Young Art Prodigy’s Paintings Raise Some Serious Questions About Their Authenticity

We’ve heard the word “prodigy” before, but most of us have never actually met someone who qualifies as one. Sure, we’ve come face-to-face with talented individuals, but when a true prodigy steps into our midst, it’s almost as if our bodies actually feel their extraordinary propensity to achieve near-impossible feats.

When Marla Olmstead was only a toddler, she could paint a picture that rivaled the works of Jackson Pollock. Naturally, a media frenzy soon followed, with headlines dubbing her an “art prodigy.” But as her legendary talents fell under more and more scrutiny, people started asking hard questions about her unbelievable skill set…

Marla Olmstead may have seemed like an average child to those who didn’t know her well, but she was truly extraordinary. When she was three, her parents, Mark and Laura, discovered her love of painting.

She took them both by surprise when she reportedly asked her father, an amateur painter himself, if she could use his brushes and canvas one day. He happily agreed, but in no way was he or his wife ready for the journey she was about to take.

After Marla finished a few high-quality paintings, a family friend hung them inside a local coffee shop in Binghamton, New York. Unbelievably, a couple inquired about the price of one. Would you believe the Olmsteads actually managed to rake in $250 for it?

Proud as could be, Laura immediately made a photocopy of the check, excited to one day show Marla when she was older. Her daughter, she knew, would be in shock she actually sold artwork at such a young age!

Thinking it was a complete fluke, Marla’s parents didn’t dwell on the sale. However, word soon got out their daughter had a natural talent, and the flood gates of the press suddenly burst open.

Anthony Brunelli, an accomplished photorealist painter, offered to promote Marla’s work. He put together a huge art gallery in Binghamton, and people from all over the city came to gawk at the young girl’s incredible talent.

After the gallery opened, a reporter from the city newspaper ran a piece on Marla, and even The New York Times jumped aboard the story. Everyone wanted to know more about the young prodigy taking the art world by storm.

Not only was Marla getting insane amounts of press, but she was also auctioning off her artwork for exorbitant amounts of money. We’re talking tens of thousands of dollars here. Not bad for a kid who wasn’t even in school yet.

All the money she earned was directly deposited into a college fund her parents set up. At one point, she had over 200 people on a waiting list clamoring to buy her masterpieces.

News outlets from all over the world traveled to Binghamton to catch a glimpse of the artistic genius. No one understood how someone with such little painting experience could express herself like a world-class professional. 

Art enthusiasts likened Marla’s style to Jackson Pollock, the famous abstract painter who used a unique technique of splashing and flinging paint onto his canvas. The painting on the left here is Marla’s. It looks quite a bit like Pollock’s, huh?

Amidst the whirlwind of attention Marla received, a psychologist named Ellen Winner took a special interest. She spent years studying gifted children, and she wanted to dig deeper into the story behind Marla. But, once she did, things started getting murky.

See, Laura and Mark were adamant Marla had completed all of the paintings without any help. However, no one ever actually saw her complete a project from beginning to end. This raised questions for the psychologist.

The Olmsteads eventually agreed to allow a small hidden camera in the space where Marla painted. People hoped it would put an end to the whisperings that her work may have been doctored by someone older and far more experienced, like her father.

When Winner watched the footage, she was completely unconvinced Marla was a prodigy. Marla, to her, was painting like any normal child: no real focus, ordinary streaks, and no overall plan. It was nothing like the finished pieces her parents were selling.

The parents, however, claimed that the hidden camera was at fault: because they knew they were being filmed, their interactions with Marla as she painted were strained, which threw off their prodigious kid.

Nevertheless, Marla was later featured in a full-length documentary called My Kid Could Paint That, which focused on whether or not her talents were real, or if her parents were pulling an elaborate trick on everyone.

In the end, however, no one was able to provide substantial evidence that Marla was using someone else to complete her art. The Olmstead family made quite a killing off the work, and the money was theirs to keep!

Today, she doesn’t put nearly as much time into painting. The notoriety that swept over her as a child almost completely vanished, and she prefers to live a regular teenage life, focusing on friends and academics.

The Olmsteads learned a lot during the firestorm of attention Marla received. Fortunately, she’s an incredibly balanced person, and that’s all Laura and Mark ever wanted for their daughter. 

As an adult, it’s frustrating to know a child with no learned skills at all can start raking in massive amounts of money. But, if Marla’s earnings shocked you, this young YouTuber will knock your socks off!

