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Can a Three-Year-Old Child Really Make Modern Art?

I gave a kid some crayons and took him to a museum to find out.
October 16, 2012, 7:00am

Modern art – the stuff you smirk at while you wander round galleries and deludely tell your unimpressed date that you could do better – always provokes one statement: "This looks like it was done by a three-year-old." I'm not sure why it's always a three-year-old – maybe kids these days are just jaded by the time they're four? – but it is.

It's a tedious complaint usually registered by people who spend their time commenting on The Sun website, but I thought it was about time somebody tested this theory. So I took a three-year-old named Puk and a pack of pastels to Amsterdam's recently re-opened Stedelijk Museum to have a go at copying some of the work on show.


Puk started off his masterclass in emulation with a work by Ellsworth Kelly, an artist who's fond of something called "colour field painting". That's essentially where the artist chooses some block colours and sloshes them across a canvas. I think the same guy must have designed Puk's jumper.

The first painting was "Blue, Green, Red", an oil on canvas painted in 1964. "Three colours, that is nice," said Puk. When I asked him if he'd like it in his room, he said "yes" without any hesitation. It's a thumbs up from Puk, Ellsworth.

A museum employee walked over and told us that, "If you look closely, you'll see so many more colours appear." In response, Puk wiped his hands all over the drawing, perhaps to blend all the colours together, but I'm not totally sure. I guess no one can really be sure what goes on in the mind of an artist.

Smearing completed, the first replica was done. I know, uncanny, right? Just don't be taken in by his goldfish face, he always does his goldfish face when he's trying to commit art fraud. DON'T BE ANOTHER VICTIM. I asked Puk to duplicate this painting, but apparently "it's ugly", so we left that one and moved on. He was, however, extremely into Wolfgang Tillmans' 1995 piece, "Police Helicopter". Tillmans has been described as a "photographer reflecting on a contemporary lifestyle, in which fashion and lifestyle, but also social and political commitment, are key terms".


I can't imagine Puk cared too much about that, though. I'm assuming it was the helicopters and cool lights that did it for him.

As I predicted, "the flashlights that fly in the sky" fascinated Puk. I also learnt that "night is scary, but very beautiful", which was as cute as it is profound.

In case you're a fucking idiot or something, the red lines scrawled across the paper are the flashlights and the bottom left corner of the page (and part of the floor; Puk doesn't like to be constrained while channelling the greats) was reserved strictly for letters. "The 'e' and the 'n' are in it," apparently, so that's good.

The night was added to the drawing with harsh, expressive strokes – the disjunctive nature of the piece perhaps suggesting that nightfall acts as an abrasive barrier between those who flourish in the daylight hours and those from the barren fringes of society who roam the night. Or that Puk was getting bored of being told to copy pictures on a wall. Next, Puk added some houses to the picture with crayons. So there we go, there are the houses, and voila – the final result. As with his first work, Puk chose to sign this by wiping his hands and sleeves all over it. That last effort wrung the last drip of creative juice out of poor Puk, who suffered a merciless painter's block and threw his crayons on the floor, unable to carry on. Instead, he ran away, wiping his pastel-covered hands all over the pristine white walls of the museum.


The guards, who were already unhappy about the floor ("Uh, excuse me, sir. This floor is parquet"), pretended to sympathise with me when I pleaded with them that Puk "is just a child", but still insisted on taking my name, address and phone number. For that moment, Puk was a tiny Dutch Ai Weiwei – his freedom of expression silenced by heartless drones. Then he quickly became a normal child in an art museum again, when he started punching my thighs and I realised no one was going to detain him against his will for wiping his hand on a wall.

Once Puk had washed his hands, I went back to take a photo of his final piece of work. As I crouched to do so – and I swear to God this true and I'm not bullshitting you – a woman beside me exclaimed, "Wow, nice touch! Those waves are part of the work – how subtle. Darling, come and look at this; it's the kind of thing you'd just walk past without even noticing. How charming!"

The Stedelijk had just acquired a new masterpiece, and it had been made by a three-year-old child.

So there you go: when people say, "Oh, all modern art looks like it could have been made by a three-year-old," from this moment on, they're 100 percent right forever.

More musings on art:

I'm Sick of Pretending: I Don't "Get" Art

Alright, I'll Do It - I'll Give Art a Second Chance

OK, Do It: Teach Me How To "Get" Art

Tyler Shields Makes Art for Douchebags