A young man looks at an older man’s painting

“How do you know when you’re finished?”

“Hmm, it depends on the artist. For me, the piece is finished when I am done. Here, think of it like this: when I begin to work, the canvas is empty and I am full; eventually, the canvas will be full and I will be empty. Perhaps the canvas will billow and burst in its fullness, but I am not yet empty; this is fine, for though I have covered over the blankness which I faced, I am not done and the work is unfinished. Or perhaps I find myself empty before the canvas is full – this also is fine, for a man of wisdom will not create value where there is none; what is beautiful is beautiful, but what is mine is beautiful to me.”

“Then is it not unwise to consider your own work beautiful?”

“Mind you, in my metaphor I was not full of myself. I know just enough to be satisfied with the moderate distance between my heart and my mind. I was full of something else, something completely alien; a force so privy to the sparks of a man’s heart that it cannot be anything other than completely strange – it must be!”

“So it’s not your own work, even though you’ve said it was?”

“I have no clue what happens. Why do you think artists care so much what their audience thinks? Perhaps they know what happened!”

“Then why is it such a deal that you paint alone?”

“Yes, I do make sure I’m the only one there for all of it, even for any of it. It’s a marvelous thing to look at a finished piece – one which in its fullness has rendered its crafter simply done -and still have not the faintest clue as to how it happened. An admirer can marvel at the vision of the artist without understanding that the artist sacrificed his vision itself to fulfill the creative imperative, his divine individual drive.”

“It sounds like you’re making a whole lot out of nothing; it sounds like delusion.”

“Really? I think it rather sounds like a miracle.”

“Look, obviously, I don’t deny that people make art. I just don’t think it means anything – you said it yourself; it’s an individual pursuit, and it’s beautiful to you. That doesn’t make it science; it doesn’t even make it worthwhile.”

“Despite our stark and, frankly, glaring differences, you don’t believe we have anything in common?”

“Of course we have things in common! We’re both human males; we have language and consciousness; we share the same spectrum of emotions and general rationality-”

“I’ll tell you what we don’t have in common.”

“Age?”

“Ha, no; you are a boring man”

“So what, art is just entertainment now?”

“Of all people, I’d think the scientist would be inclined to see color in the world”

“We all see color in the world! Obviously! Scientists are the reason you can name the colors!”

“How many things have you seen?”

“What?”

“How many things have you seen?”

“Um, some. I don’t know what you want me to say.”

“Do you think we can use the things we have in common as a means of sharing the things that make us different?”

“Ok, yes.”

“Perhaps the artist sacrifices his vision so that a scientist might take it as his own and use it to instruct another generation of artists.”

“What, can a scientist not see for himself?”

“A scientist examines his world; in your case, he forgets the basis of his own logic – someone had to shape the world he sees.”

“So that’s you huh. You’re shaping the universe so I can look your dumb world-creating painting and call it names?”

The old man pointed at his full canvas, “A small part of the universe I am, yes, and that is what has just transpired.”


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