The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Akiane Kramarik: a child prodigy artist?

Is Akiane Kramarik a child prodigy artist? For those who know of Akiane Kramarik – and that probably includes almost everyone who has ever searched for my page (because she has been around for a very long time and word tends to get around) – you would know that she has a reputation as a child prodigy artist. You may even have seen Akiane’s CNN interview with Glenn Beck. So, why do I ask this question, then?

Well, it is, as usual, simple. You see I have noted various debates about her on the internet. Some voices speak of her with awe, others speak of her in a knocking fashion – usually because she is religious and believes passionately in God (strange that, in the modern world, someone can be knocked for what they used to be praised for). A few, however, question whether she is a “genius” – they say that her style is not that of a “genius”. They seem to be arguing that she is not a child prodigy, because her work does not manifest what, to them, is “genius”.

The debate is, I feel, based on a misunderstanding of what Akiane is and what she is doing. She showed, from a very early age, a high degree of technical skill in the making of fine art paintings. There was a very high degree of precocity in these works, such that they appeared to have been made by the steady hand and eye of a much older, more experienced artist. It is this quality of work that leads to the description of her as a child prodigy. You see, a child prodigy is any child, under 11, or so, displaying an adult degree of skill, in a domain normally reserved for adults. By this criteria, Akiane (variously also known as Akiane Kramarik, Akaine, Aki Anna, Akiana, Akiane Anna, on the internet: no doubt there are other permutations, too), is definitely a child prodigy. She may well be a genius, too. She may well turn out to be an influential and capable artist who leads the world in a new style, one day – for then she would be known as a genius, too – but, right now, she is correctly described as a child prodigy artist – or a child art prodigy, depending on which way you look at it.

The fact is, her childhood works, while of primary school age, show an uncanny facility that can only be described as prodigious. She is of a lonely breed, child prodigy artists being one of the rarest kinds of prodigy (along with child prodigy scientists, like Ainan). Akiane is a competent artist, in technical terms, compared to artists of any age. That is what qualifies her as a child prodigy artist. She does not need to be a genius, also, to win that title. (Though she may turn out to be a genius, too – time will tell.) I think it is time the internet arguers accepted Akiane Kramarik for what she is: an artist – and a child prodigy.
(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and ten months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and three months, and Tiarnan, twenty months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 7:43 PM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a movie for you.

"My Kid Could Paint That" which recently came to American theaters. Perhaps soon in Singapore theaters. It's a documentary of the 7 year old painter Marla Olmstead and it tries to figure out what is that ineffable something that says "child prodigy painter" rather than just another child playing with colors as all children do. Worth a look.

4:54 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thanks for the tip off - I will look out for it.

The title is interesting. I don't think it would apply to Akiane Kramarik's work though - since few kids could paint like that...

I will look out for it.

Kind regards

8:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was half lisatening to a radio programme about various child prodigy's when i suddenly heard this soft , gentle - tender and spiritual voice . I listened to what she said and i was just impressed . More i cannot say . i was just deeply impressed in a way that i never really experience .

10:56 PM  
Anonymous Neil Mattern said...

Coming from an experienced artist, I truly doubt the legitimacy of Akiane's work for this main reason; Art is not something your born with. Granted, some people do have an aptitude that others may not, but like anything else, skill simply will not come without experience. For instance, the work that I produce is a photorealistic style. When painting this way, I take into account countless pieces of information that I learned through personal experience and vigorous training. Akiane has had no training and has little experience. Some may dispute this by saying, "She's different - She's a genius!" Akiane could be the most brilliant person in history, but genius is not compendiousness. No one is born with built-in knowledge.

For that reason, and quite few other technical give-aways, I'm insulted by Akiane and her devotees.

Oh and for the record, I'm sixteen. That might be why I feel so strongly about this.

