8-Year-Old Painter the Latest Art World ProdigyCarolyn Castiglia
Autumn de Forest is the next Andy Warhol. Or is she the next Matisse? It’s hard to say, because this precocious and talented 8-year-old has also been compared to surrealist Salvador Dali. Yes, she loves pop art, and has painted a giant work called “Barbie Marilyn” (after Warhol’s Marilyn prints) that fetched $15,000 at auction. But her canvas “Distant Flowers” is more traditional fare, and her piece “Autumn Ram” is reminiscent of Georgia O’Keefe.
But the strangest muse that inspires de Forest is the centerpiece of her most interesting and unsettling work. When Autumn was just 5 years old, her mother took her to see the Bodies exhibit, and ever since then, she’s been painting about fetuses.
There’s no doubt that Autumn is a talented little girl, but as I’ve said before (regarding “mini-Monet” Kieron Williamson), the term prodigy may be misapplied. Her parents, Doug and Katherine, agree. Doug de Forest told the TODAY show:
We’re not claiming what Autumn has done is due to some mind-blowing talent. It’s an issue of access or exposure. If you put 5-year-olds in front of an 80-piece orchestra and put a baton in their hands and exposed them to that to their heart’s content, by the time they were 10, you might have a prodigy. That is a question we discuss on a daily basis. It’s a question that transcends Autumn.
Painting may well be in Autumn’s genes, since three of her distant relatives are “accomplished and collected painters,” according to TODAY. But for now, Autumn remains – for the most part – a normal third grader. Her mother says, “We are not trying to prove she is a genius or a prodigy. She’s a little girl who is exploring and experimenting, who has a lot to learn and a lot to give, and either you like it or you don’t. It is an incredible package, but it’s not perfect.”
Sounds like a healthy attitude to me! Katherine and Doug seem to have an understanding of and appreciation for the fact that talent itself is nothing if not nurtured, and that many potential “prodigies” may simply not be exposed to the opportunities that could help them blossom as children.
That being said, I’m still not sure what to make of this:
It’s a striking image, to be sure, but it’s a little, well, strange for such a young child to be painting fetuses, no? I know, I know, she’s probably just brilliant and far more sophisticated than the rest of us. But when I was a bit younger than Autumn is now, I remember some social workers coming to the house to interview me so my Dad could adopt me. They asked me to go draw a picture, and even at that age I had an understanding that they were going to analyze my work in order to decipher the happiness level in our home. I drew my best house/rainbow/sun/bird/people/swingset combo, and despite all the bright colors splayed on the page, one of the social workers asked me why the bird I drew was black. (Because that’s what color you make crayon birds, silly! Especially when they’re really just an “M” floating in the sky.) Thank God I didn’t come upstairs with this, or I’d really have some explaining to do.