lives. It should therefore be no surprise that when that attention became invasive, their natural parenting instinct was to shut it down.

    These are not bad parents. These are normal people navigating an unusual course with the best of intentions for their children and family.

    That can not be said for those casting empty judgment on them.

    Our instinct as consumers is to want more of an easy to classify story. We want a beginning, middle, and end, and we want it in a finite amount of time that caters to our need for immediacy. But life isn’t like that. There is no guarantee that this story continues. There is no assurance or even indication that Marla’s fame as a child prodigy will influence any part of her life moving forward–except, perhaps, a college fund.

    Our culture is youth obsessed, but even more voracious for scandal, and if you have a story that teases a combination of the two, you’ve got the stuff of tabloid gold. In the absence of something untoward, the attention dies down and people get to return to their normal lives. And that’s where we are in this story. So let’s do that. Let’s let the Olmsteads go back to their lives.

    In fact, let’s all go back to our lives.

    Nobody ever got happy or rich fussing over yesterday’s news.

  30. James Boissett says:

    Well, interestingly Marla tried to get her Father’s attention unsuccessfully in saying that her Brother Zane had painted the “green” one and I think she said she had not painted any of that one. Yet it was in her exhibition. At no time has anyone asked her if she painted all of each painting as far as I could see. Some of the paintings look formed in terms of artistic insight and even have a mature consistent creative rhythm throughout. Nothing like the ocean painting. I get the feeling as an Artist that there are too many loose ends in the story and too many variances in the artworks. Too much inconsistency. If her work is not entirely the real deal then I can only worry about the child and the affect on her. Would her own artistic development have been corrupted let alone her psychology at being exposed to so much notoriety and celebrity at such a young age. Someone should ask her for the missing details. But not until she has a chance to grow up naturally.

  31. CATHERINE says:

    I watched this documentary last night. It’s hilarious people think this is real. Not once do you see her painting a picture from start to finish, just clips hashed together. The only picture you see her start on her own turns into green sludge and her father tries to laugh it off by saying she only does that when the camera’s on her – yeah right. I actually really like the art but it’s definitely not by Marla.

  32. Jake jenkins says:

    If you can get your hands on the dvd, check out the extras, especially “Back To Binghamton.” It is more or less a sequel to the film.

  33. tom jones says:

    sorry Sheeple!!

    It was a Fake…and the parents knew it from the start…
    thats why they didn’t let people in the house to film her paint..(Haring was filmed….Basquiat was filmed……pollack was filmed…….)
    They also didnt take the Crayola deal……why!!?….didnt wanna be sued….
    The whole film was a social experiment and it worked!!!
    Artists were hired to put out work…and the “fake family”….sold the shit!!
    The rich people are the funniest!!!!
    COOL FRAUD!!!!!!!

  34. Peter Alexander says:

    I just looked at Marla’s website after watching the documentary. I like some of the paintings very much. If I were rich, I would consider buying one or two. It might be nice to know for sure that Marla was the sole painter, but that’s not essential. It’s simpler: I really like some of the paintings. I can’t afford to buy any of them.

  35. I find it unimaginable that the once inviolate private and ostensibly organic play and expression of toddlers and young children have now become commodified.
    I wish the young Marla authentic wellness in her life.

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