11:06 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Neil, there have been art prodigies in history, whose work was rather mature, early on: Giotto, Da Vinci, Picasso, all showed great precocity of skill. There are many such examples. The nature of prodigy is to acquire more easily and more quickly, skills which take others until adulthood to acquire. That is what they are, by definition. Your view rules out the possibility of prodigiousness and actually reveals no understanding of the phenomenon. Therefore your first paragraph doesn't actually provide a solid reason for your belief: your given reason is: "I don't believe in prodigies". Well, history shows you many examples that prove you wrong - uncontested examples.

So, we are left with your "technical give aways". There may be technical reasons that support your view: I would be very interested to hear them. Please, if you have time, could you detail the technical issues that reveal themselves to you and indicate that she is not as she is supposed to be. Doing so, is how you could establish your case.

Do not misunderstand me. I hold no strong opinion on this, for I have not seen the evidence to which you refer. I am open to learning why you think what you think and open to altering my own views on the issue, should you establish your case.

I look forward to hearing what you have to say.


7:26 PM  
Blogger chris said...

I am saddened by the fact that once again, humans try to define the essence of another human in terms only they can understand, rather than accepting the beautiful gift of evidence in it's purest form. if you care.

6:58 AM  
Anonymous Alicia said...

I started drawing at the age of three--today I am a storyboard artist and illustrator and I was never taught. The idea that art has to be taught is the highest point of arrogance...

12:13 PM  
Anonymous Alicia N said...

I was a prodigy who started drawing at the age of three--today I am an accomplished storyboard illustrator and artist (paid) among other things. I was never technically trained.

Take that for what it is worth...


12:31 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I agree, Alicia. Art comes from the self: it is a way of seeing and those who possess such sight, do not need instruction - they just need a pen, a pencil or a brush. The same applies, I would suggest to ALL the arts. No-one, for instance, taught me anything about writing (such as it is!). I taught myself.

An artist, is. An artist is not made. If an artist has to be made, then I would suggest that that person is not an artist, but, perhaps, a craftsman.

Thanks for your comment Alicia.

7:15 PM  
Anonymous Alicia N said...

Thank you Valentine--it just saddens me that people wish to discredit those who have these types of talents. There nothing wrong with recognizing the fact that people can inherently do something you cannot. I love to surround myself with individuals of various talents to learn from them! Example--I am a strong artist, but I know others who exceed me--I do not envy them--I embrace them and try to educate myself with their knowledge.

I do believe it is something of a jealousy issue,a knee jerk reaction to tear down anything that threatens our perceptions of ourselves--but why should this be? Why can't we admire someone's abilities and still praise our own.

Anywayz, I'd love for you to drop a line--I can send you links to my works and vice versa!

contact me at

Thank you!

1:11 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes, jealousy is at the core of many people's reaction to gifted children or gifted adults for that matter. Gifted people often have to contend to what amounts to hate, simply for being who they are. It is ridiculous - and very impeding.

Thanks for your contact details. I will be in touch soon.

Kind regards

12:30 PM  
Anonymous Elanor said...

I don't agree with your comment that an artist just "is". Yes, there are people that are born being able to see in a way that allows them to create art without being trained. However, there are people who may have artistic ability but for it to come to light, they have to have some training in how to see. (Also, practice plays an important role in the creation of art.) I'm not saying that artists have to be trained in order to be considered artists, but let's not discount the people who have gone through artistic training and/or lots of practice. If we are going to exclude people from being artists on the counts that they needed a bit of training, then we will be excluding creative people who may not achieve the highest degree of technical competency possible for them without some level of training.

4:38 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thanks for your comment Elanor.

Personally, I distinguish between technical skills and artistic ability. Yes, technical skills better enable the artist to express the inner vision...but they, themselves, do not constitute the art or the artistic ability. I have encountered "artists" with great technical skills, but no artistic creativity at all. Their work is usually derived from others and lacks individuality or personal vision of any kind. They are not artists, despite their technical skills.

