My Kid Could Paint That
As an environmentalist, John Locke believed that the human mind, from birth, was a tabula rasa, a blank slate. He refuted innate ideas such as mathematic certainties and religious beliefs, and instead, theorized that as a child, all reason and knowledge developed from social surroundings. Locke’s theory is depicted in the film, “My Kid Could Paint That,” starring 4-year-old Marla Olmstead and her progression in painting. Viewing Marla throughout her story, Locke’s “social surrounding” theory unfolds and we see the influences Marla’s father, Mark Olmstead, has on her and her paintings.
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If approached and asked for his outlook on the adults in Marla’s life, Locke would relish the question and frankly point out his theory of development and its four classifications: associations, repetition, imitation, and rewards and punishments. Locke’s theory of development and the central role of Marla’s parenting coincide, focusing on her mother and father, Mark and Laura Olmstead. Mark, the more influential of the two, can be essentially described as a lover of the arts, particularly painting, and as a powerful coach, insisting Marla expand her passion for the arts as well.
Laura’s position is subdued, yet strongly influential, as she is kind and supportive, fulfilling a balance in Marla’s life. The first point that Locke makes is that our thoughts and feelings as a child grow from associations and that two ideas are regularly occurring together; therefore we cannot think of one idea without dwelling on the other. Locke then uses the example of a child having a negative experience in a specific room and consequently the child ends up feeling the same negativity each time thereafter upon entering the room.
A similar connotation, the relationship between Marla and her father, is addressed in the film. It can be presumed that Marla related her father to painting, specifically when we reflect on the film and take notice that Marla is never with her mother when she is painting, always her father. Thus it can be said that, although Mark is a very loving parent, his relationship with Marla, on film, is based purely on the involvement of painting. Locke’s second point in development states that when we constantly do something, repetition, it eventually becomes a habit, and when this habit is not performed, we become uneasy.
This idea of repetition is seen a half dozen times during the film; Mark lays out the canvas and painting materials and Marla walks over, sits down and begins to paint. Sadly, this can be comparable to the conditioned reflex of Pavlov’s dog. Later on, while Marla is doodling with her paints on the floor, we see her apprehension towards Mark, and it is confirmed when she says to him, “Your turn to do it, you paint a face, I’ll tell you what to do…all right just help me dude, or tell me to be done or help, what one, pick? ” “I’m only going to do one of those things, you have to tell me what to do right now. Even though Marla is a young girl, we can see her struggle with the idea of not performing, or painting correctly, by her father. Thirdly, Locke states that our character is influenced by imitation. He expresses that a child often mimics what others do, in addition, the things that a child is frequently exposed to is what they will ultimately become. From the very beginning, it is apparent that Locke’s theory of imitation was present, as Mark states during an interview, “Marla was watching me paint and was very interested, and kept asking me over and over, can I paint, can I paint? Without question, Marla’s urge to paint came from watching her father paint. The imitation between Marla and her mother is very transparent as they are both calm and genuine and also steer from being in the spotlight. Lastly, Locke reflects on the idea that we learn through rewards and punishments; engaging in behavior that brings praise and compliments and refraining from those that produce unpleasant consequences. The rewards and praise that Marla receives are simply the love and support of her parents.
At the age of four, Marla is not aware of the thousands of dollars she had received from selling her artwork; therefore this is not considered a praise of any sort. The only punishment that Marla may of received was Mark’s reinforcing behavior towards her. Locke stresses that environmental influences are especially powerful in a child’s early years. Assuming that Marla’s parents continued to parent her the way they did in the film, Marla would grow as a well behaved, self-disciplined child.
Although she was in the limelight for a short period of time, she was exposed to good role models, and this would aid her in growing as a virtuous young adult. Another good point to add is that both of her parents embraced her desire to paint, and to be a child, and as Locke stated in his education philosophy, the greatest academic instruction is the one where the instructor, or in this case a parent, takes full advantage of a child’s natural curiosity. Crain, William. Theories of Development: Concepts and Applications, Sixth Edition. Pearson, 2011. My Kid Could Paint That. Dir. Amir Bar-Lev. Perf. Marla Olmstead. Documentary, 2007.