I recently watched the film Catfish, a documentary that involves the discovery of an 8-year old art prodigy. It got me thinking: how do you know if your child is a prodigy? I guess if a kid is teaching themselves minuets in 30 minutes like Mozart did, it’s pretty clear. But most of the time, navigating the line between a work-of-art and work-of-fun is probably much fuzzier.

A child prodigy is defined as “a child with a skill set or an ability that is incredibly accomplished, far beyond their years," according to Alissa Quart, author of Hothouse Kids: The Dilemma of the Gifted Child.

Maybe it's more clear who the prodigies are when the focus is an objective area like math or science, but art is so subjective that it would seem harder to validate who really is an art prodigy. What’s the measure: an expert stating that the child’s process and technique are extraordinary? Or good marketing that leads to high prices and people who want to collect the work?

I am no expert on who is a prodigy and who is not, but labels are a dicey place to go as proven by Dr. Carol Dweck’s research (she’s currently a social psychologist at Stanford.)

One aspect of her research focused on how we identify kids -- e.g., for their intelligence (“smart”) versus for their effort (“you tried hard.”) The research showed that kids who were told they were making a “great effort” achieved more and took on more challenging tasks than the kids who were told “you are so smart.” The idea is that when things don’t come easily, the “smart” child becomes afraid to try for fear of failing. (more info on the research here)


Alissa Quart’s book reiterates this point. She cautions calling a child a prodigy because "the overcultivated can develop self-esteem problems and performance anxiety." (from Time, 9/6/06)

No worries in my house. I’m happy to simply keep praising the “good effort” while I celebrate the fact that my 4 year old can clearly see a Yoda and light saber in the blob of glitter glue he lovingly placed on his paper while grinning from ear to ear. It reminds me of what's truly valuable: a child having Fun creating art...that's priceless.


Here are a few links to child painters who are considered by some to be art prodigies:
Autumn DeForest 
Marla Olmstead (also featured in the documentary, My Kid Could Paint That) 

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Tags: Catfish, Dr. Carol Dweck, Hothouse Kids, child prodigy, tmfc

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Comment by Jane Chelliah on May 3, 2011 at 12:21pm
Hi Elle N Em. I have added your blog URL to mine (http://ambitiousmamas.blogspot.com) . Thank you for following my daughter's blog which I was touched by. I am fascinated by your child being able to read at 2 years old. That's exceptional. The medical yardstick for speech development is that a child ought to be able to speak in 3 letter sentences by the age of 18 months. Your child is beyond this. The same thing happened to my daughter too in terms of exceeding the average milestones. Please continue to nurture her because, if she is anything like my daughter, then feeding her intellectual need will only serve to make her happier. I looked at the picture of your girls and they are gorgeous. How exciting it will be to wait and see what your other child's talent is.
Comment by Jane Chelliah on May 3, 2011 at 12:10pm

Hi Lenore, Thank you for being so welcoming. I am new to this site. Parenting is key but I do feel sorry for children whose parents push them into doing things that are beyond the child's ability. This deprives the child of finding his/her true talent.

Comment by Lenore Moritz on May 2, 2011 at 7:34pm
Jane, thanks for sharing that fascinating news. I agree with you that parenting is the key to establishing stability and normalcy for all children.
Comment by Elle N. Em on May 2, 2011 at 12:58pm
@Jane Chelliah, I am following your daughter's blog now. I think it is awesome. When I was a child, I thought I could change the world, the older I got the more restrained by reality I became. I think that kids will do amazing things in the future, just like your daughter. They do not over analyze the same way adults often do, I wish you all the best!
Comment by Jane Chelliah on May 2, 2011 at 12:38pm

My child, a 11 year old girl, is a prodigy. She is a relatively well known UK political blogger. http://libdemchild.blogspot.com and has spoken at 3 national political conferences. However, she does run around and create a mess and does all the other things that children do. I don't think being a 'prodigy' necessarily cancels out the joys of childhood. It does really depend on parenting too.

Comment by Lenore Moritz on May 2, 2011 at 7:53am
fascinating! thanks for sharing...sounds like you're doing well finding a way to cultivate a genuine love for her interests  without pushing too hard.
Comment by Elle N. Em on April 28, 2011 at 5:28am
Interesting article! I was thinking about this the other day because I discovered that my two year old can really read. At the age of one she memorized lots of words and all of her phonetics and alphabets, colors, numbers (1-20 well but counts to 100, but misses a couple of numbers here and there) etc. Now she puts words together and can read most of them. I was astonished when she read the word "spade" in a new book we were given. Spade is not a word in my vocabulary, so did not get it from home. She has done this several times so it is more than an isolated coincidence. She practically read the entire book, but hesitates to do it for me if I try to record her. I have twins and I expose them to the same information and one can read and one can't. I am not saying that she is a prodigy because I don't know. However, I am intrigued and I want to cultivate her love for reading and learning without making too much of a big deal about it in front of her twin sister. I continue to teach them both, but there is a difference and a spark in her eye about it.

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