Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Saleability of Cutesy Genius (For a Good Cause)

"She doesn't have to do it. We always ask her: 'Do you want to paint today?' and if she says yes, we'll set it up."
"The only thing is that we try to maintain the focus. She wants all the colours out all the time, so if she says after two minutes, 'I'm done', we try to encourage her."
Daryl Swart, music producer

"Some of it ['art' produced by a 4-year-old] is interesting. I would be remiss if I said we have a genius here. Sometimes you put paint down. Sometimes it happens to be interesting."
"We don't know whether it's good art. It has to address a particular knowledge base."
"I'm not sure I'm right there. Sometimes things just feel right."
Gerald Hushlak, professor of painting, University of Calgary

"There is something pure about a child who is not thinking too hard, and can just feel it rather than thinking about it."
"At the same time, we started looking at her paintings and we were seeing that they were turning out really nice."
Kristy-Anne Swart, photographer
Four-year-old Cosette Swart has raised almost $4,000 for World Vision by selling 40 of her abstract paintings. Cosette started paying attention to the plight of disadvantaged children in Africa and was moved to help the “poor people.”
Jen Gerson/National Post    Four-year-old Cosette Swart has raised almost $4,000 for World Vision by selling 40 of her abstract paintings.
"Looking at the work, I think there are things that are important to point out that are valid. The work is imbued with a sense of freedom, it represents a sense of innocence. It looks very fresh, and it's certainly playful. That's something most people actually look for in their life."
"Children are really adept at presenting an unbridled creativity, sometimes."
Dick Averns, instructor, Alberta College of Art and Design, Calgary
Now that really is taking artistic license. It's similar to swooning over the non-representational 'art' work of a 'genius' like Mark Rothko and calling it authentic artistic vision, when what it actually  represents is the ability of those who profess to know artistic genius when they see it, persuading skeptics that it is art. When someone like Jackson Pollock producing sheer unadulterated crap and raking in millions for the effort, gulling people lacking their own aesthetic appreciation of art that what they're viewing is the genuine thing.

But then, a lot of people think that abstract art is wonderful because they've been told by art experts that it is. On the other hand, perhaps the colours and their juxtaposition on a canvass appeal to the colour sense and personal style of people who feel that spending outrageous sums of money for work that is heralded as fresh and new and groundbreaking, entering a wonderful new era of artistic expression reflects well on their taste, their values, if not their smug belief that they've scored really well on acquiring a piece of investment junk.

In Calgary there is a little girl of four, Cosette Swart, whose parents are absorbed in the belief that their child is an artistic prodigy. Cosette's mother Kristy-Anne speaks of her child's 'latent genius' and the objective quality of modern art. Subjectively the question is, is it art? The artistic geniuses of antiquity to the modern era did produce fabulous works of art. But once abstract imagery began to influence the art world, art itself began to degenerate when modernists painted splotches of colour with no discernible form or intent.

Jen Gerson / National Post
Jen Gerson / National Post  Four-year-old Cosette Swart pictured here in her art studio, also known as 
her family's Calgary kitchen, with mother Kristy-Anne Swart.

The family of this child has set up a website, and there they feature the paintings that this little girl produces. They are, needless to say, for sale. The proceeds of which are to benefit charity. The family says that their precocious little girl's art has intrigued people to the extent that 60 of her paintings have found homes at prices between $15 and $275 each. Little Cosette has taken to spreading paint on her canvas with the use of a plastic fork. Sounds about average for a child her age, experimenting with colour and imagery.

Already, even at age four Cosette is a veteran for her interest in art began at age three when the plight of disadvantage children in Africa moved her to declare she had a wish to help the "poor people". Now that is an insight that one would be hard put to relate to the introspective charitable impulse of a three-year-old. Certainly not without some adult prompting. And nor is Cosette the first very young child whose dabbling in art has earned her recognition by the media, resulting in an avid interest by prospective art aficionados.

It's just that most people who have an instinctive reaction to and love for what they consider to be authentic and creatively beautiful art -- recognizably representational art -- might wonder if there wasn't a bit of parental pride gone amok here. Transferring personal aspirations and pride to offspring. Not that this alone wholly represents what is occurring here in hailing a new artistic genius, since the experts in artistic expression themselves have a lot to answer for.

And here's one answer by Erin O'Connor, managing director of the Contemporary Calgary gallery who noted "the honest art of a four-year-old has a super-high feel-good factor". Given a modest financial investment, buyers take possession of a "fresh unique piece of contemporary art that has a great story behind it". And she said it without the whisper of a blush.

But it does go a long way to explaining why it is that some skeptics on seeing a hugely expensive acquisition by a national gallery of art scoff that their child could produce something just as good.
Barnett Newman work, Voice of Fire. National Gallery of Canada

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