Support Hyperallergic’s independent arts journalism. Become a Member »

Support Hyperallergic’s independent arts journalism.

Lauren Purje

Lauren Purje (b. 1987) grew up in Dublin, Ohio and graduated from Ohio University in 2009 with a BFA in Painting. She moved to Brooklyn, NY in 2011 where she currently lives and works. This series of comic strips draws inspiration from her own...

36 replies on “How Are You Supposed to Respond to “My Kid Could Do That”?”

  1. Cute, but I’d say that’s a pretty insufficient response (to a remark that is rarely correct or needs to be dignified with a response). FWIW, here are my responses when I need them (which is sadly a little too often):

    “Chances are that neither your kid, nor any other kid could do exactly this. But if you really think they can, why don’t you encourage them to pursue art? Then we’ll know.”

    OR (if the work is abstract and particularly good)

    “The work seems deceptively simple here, but there is an eye for color and composition that is not at all simple and would be difficult to imitate. If you don’t look at a lot of art, you probably won’t notice it. I encourage you to look at more art and then you’ll start noticing the differences.”

    OR (if the work is early modern abstract work)

    “No. Your kid absolutely could not make this. And you couldn’t have either. This was made back when abstract art was in its infancy and people were taking big chances by producing work that was not representational. Some of them were responding the best way they knew how to large cultural shifts, wordless emotions, or other more abstract art forms, such as jazz. Representational work no longer felt like an adequate visual language, so they began to create their own that works on an intuitive level. Rather than trying to categorize a work based on merits as you see them now from a different place in history and different role in society, just be present with it.”

    OR (if I know the person)

    “Your kid is a talentless idiot. Fuck off.”

    1. Im going to honest- I feel that these responses are demeaning and extremely negative (most especially if you were speaking to a general art attendee). There is no reason to respond in an offensive tone, such as “you probably wouldn’t notice”.

      The main objective for art to be on display is for education to the general public. No one will appreciate art if they are continued to be spoken ‘down to’. Especially those who took the initiative to start a dialog by stating something as simple as ‘My kid could do that’ or pose a question. Get off your pedestal.

      1. Excellent!! Insulting those who take the time to look is totally inappropriate. I generally respond by saying, that is the beauty of this artwork. It makes us all feel that we or our children could create it.

        1. Then I talk about my art teacher friends who have students try to copy famous works and artists.

          1. It can be so frustrating talking to anyone that is both opinionated and ignorant. It sounds like Dorothy is pretty good at it.

            Ever try asking them what they mean? I think if you want to start a conversation making someone feel like you are interested in what they have to say is important.

            Trenton, telling someone to look at more art gives away the lie. You are trying to pretend you aren’t judging them when you say “if you don’t look at a lot of art..” and it isn’t hard to see that you are talking down to that person. If it was me I’d be furious.

            This is a very interesting discussion! I think the pedestal comment went a bit too far though.

          2. Dorothy can be that diplomat, but I am not so coddling with my language and never will be. I am interested in actual opinions and reactions, but as I said in another comment, the “my kid could make this” remark is not even coming from an authentic place. It’s a stock insult. At that point, to me it bespeaks not simply an ignorance about art but a sense that one can simply echo a tired criticism or talking point and be considered a valid contributor. I have no patience for this under any circumstance. I appreciate that you recognize that I am not on a pedestal here. Knowing about art does not make one superior. If anything, a true appreciation for art should help one acquire humility and empathy. But ignorant arrogance gets a firm response from me…and I believe my responses were quite fair.

            Ironically, though the initial statement is what is truly insulting (on multiple levels), apparently all three of you responders seem to be under the impression that telling someone that they need to look at more art is the insult here. It’s actually not. It’s a bald fact that someone should be actually acquainted with a subject before mouthing off on it. But tell that to the Internet…

      2. Someone saying “my kid could make this” is already taking a combative and demeaning pose. At this point the phrase is such a stock insult, it isn’t even really about what their kid can or can’t do. It’s code for this is dumb/ugly/talentless/worthless. If they were to say any of that straight up, they might reveal their lack of judgment or at least start a conversation about the specific complaints they have. Instead they are using the kid as a proxy for their complaint, which is tacky and pointless. So no, I am not on pedestal here. People who make those sorts of statements are venting their ignorance to the world in a hostile way. I’d say my replies are relatively diplomatic.

