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Beauty in a Potbelly

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I sat in a worn wooden chair in front of the mahogany easel. My legs, not yet long enough to reach the floor, swung back and forth with impatience. I gripped the pencil in my hand. I could not wait to become an artist. What would I draw? Beautiful landscapes of the setting sun? Portraits of mysterious women? A whole table full of fresh fruit and golden goblets? I heard the slow boom-cha, boom-cha of my art teacher walking slowly into the room, wearing slippers and carrying a cup of tea in one hand. In his other hand, he held a rusty pot. He placed it on the table in front of me.

“Draw this,” he said as he sipped the tea.

“What?” I was dumbfounded. There was nothing special about this pot, no magic. It was just an old piece of junk, blackened and sooty from the burner with a handle slightly bent out of shape. “I want to draw something pretty!” I whined.

“You don’t think that this pot is pretty?” my art teacher replied, his face serious. I didn’t know whether or not to laugh; I just shook my head, no. He did not reply. Instead, he turned around and pulled a book from the top of his shelf. It was a catalogue of paintings that he opened and handed to me.

“Look at this.”
I looked where he pointed with curiosity. It was an old, realistic oil painting with a dark background. The painting portrayed overturned goblets of wine, some rotting fruit, and a piece of stale bread. It was sublime.

“Do you see how the artist painted the crust of the bread? You can almost touch it. And look here, at the color of the rust on the pot.”

I scrutinized the details of the painting, even running my fingers along the two-dimensional objects. I nodded.

“Do you think this painting is ugly?” he asked.

“No,” I leaned back in my seat, embarrassed. I looked at the saucepan I was to draw, but as if by magic, it had changed. I now noticed the way the metal body of the pot bunched up where the handle was bent in shapely ridges, how the blackness from the bottom crept up the burnished sides like wisps of smoke. I noticed the pale orange mixed with the light brown of rust. At last I glimpsed its hidden charm. It was as if I had discovered access to a new world, and the only way I could share it was to render it on the blank page before me.

Over the years, I have sketched and painted countless old pots and common vegetables, as well as a fair share of embellished china and autumn foliage. I found that one subject is not superior to another, but rather, that I was misguided in presuming that only clean, delicate objects could make beautiful art. In fact, some of my favorite pieces of my own work are renderings of unconventional objects. When I finally saw beyond my preconceptions of beauty, the real soul of my subject was revealed to me. I realized that just as the shabbiest objects can become the subject of the most exquisite paintings, and the most run-down pizzerias can serve the best calzones, true insight can come from the most unexpected of places.





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