The Painting of a Tiger

January 16, 2010
The stroke marked the picture’s completion and it finished the image so well, Alyson Gray had to step back with admiration. She turned to Richard and said, “I think this may be the best one yet.”

Richard spent the past four hours by the window reading a book and took little interest in the creation of the painting, but much in the final product. He set his book aside and wandered over to look at the painting, his hand cupping his chin as he said, “I must agree.”

“Well, that would be a first,” said Alyson. “I think I’ve worked too hard on this one, though. I couldn’t stripe the tiger very well. See how oddly the black lines curve? That was my fault. I couldn’t control the paintbrush.”

“Well, you’re working with a new set of paints,” he said, returning to his book with fading interest. “It’s understandable. You’re new to watercolor, but with time you’ll get used to it.”

“I hope so,” said Alyson, admiring her work despite its flaws. “I think I could sell this for a fairly high price.”

“Do you?”

“I think I could sell this for over six grand.”

“That would be a stretch.” Alyson faced him, a bit taken aback, and said, “What do you mean a stretch? Don’t you like it?” Richard glanced at her over his book. “You don’t think I’m very good, do you?”

“No, I don’t, actually,” he sighed and returned to his novel. “You’re amateur and unskilled, and I don’t see how anyone could purchase such trash.”

“It’s a tiger. Someone out there must want a painting of a tiger.”

“But not a poorly made one.” He smiled a little as he came across something funny in the text. “I think you ought to read this book some day. It’s right up your alley. It’s about as funny as your painting.”

“Why would you say that?” asked Alyson, surprised by his comment. “It’s a beautiful painting, right? It’s beautiful.”

“It’s not beautiful.”

“Well, it’s made with a great deal of effort, right?”

“Not exactly.”

“Well-well,” she couldn’t find the words to extract a compliment from him, “Well at least it exists?”

“No,” he sighed, and he set down his book. “No, Alyson, I’m afraid that just won’t do.”

“What do you mean?”

“Look at it.” He stood and gestured to the painting. “Look at it, Alyson, it’s a modern work of trash created from nothing but four hours of struggling with watercolors. It has no heart or soul or even a meaning. It’s a practice piece with nothing to it but struggle. There’s not even beauty in it because it’s so unskillfully done. If you really want to make something great, stick to your style and improve it beyond belief.”

“But I don’t have a style,” she complained. “I’m new and young, and I’m trying to figure out what I work best with.”

“If you don’t have a style, don’t call yourself an artist and don’t call your pieces art.” He watched her mouth fall and then tighten up into a wrinkle of petulance.

“You don’t know anything about art,” she said. “You consider yourself a writer, and yet you haven’t written a thing. You don’t have a style. You don’t even have any written pieces. How can you claim to be a writer when you don’t have anything written?”

“I’m figuring out what I’m going to write,” he said coolly. “I’m researching different styles and when I find the works I like best, I’ll combine their strengths and form my own style. For now, I’m reading, and then I’ll write.” He faced his back to her and approached the coat rack near the exit. “I have to leave now, but good luck selling that painting of yours.” He pulled on his jacket and tucked his book under his arm. “Stick to what you know, Alyson, and then maybe a style will form. For now, stop messing around with the uncomfortable. If it doesn’t come naturally, it’s not worth pursuing.”

“Richard,” said Alyson seeking a final resolution, “Richard, you said it was the best one yet.”

“It is,” he said softly. “Everything else you’ve made has been twice as bad as this.” He smiled and waved goodbye. “Have a nice evening.”

He left Alyson in her studio with no company save for the poorly painted face of a tiger roaring into oblivion.

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