Being an artist is a matter of having a creative vision and then expressing it. Some people may need training in technical skills to enable that expression...but such training does not constitute the making of an artist. The art was already in them.

The artists I know, personally, have something special in them that was not put there by an external agent. They were not taught to be that way. In my eyes, it is likely that someone who needs to be taught how to see, is probably less creative or individual than someone who is able to see, themselves. That is not to say, however, that they won't be able to produce good work...I just think it likely if the "seeing" has been imposed from without that, that their vision will be less unique. Of course, that depends on how they have been taught and how directed such teaching was.

All that being said, there are as many paths to creative accomplishment, as there are walkers on that path. I do not dismiss any particular way of walking that path...I would, instead, judge the merit of the journey, by looking at the quality of the work produced. If it is creative, individual and interesting, then the journey was worthwhile, whatever that journey might have been.

If, however, the work is derivative, without individuality, even if highly accomplished technically, then I don't consider such a journey to have been worthwhile. I would call such a person a craftsperson...not an artist.

In brief, it is not how the artist attains their skills that matters...but how those skills are deployed. If the art is good, the path was good, too.

8:07 PM  
Anonymous Chuck said...

One question I have is, did this kid actually have enough time to paint all these paintings? I've heard two different times for completion for her "Prince of Peace" - 40 hours and 75 hours (this also makes me wonder about the veracity of the story of its creation). I also heard she sometimes spends 150 to 300 hours on a painting.

Her most prodigious output was at age 11, when she completed 20 paintings. She completed 13 at age 12, and 12 when she was both 13 and 10. These are not small paintings, either; most of them are 48"x 60". Is this a realistic artistic output for a single person?

Also, someone else said her mother has artistic training- can anyone verify this?

Something about this whole thing feels wrong, like an itch at the back of my skull. The work looks too slick, too polished, to have come from someone who's purporting to be a self-trained prodigy.

Part of me hopes I'm wrong, that this isn't just a case of greedy parents exploiting a photogenic child and a gullible population.

11:29 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi Chuck,

She certainly had enough time to do the paintings if the lower figures are true (40 or 75 hours)...since she does little else. She doesn't go to normal school. She gets up early to get on with her work. It seems to me that this productivity is quite possible if she is driven to do it.

I understand that some may doubt that a child could do these works - but I have no doubt that a prodigious child could. However, that doesn't prove, in this case, that a prodigious child did. It also does not prove that she did not.

A great attention to detail is the primary characteristic for producing this kind of "slick" work...and such an attention to detail may arise in a child of any age. It is a particular bent of mind.

I have also seen it written, on the internet (source quality unverifiable) that the mother has some artistic ability - no-one mentioned training. However, this is quite expected, since Akiane must have inherited her gifts from somewhere. So, whether or not the mother is an artist, doesn't really impact the issue of the origins of the work, since one would expect artistic gift to be in the family.

You have raised a tricky issue. There are no simple answers. Of course, the simplest would be that Akiane is actually doing the paintings and all is as stated. All other possibilities become increasingly complicated.

When two stories circulate about something, it can be because someone has been misquoted. News media can be really unreliable (we have had experience of their unreliability). Sometimes the media just makes things up. Furthermore, they usually refuse to correct errors (in our experience).

However, you have a point, if Akiane or her family are DIRECTLY interviewed, on camera, and give differing stories. That would need explanation (perhaps lapse of memory...)

Thanks for your comment.

12:10 PM  
Anonymous Natasha Sazonova said...

Neil wrote that "No one is born with built-in knowledge." I don't want to sound like a kook, but if one believes in reincarnation the idea of being born with 'built-in' knowledge is more than plausible.

1:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Success needs no apologies, failure no alibis.

I see that it is only her painting that is questioned, with no reference to her poetry, I see why many would overlook the truth of Akiana's purpose.

She writes of her painting 'In The Studio' - "I do not paint for praise or acknowledgment. I do not paint for money or vanity. I do not paint for influence or inspiration.