        1. Trenton, you need to decide whether to respond in a way that confirms your (undoubted) superior appreciation — and adds to the antagonism — or that has a chance to do something positive.

          1. That’s a false dilemma if ever I’ve seen one.

            I’m not interested in confirming my superior appreciation, but an appeal to actual facts and context for a work is necessary—especially when the instigator (who likely wants to only assert their own tastes and opinions without challenge) is coming from an arbitrary and insulting place. And I am interested in doing something positive, but I recognize that antagonism is sometimes a part of that, particularly when the argument begins from a lack of respect. I think that my responses are relatively respectful, even if they aren’t crafted to preserve someone’s feelings about themselves. In this case, I doubt they will be converted to an art lover in an instant. Confronting them with the fact that they have only exposed their own ignorant arrogance is rather the best one can hope for while planting some seed of understanding.

            But in the bluntest language: Fuck their little feelings. And fuck any argument that we have to mollycoddle everyone. Are we not adults? Do we show respect to one another by tolerating dull insensitivity for fear of appearing insensitive—assuming they will be too fragile to handle the truth? No. We’re simply not wasting each other’s time, and that is respectful.

      3. Really, the main objective is for art to be on display is for education to the general public? Now look who is being demeaning and patronising? The main art is on display is to enable people to have the experience of art. Art is not about education…one needs some key tools to access the art experience but the whole notion that art is an education is at the root of BORING, PATRONISING ART WITHOUT AN AUDIENCE…

        1. It takes more than a few “key tools” to appreciate Berg or De Kooning — and these are relatively accessible. We are not born aesthetes (except in a naive sense)
          , any more than we are born neuropsychologists. Education is not “patronising.” I teach what I know, and what I do not know, I learn from those who (one hopes) know more than I do.

  2. My response to statements like that, or “I could have done that,” is usually, “But you didn’t.” 🙂

  3. I may need help tracking down the origin of this quote — there was a dancer who said that she had worked her whole life to be able to dance like she did when she was 5-years-old. Picasso said something similar, “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” Whenever I hear “my kid could make that”, or likewise, I like to challenge the idea of what is being recognized in the artwork — which may be qualities of genuine, effortless messiness; free-ness from conventional forms or formats; images full of indeterminate signifiers and slippery meaning — qualities which children’s artwork are often ripe with, and can be seen from the right vantage point as really ‘noble’ things to strive to express in art. People are always shocked when they hear that what they meant as a dismissal might actually be the vehicle with which they can begin to enter an understanding of the artwork, and in my experience its more valuable to engage them in conversation about this than to expertly tell them that they are wrong.

  4. It’s important to keep in mind that many abstract artists (especially those who were reacting to psychoanalysis and dreams, deconstructive practices and absurdism in the post WWI and II periods) strive to create works reflective of pure, unadulterated thoughts. To say “a child can do it” isn’t far from the truth and is quite the compliment if we consider children as innocent, emotive, honest projections of subconscious thought.

    An artist’s knowledge of historical precedents allows his works to engage in cultural analysis, something a child cannot normally accomplish because of his/her relative ignorance. If the work is intended to be more aesthetic, then a childlike execution is apropos. If not, then a generous artist’s statement might clarify the work and add to (or remove from) the work’s reception. Reductive negative or positive associations with childlike art are rather asinine.

