Once upon a time, in a city not very different from yours and mine, there lived an artist. Now, this artist was everything you’d expect in an artist, and want, too! He knew how to work his magic with colours, how to create the most magnificent sculptures you’d ever see, how to get his art promoted in all the best art galleries of the world, how to butter up certain politicians to get concessions, council and committee memberships; all the while (and he was very proud of this) influencing less-than-stellar reviews of his rivals’ displays and shows.
Yes, he certainly was a true artist. But, this true and great artist had a hidden sadness, a sorrow that had crept its way in to his heart through his delicious swiss-cheese fame.
“Curse the Artsy League of Artists! “ He bellowed, crumpling up the third rejected application into the fireplace, “Why don’t they accept me! Surely I, one of the best (“And truest!” A voice inside him said with immense pride) artists in the world, deserve a seat on that League!”
And then, oh, how he would pace up and down in his room, wearing out the soles of his shoes, shouting curses at his despicable snub!
“Surely! Creating life can’t be as good as they hype it to be, can it?! “ And he would roar again, sending a row of the finest imported paint flying across his – palatial – room.
Sadly enough, it was all true. The Artsy League of Artists considered life the greatest artistic creation in the known universe, and they had never been known to accept members who had not had the artistic achievement, known only in their circles as… “Creating-Life”. And for this reason, this man we have met, this greatest and truest artist in the world, was denied membership for three years running!
And that was terrible.
“Curse the Artsy League of Artists!” He hollered yet again, with considerably more force this time, “They look past my gorgeous wall paintings at the 53rd Humperdinckian Exposition, only a few years ago, (“And having received raving reviews!” He quickly reminded himself, for reflecting on his glory gave him much pleasure) and…what more! They even have the nerve to pass over my amazing sculpture of the Empress herself, standing in this very city!”
And then he would stamp his feet for effect, because he liked seeing how his brushes, pencils, chalk, assistant artists, and bottles of paint – that is to say, all his tools – shook and quivered, terrified of their master!
“How can Creating-Life be SO great? Hmph! “
And he never understood how something so puny could be that good.
“Fine then! I shall show them! If its life they want, its life I shall create! And it shall be the greatest, most spectacular, most life-like Life that has ever been created!” He proclaimed, and spent the next few days working tirelessly in a tiny shell of a room.
“CURSES!”, Standing in his workshop, he proclaimed a few weeks later, snarling with manic passion. “This is imperfect as well!” He shook his fist at the heavens and proclaimed.
For indeed, he was so close to creating that he had vowed so passionately to!
“I need to master this art!” He jumped up and down with frustration and anger. “Surely, I, such a perfect artist, MUST create a perfect Life as well!“
He bunched up the paper and threw it out the window, as he had done with countless others before. All justified, of course, since they were not perfect!
And then he toiled endlessly towards creating a perfect life, his perfect, ideal offspring.
It is said that things exist in pairs. If something is present, so must its counterpart. A balance, if you will, must exist. And this concept is what brings us to the impoverished young artist living in a run-down shanty of an apartment. It’s most distinguishing feature was a leaky roof.
Now when we say he was a young, impoverished artist, we use that term as loosely as possible, you understand. In accordance with the principle of balanced and opposing pairs, this young man was the counterpart of the Master artist we have come to know before. Starting from their housing arrangements, and continuing on in other areas as an artist.
Oh, he was decent with his pencils and colours, of course, but in all other areas which truly matter, he was, for a lack of better words, a complete failure. He had never managed to get his art displayed in anyone’s living room, let alone an art gallery. He was not good with people at all. Politicians, councilmen were unaware of him, for he had never sucked up to, or bribed them for getting concessions, or his art promoted.
Unbelievably, the young artist thought these things below what an artist should do. He had praised artists whose works had captivated him, and for those which hadn’t, he had expressed his opinion on that honestly as well.
As clearly seen, he was severely lacking in all areas which matter, and thus cannot be called a proper artist in the same breath as the True one we have met earlier. Therefore we shall simply call him by Nemo, a name for no-one.
Of importance, at any rate.
One day, while going through the trash, trying to pick out someone’s abandoned blanket or some leftover food, Nemo was quite surprised, to find a crumpled up, shiny, oddly out of place paper among the rubbish.
“Now then, what could this be? Expensive art paper?” and he picked it up, unfolded it, and looked at it.
It brought tears to his eyes.
“It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen!”
The girl in the half finished painting was naked, bruised, shivering and cold. Being crumpled up and thrown out the window, then landing in the garbage heap, had taken its toll on her.
He swaddled her in his ragged clothes there, in the cold of the night, bringing her back to his apartment.
He unrolled her, set her on his canvas, and cleaned her up. Brushing away the wounds tenderly. He then noticed the drawing was incomplete. With a few swift strokes of the pencil, he fleshed out the facial structure as best as he could, half guessing the intentions of the original artist, half filling in with his own imagination. When he gave her a mouth, he was finally greeted with a tiny voice.