Like any other 7- year-old, Ryan loves to play with toys. His reactions to new gadgets, while hilarious and charming, aren’t totally out of the ordinary. What is so unusual about his average playdate, however, is that millions of people tune in to watch.

YouTube / Ryan ToysReview

Why do so many people watch him play? Well for starters, he’s not part of some big celebrity family or anything. In most regards, Ryan is a normal first-grader who stumbled into stardom because of a fun idea.

Like many younger kids, Ryan got really into YouTube unboxing videos — clips where people unpack various new products and show off their features. In many cases, kids are simply filming these videos in their own homes, racking up tons of views in the process.

YouTube / Brothers Hobby

Though he was only three years old when he became a regular unboxing watcher, Ryan wondered why he wasn’t a YouTube star. He asked his parents, Shion and Loann, if he could make his own toy videos.

Guinness World Records Kids

Soon after, Ryan had his parents set up a camera. He sat down in front of it, opened up a giant plastic egg filled with characters from Pixar’s Cars, and started playing. Without much editing, Shion and Loann posted the video online under “Ryan Toys Review.”

Ryan followed up his Cars clip with more videos, each one showing off a different doo-dad and his sunny personality. His family cared more about him having fun than building a following. At the same time, they couldn’t help but notice the view count.

Lots of people were watching — a lot. His biggest video, for instance, featured Ryan climbing around an inflatable obstacle course and collecting toy-filled eggs. Since its release, nearly two billion people have watched it.

Who’s watching all these videos? For the most part, most of Ryan’s fanbase is made up of kids just like him. They really connect with a YouTube star their own age, plus they absolutely love seeing all the cool toys he’s featured on his channel.

Wilson Center

Then you have parents who might be trying to figure out which new toys their kids would really like. Sure, they could comb through the aisles themselves, but isn’t seeing a kid have fun with a perspective buy more valuable?

Of course, there are countless similar YouTube series out there. You have to wonder why Ryan ToysReview stands out from the pack. Asked about the secret behind his success, the seven year old put it simply: “I’m entertaining and I’m funny.”

Now, with a full-length video debuting almost every day, Ryan ToysReview has ascended to the top-earning account on all of YouTube. In just 12 months, Ryan makes an unimaginable $22 million.

Most of the revenue comes from automated advertisement views. Every watch nets Ryan a few cents. But on top of that, Ryan is pulling in extra bucks by partnering with a company called Pocket Watch to release his own toy line.

Apart from the usual toys, which Ryan picks out himself, his channel also features some branded content. Halo Mandarin Oranges paid him last year to visit one of their orchards and talk about their product. And if you’re put off by a child spokesperson, you can rest easy.

 All the dough that Ryan is unboxing will help him in the future. Fifteen percent of his earnings go straight into a trust account, which is locked up until he’s an adult. The rest of the money goes into family savings and costs for future videos.

Ryan’s giant web presence doesn’t get in the way of his other responsibilities. He shoots primarily for a couple hours on weekends, plus sometimes on weeknights. Weekdays are still for school.

Ryan’s parents, who frequently appear in his videos, say he can stop his YouTube career whenever he wants. They’ll know when it’s time. After all, as they point out, kids usually make it very clear when they don’t want to do something. But for now, Loann and Shion are helping Ryan reach bigger and bigger heights.

Ryan’s more recent videos feature elaborate sets and more scripted elements, which clearly come from parental involvement. Even though the toys are still at the forefront, Ryan’s popularity has also allowed him to branch out in new directions.

A second YouTube channel lets Ryan’s fans learn more about his life and family. For example, viewers can get a firsthand glimpse of their trip to Disneyland. Seeing all the rides and characters might even beat seeing all the coolest toys!

Ryan even exists in cartoon form now! An animated “kid superhero” version of him debuted in 2017, and these episodes have Ryan jumping into his TV and going on adventures. And that’s not the only way Ryan ToysReview is expanding…

His two younger sisters, Emma and Kate, are also starting to appear on his YouTube channel! Although they still need a few more years before taking on starring roles, they have a very talented brother to learn from.

It may have been toys and a love of them that landed Ryan where he is today, but with a such bright future ahead, who knows where he’ll speed off to next? Nobody can put this kid in a box! 

Even though plenty of skeptics tried to poke holes in Marla’s art career, the world will never actually know if she was the sole talent behind her paintings. You should check out My Kid Could Paint That and decide for yourself.

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