  5. As an artist who primarily uses photography and photographic process to make work, I like to answer that they are absolutely right. Anybody could make what I make, from a technical perspective. Why they don’t is actually a complicated question. First there is the desire, few people would want to make them, see the value in it. We can’t want what we don’t know is possible. Then there is the will. It turns out not to be that easy, it requires discipline and effort, tedious and sweaty work, burning muscles, bodily risk (on occasion) and often years of time. Then there is the skill. It might not be apparent, but understanding color, contrast, perspective, and composition inherent in a piece as well as how that relates to contemporary art and historical practices takes quite a bit of it. If this is true of a photograph, just think how much more true it is of a painting. Even the visually simplest ones often have quite a sophisticated underlying body of thought.

    If you think your child could do this, consider the difference also in copying verses making. The artist who made this piece didn’t have access to it. They had to invent it. Ask yourself, could your child come up with their own unique visual language that still relates to and advances the art world it is engaging?

  6. The offense of “my kid could do that” isn’t its critique of artistic ability but that it’s a cliche. Please don’t announce to the room/museum/gallery that your kid could do that and then look out at your audience like you’ve given birth to pearls.

  7. Most people who have said that kind of thing when I was present didn’t really care for a debate or an explanation..
    Though they are hurtful, I usually don’t grace those comments with anything other than a (forced) smile.

  8. I always say: ” Perhaps your child could do this, but WOULD he or she? Also this : “Genius is nothing more nor less than childhood recovered at will” -Charles Baudelaire

  9. It’s instinctive to respond to “my kid could do that” with a defense, but I have to admit lots of contemporary art does suck. When I taught intro painting and drawing, I was pretty selective in what I defended. It’s silly to ad-hoc canonize anything that happens be derided by someone you think isn’t savvy.

  10. This is one of those statements that will plague art, visual studies, and art history for the rest of time. While everyone should feel entitled to have their opinions about the outward appearance of a work of art, sometimes comments such as these could be left in the mind and not vocalized. Not everyone needs to be an art critic or historian; however, respect for the work of art and artist is necessary. Let’s be honest, there’s nothing worse than hearing this phrase or hearing someone chuckle at the “quality” of the art in a museum.

    http://www.artinlimbo.com

  11. My kid could make uninformed comments about art, but you don’t see me bragging about it.

  12. I would ask the person that made that statement what they meant. I think that’s the best way to start a discussion rather than jumping to conclusions.

  13. One possible response:
    “It’s better than it looks.”
    (With apologies to Mark Twain, in echoing his commentary on Wagner: “It’s better than it sounds.”)

  14. I have come across this question many times before. As a visual artist, this is a perfect avenue to engage in discussion, and one of my oft used replies is “I certainly hope so.” because “It’s right here in front of you.” Then I go on to explaining myself using a very simple math expression “E=mc^2″ (read: squared). This is the general theory of relativity – energy equaling the mass of an object times the speed of light squared. This is a highly complex calculation and simplification; I don’t claim to understand it at all, nor its implications (i.e. the H-bomb!), but I can derive it. I can look at my physics text book and copy the derivation EXACTLY, line-by-line, I promise, I can!! And, I would expect most can too, even a kid! Which brings me back to the art object being discussed. You see, it’s not simply about the output of the art work. Anyone can do it, if its been done and presented for viewing. The real value of the piece, in my opinion, is not so much the complexity or the technical sophistication of the artwork, but the inherent history that it brings to the forum of art AND the implications of such art in its current context AND what influence it has for the the future of art. An intelligent artist considers all aspects of their work, and these implications sometimes show in the one piece, but certainly presents itself in an Artist’s entire body of work. This is the real value, and one that tends to stand the test of time (not the art market, which is an entirely different discussion). If, after that spiel, they still don’t get it, I just tell ’em ” I don’t get it either!!!”. Besides, I don’t get paid enough to school people on the merits of artistic creativity. Ignorance is bliss~~! (kudos to Patrick Manning on his response)

    Ian Szuto
    http://www.zupr.net

  15. An opportunity to introduce the person to synaesthesia and other mature thought processes that do not enter most brains until they are adults.

Comments are closed.