“Thank you! God, I’ve been shut up for ages!”
And she flashed him a grateful smile. He smiled back, feeling the room become a little less cold and wondering vaguely if the heater miraculously started working again.
“Bit cold here though, isn’t it? Wish I had something to wear..”
Wrapping her naked body around herself, she shivered. Nemo didn’t really need to hear it from her to know she was cold, though. He was already in the process of drawing some simple, stout clothing for her, drawing from reference ; of the only type of clothes he had ever known and worn. He hoped it would be good enough for her.
“Thanks! These are so comfortable!” She said. Relieved, he set to work on the other parts of the drawing.
He felt it weird that the original artist had given her such an attractive body, but had drawn no heart. Curious, he sketched in a heart, and while smudging it with his finger to create the shading and contours to give it depth, he was distracted by the tiny voice, sobbing. Alarmed, he immediately brushed away the tears of that tiny face, tenderly with his dirty fingers, and asked her what was wrong.
“Nothing’s wrong, I just…just…feel so much all of a sudden! What did you do?”
He told her he’d given her a heart.
“Then these must be tears of happiness! I’m so…happy, I feel so grateful. So fortunate to have you. How could I ever repay you…?”
He laughed aloud at that, and said she had no such responsibility. He only wanted to do right by her, and this was deserved.
He had mostly completed the painting by morning, and it was the best few hours of his life. She had talked her heart out to him, smiled, laughed the purest of laughter. He played with her tiny little fingers, laughed together.
As the sun rose though, the blank texture of the canvas didn’t seem befitting of the little girl residing there. It’s one of those things you can’t explain, you can only feel, and if you are fortunate, make right. It came to him like a flash, and before he knew what he was doing, he’d had an onslaught of feelings to his chest.
I’d give my life’s blood to make the life of this child as fulfilling as it can be.
He’d pricked his thumb, and infused the drops in the drawing. For an instant, nothing happened. Then, as the sun rose slowly, the many rays filtering through the cracks in the dirty glass, and fell on the drawing on the canvas, he could only stand back in awe and feel the tightness in his chest dissolve. A childish, heavenly joy took its place, leaving him fighting back tears, at how perfect this moment was.
There she stood, golden, radiant, innocent, feeling the sunrays touch her face for the first time. She was beautiful, but it’s hard to describe this kind of beauty. The kind of beauty you see in your child when she takes her first breath, greets the daylight for her first time. But there she was. And here he was, at a loss for words.
“And now you go off into the big, bad world! Say hello for the first time!” He said jovially, in an awkward attempt at breaking the silence. He expected her to laugh along, but she was strangely quiet.
“And what do you want me to do with this life?” She said, shaking her head.
He laughed. “It doesn’t matter really, I have no idea about these things. Make it whatever YOU want it to be. Do what you want.”
“And what if you’re disappointed in my choices?” she said quietly.
“I can’t be! You know I can’t” He laughed again. Then, holding her hand in his, he whispered.
“You’ll still be perfect to me.”
No words were said, they just stood there for a long time, him holding her tiny hand in his. I’d protect you from the world. I’ll be here for you no matter what. These words do not need to be said in such a bond. They are known. Felt…
“Thanks Dad, you’re the best.”
And as they stood there, as the new day dawned…
… his room no longer felt cold. His room no longer felt alien.
His house felt like a home.
Some years passed. The master artist’s second work, went ahead with every bit of manpower he could muster. Soon enough, it was finished. And it was all that he planned, right down to the most minute detail. Oh, how the Artsy League Of Artists were in awe over his masterpiece! He had finally Created-Life! She said all those beautiful words carefully chosen by the Master to enchant and fill with wonder, she smiled with the most beautiful of smiles he had painted on her, she was everything Life SHOULD be, as the Master, in all his wisdom, judged! The League fell over themselves inviting him into their fold! All watched in awe, as the Master artist marched in triumphantly, smiled, posed for pictures, and talked about his greatest creation, Life, with a carefully cultivated tear in his eye.
How he was adored and bestowed with riches and titles!
His creation was kept in a glass jar in the museum, forever preserved like this; talking, smiling, and singing just as brilliantly for the benefit of the audience. Unmoving. Unchanging. Adored. Prized.
Nemo died later, years of a life lived without care, devoid of fame. All he had to show for it was the adopted, aborted creation of the Master artist, which he had fed, watered, warmed, cared for, given a home…and made the additions of simple but clean clothes, a heart of gold, and his own blood to create those rosy cheeks. So Nemo died, leaving behind that girl holding his hand, beside his deathbed. That girl who had grown into a young woman.
So there Nemo lies, a life lived without care, devoid of fame and riches. But not a life without love. Not any empty life without substance or merit.
Two fulfilling lives. Two lives mutually made worth living. One house, made a home.
And the few words she spoke, which created two lives that day.
“Thanks Dad, you’re the best!”