Discovered non-genius


Dear Artist,

London art lecturer and freelance critic Estelle Lovatt posted her son’s abstracts on Saatchi Art, wondering if the art world would encourage an unknown artist. On the site, she described him as a person devoted to art, who frequented major exhibitions and who’d steadily progressed in his influences and techniques, including drawing from nature, plein air, mid-century American Abstract Expressionism and Japanese calligraphy. She also mentioned that her son’s paintings had evolved to employ more archival materials, like acrylic, following a period where he’d worked almost exclusively in tomato ketchup.


untitled painting 1953
oil on canvas
by Joan Mitchell (1925-1992)

The celebrated artist is Freddie Linsky, and soon after his mother’s posting, one of Freddie’s more experimental works, The Best Loved Elephant, sold to a collector in Manchester, who liked the painting’s flow and energy. Then, an invitation came to show in Berlin. Estelle thanked the gallery and asked to be kept informed of their progress. Later, when interviewed by the Daily Mail about the remarkable discovery of Freddie, she said, “They still don’t know he’s only two.”

A few years later, a couple of psychologists at Boston College conducted a study comparing the artworks of toddlers and primates to those of world-famous Expressionists like Hans Hofmann, Joan Mitchell and Cy Twombly. They wondered if art students and regular undergrads could pick out professional scribbles over toddler and animals ones, even when the labels were swapped. It turned out the art students were unaffected by fake labels. Most of the time — more than chance — they evaluated the artists’ work as better. The regular undergrads, unschooled in art, felt much the same way — except sometimes when asked which works they simply preferred.


untitled painting 1954
pencil on paper
by Cy Twombly (1928-2011)

For Freddie, it’s enough to be an arty kid. When tested blind and choosing the paintings of children and animals, the students at Boston College justified their preference by praising colour and brushwork. When artist’s paintings were selected, they turned to more sophisticated aspects –intuition, feel, meaning, intention, planning and mindfulness. “People are so difficult. Give me an elephant any day.” (Mark Shand)


“The Best Loved Elephant”
by Freddie Linsky, 2 years old
sold for 20 pounds



PS: “I’m not a genius. I’m just a tremendous bundle of experience.” (Buckminster Fuller)

Esoterica: When teaching at Art Center School, automobile design legend Strother McMinn would chide his students with a favourite euphemism, which later, through my dad, transmogrified into a regular proclamation around our family dining table: “There’s no such thing as an undiscovered genius.” If not for the exquisite pain in acquiescence, McMinn’s theory could sustain significant unpleasantness for anyone in search of making good art. Meanwhile, 120,000 people in 100 countries belong to Mensa, the global society for those with IQs in the top 2% of the world’s population. But the variable measurements of “genius” defy a precise definition, and many can’t or won’t have their IQs tested. Do we need verification of extraordinary ability, a special quality of mind, or a lightning-clear voice for abstraction? Instead, we might strive for the invisible and ignore the labels. “Talent hits a target no one else can hit. Genius hits a target no one else can see.” (Arthur Schopenhauer)


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“A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.” (James Joyce)



  1. The two-year-old boy’s mother chose the work. This is the important fact to take into account. If we look at the myriad scribbles of a child, we will find a few that are interesting. We look with artists’ eyes. The child is just enjoying making marks–a worthy endeavour, of course, but not one that produces many pieces we want to look at.

  2. A child is always learning, always experimenting. Finding even primitive marks on cave walls speak of an innate need for nailing down a unique form of expression for that which humans find meaningful. To me, representational art is the most inspiring and beautiful. Making sense of chaos, creating something that another wanderer in time will recognize, staring with wide-eyes, perhaps discovering memories and emotions that only a fine artist can awaken.

  3. I recently attended the Picasso exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery. One of my favourite things was watching the video on display of Picasso painting through a glass panel so the viewer can watch him as he paints on the glass. I couldn’t help but watch it over and over as I felt I was painting ” with him” and I could feel his childlike discovery and mental exploration and joy as he played with his creation. You could feel his brain and his paintbrush were one… and he was simply ” in the zone” as he painted…… it was an exceptionally childlike experience of free expression and flow …. I would recommend it ….

    • my 5 year old granddaughter loves to paint on my canvas her marks and pieces astonish me the joy of freedom that is why we are all addicted to painting ah what more can we ask for?

  4. I find this sad. I work hard to improve my ability to see, interpret, compose, edit and execute an idea onto a canvas. While I love the enthusiasm and abandonment with which children approach painting, random, lucky brushwork by a child, an adult or an elephant should be seen as that, not as a work of art.

  5. You know all this just confirms one thing. Go to a ‘High Flying Gallery’ blind them with the right words show them the stuff and hey presto success!

    Many have done this and made fortunes but the reality is when all is said and done, there’s no such thing as you, except the individuals who really stand out with exceptional qualities.

    There has to be a poetry in one’s visual work, or soul, and sadly it’s this that is lacking with so many recent contemporary ‘greats’.

  6. You have a lot of great quotes in your very interesting comment.
    My father, George Lengvari, always used to say, ” Genius is seeing what everyone else is seeing and thinking what no one else is thought”

  7. I happen to LOVE Freddie’s Elephant! It is beautiful! Adult painters I know would love to have his clarity and spontaneity in water color. I am a representational painter. I was a teacher of elementary art in grammar school and had a collection of works that they, kids did not particularly want to keep. Of course, we do not teach them to paint as we try to with older students, only which end to hold the brush and not to scrub and how to keep the colors apart. (Freddie, please do not dip the green brush into the yellow paint jar…) . Often, when asked, they freely gave me their work. I kept it for years. Some of it was really beautiful and I had a feeling of sadness knowing that they would soon lose this amazing ability to create as they grew older. It is the genius of early childhood and they do lose it. Even Picasso said that he wished he could paint like a child. They are painting from the soul.

    Donna Veeder

  8. The best part of Freddy’s art is that it hasn’t been limited by instruction or direction. There will be time for that. For now, all it needs is a frame, and a great spot to hang.

  9. yes…you made me smile! I used to take my son to studio with me , as continued my college after marriage to my “Officer and Gentleman” – At four, Peter did an oil that would sell well – I marvelled that he chose the Capricornian browns blacks and white and arranged them with artful ease. It’s good art.

    That was forty years ago – I was a child bride.

    He has his first degree in film and video and integrating the arts and science from Dad and Grandad, has a done a LOT with Hearst online in several locations and has his own production company now.

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