The Meaning of Bottom Feeder

Over the weekend, I watched the documentary My Kid Could Paint That, which tells the story of a four-year old artist from New York.  She has art shows at galleries and her work starts selling for lots of money until a piece on 60 Minutes suggests her father helps out with the paintings.  The documentary is on the rise and fall of Marla’s entire family.

About halfway through, just before the 60 Minutes piece happens, the owner of Marla’s painting Bottom Feeder, Stuart Simpson, starts talking about the piece and why he had to have it.  He talks in particular about the top left corner of the painting, saying “there’s a green pathway leading up to a blue door.  And on the left side you can see there’s a person looking out into this blue sky and on the other side on the right side of the door frame there’s another person looking back in.  And then, [. . .] up above the doorframe [. . .] you can see a very clear baby’s face”  (My Kid Can Paint That).  When he had a chance, he asked Marla about the door and whether or not she’d seen it; she said “no” and walked away.

Bottom Feeder by Marla Olmstead

Bottom Feeder by Marla Olmstead

This incident really illustrated to me just how much the audience can bring to and interpret in a work of art, be it a painting or a poem.  Marla was just painting a picture because she likes painting; it was Stuart Simpson who saw meaning in the swirling paint.



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3 responses to “The Meaning of Bottom Feeder

  1. reperrier

    I think what’s interesting is that Stuart saw HIS meaning in the painting – meaning that he brought all of his own experiences and expectations to that moment and developed a meaning based on that. What I find most interesting in your post is that you hit the nail on the head for the problem that I often have with literary critiques and discussions. I think there is a slippery slope to understanding a work and the devices and techniques that make the work great, but so often, critics make it seem like the author did those things with intention.

    Sometimes I wonder if the great writers were just great, and not necessarily expert craftsmen(women), calculating each step along their artistic creation. I often feel that they just have a certain genius to them, a certain style and craft that represents them. So often, the language and critique that follows is merely our response to try and explain why we feel we have experienced a particular moment of genius.

    Clearly, Marla was just painting and being herself – and Stuart saw genius.


  2. I love it. That does does look attractive!


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