I paint only for one reason… no special reason, at all ~ I can’t help it, I can’t stop it. It’s as simple as that."

She is influential; she is one of many things, oh so few - that are turning People to God. Lies upon lies are upon this earth. Plato's allegory of the cave meets Aristotle's "The least deviation from the truth.." I see an artist with awesome ability. Some is due to a certain geniusness, I agree. But not especially. Her poetry will reveal this to you. It is not cryptic, it is enlightened. But it is more than that. Enlightenment is better understood as 'disenchantment.' Much of what is happening to Akiana is Truth in one of its purest forms. And while truth revealed becomes fragmented due to the flaws of its choice instrument.. Akiana is a rarity, and innocence and her purity enables her to be lifted high above others, not in value or worth, but in Glory and purpose.

She is skillful, but much has been given to her beyond her years and experience, because of her capacity, and it is miraculous. She has done her part, but God has added to it. Its like the child whose father promises that if he behaves and does his chores he will get $10. The child obeys, and gets the $10 bucks, and takes satisfaction because he earned his worth. But then the father gives him $10 more dollars, and says "It's cuz I love you." Now the child knows he has not earned this, but has it because he is loved. This is the nature of God, to give beyond what we could possible earn. But, the boy would have gotten nothing if he did not earn the first 10.

As for the doubters, and skeptics: The new Sherlock movie says it best "Sherlock Holmes: Never theorize before you have data. Invariably, you end up twisting facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts."

I know that she is doing exactly what says she is doing on her main page. Her satisfaction is that she is giving to charity.

Our hearts conclude long before our understanding, and our mind races to catch up.
If a heart is black, our minds will see darkness, we have no choice.

I have no interest to prove Akiana's worth, or God's, or my own for that matter hah, but only to take pleasure in life. I just got done looking at her site and ran across this blog, so I am still in a state of deep thought and bliss, and am pleased enough to leave this!


1:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am an artist as well but I do not doubt Akiane's work. I've read her mother's interview-- Akiane does not take any credit for her skill. She has had some encounters as a toddler where while she was sleeping, actually visited Heaven several times. I dont know if she died in her sleep and these were near death experiences, or if she astral traveled..

Whatever the case, she said she was actually given this artistic gift from the Creator. She was taught by Him, while a toddler.

She was told that her artistic skills would be used to help the less fortunate. Akiane takes no personal credit for her poetry or her artwork and acknowledges that these are gifts given to her --to be used for OTHERS.

6:44 AM  
Blogger Syahidah and Valentine said...

It is strange to learn that Akiane takes no credit for her art. I had always thought of art as the ultimate expression of individuality (all arts)...thus, not to take credit, seems to deny he meaning of art, which is ever of a person. I wonder why she wouldn't take credit for her work? Does she credit it to God?

12:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Forgive me for being candid, but I must call this out. If you are educated in art, you would see that her paintings are cliche' and re-hash, not the genius described. She is good for her age, but I'm sure there's another story behind her vision. It's just too much like the stuff already out there to be devinely inspired.

12:04 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I don't think she is commonly described as a genius (not yet)...she is described as a child prodigy. This speaks of precocious skill, not necessarily originality. So, I think she is what is claimed...a prodigy...however she may not be a genius: that has yet to be established. Let her grow up first and see if she develops in a new direction. She may. She may not. We will see.

12:53 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

A note on a comment above.

Neil Mattern wrote his comment above in October 2007. In the years that have since past, Mattern's views have changed. He no longer holds, or finds solid, the views about Akiane's work that he held then. He wishes to retract his words. He has written to me concerning his change of heart and seems sincere in it. However, I cannot remove the conversation above, since it all adds to the debate about Akiane and my reply to him would make no sense were it a reply to nothing.

So, although Neil no longer holds those views, I think their statement adds to the debate about Akiane. Some people hold similar views. Let Neil's words stand for those who hold those views - even though he no longer does.

Thank you.

12:44 PM  

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