Middle Modern Myth Winner 2013

Posted on April 22, 2013 by


The Artist by Lauren Nguyen (Wheeler High School, Cameron Ward, Grade 10, Latin IV)

The Artist

            He was a man of creation, a man of paint-splattered smocks and clay-caked hands. His fingers could dance over clay and leave behind beautifully sculpted figures and delicately twining ivy in their wake. These same fingers could snatch up a brush, dip it in paint, and run it over a blank canvas to create an image of a bird that breathed and flew. Such was his skill—that he could create life out of pigments and turpentine, pottery and glazes, that with his paintbrush and throwing wheel he could carve away at the planes of the mundane world and open windows into the planes of wishes and dreams.

            Splatters of color covered his little studio apartment like the footprints of little elves that frolicked about in the early hours of the morning. His coffee mugs often held dark and pungent paint thinner, and his wineglasses shone with slick glaze in shades of champagne and burgundy. Canvases hung in place of window curtains, blocking the view of the bustling streets and mirrored skyscrapers of Manhattan. Such was his curse—that he woke up to mugs filled with turpentine and plates piled with scraps of clay, that his house had only one heart of flesh among the many hearts of clay and canvas.

            The people of Manhattan—the ones who sipped champagne from champagne flutes and plucked delicate little hors d’oeuvres from silver platters—whispered about the brilliant young man who lived in the tiny little studio apartment and made these brilliant works of arts. They tittered and laughed quietly as they pored over his paintings and statues. Artists—they are such strange people. Have you ever seen him? No—have you? Is he living with anyone in that little apartment of his? Well, I don’t know—is he? He is young, isn’t he? Oh, yes, quite young. And with quite a lot of admirers, too…

            Winsome female admirers of his work would sidle up to him at exhibitions and flutter their eyelashes coyly, asking him for permission to watch him work or for his attendance at some gala or luncheon. He would always refuse, for he knew what lay behind their thickly made-up eyes and lipstick-garnished smiles—nothing. These women were shallow, painted shells of flesh containing nothing save the avaricious nothingness of society. At the sight of every fleshy contour encased in scarlet satin, every delicate ankle accentuated by stilettos, his disgust grew. These women—these beautiful, bejeweled women—would not lift a single manicured finger to save a dying man. They were so artificial, so cosseted, so blinded by easy life—they were out of tune with the great masterpiece that was natural existence; they were monsters in the eyes of the artist. In life, in flesh—in dreary existence—beauty was but a mask covering the very opposite.

            In art, beauty was pure and eternal.

            The artist found himself in his studio, forming pale and rounded limbs out of white clay. He labored over slender hands long after the sun retired beneath the horizon. He filled scores of canvases with sea-blue eyes and smiling rosebud lips. The artist lost himself in the ecstasy of beauty, untainted and immortal beauty, the beauty of a single face filled with gentleness and compassion. Fine cheekbones in red clay, glazed in silver; glossy hair formed from brass wires and hints of lacquer; folds of rich navy and drapes of peach perfected with acrylics and oils on manifold canvases, toned calves and delicate ankles from white clay, flecked with gold—all these he manufactured, and all these he combined into a single woman. As the days—weeks, months, seasons—flew by, the artist discovered that there was indeed a woman on earth whom he loved.

            But alas, reality intruded. The landlord soon came knocking on his door, demanding last month’s rent. The chilly white breath of winter rattled his thin windowpanes, and the cold from the outside penetrated through the canvases insulating his home. The single can of tomato soup in his empty pantry frowned at him, silently demanding companions. The artist soon rediscovered the bitter truth that the pleasure of beauty had helped him forget. He found himself at another art exhibition, this one more grandiose than all the others, held in a room suspended well above the city of steel. The artist stared in disdain and growing despair at the glistening ice sculptures and tables of expensive refreshments, waiters circulating with champagne glasses and rich men promenading with falsely beautiful women. He saw the garishly colored ribbons decorating the balconies and the ugly fluorescent lights illuminating the paintings. He flinched with every comment he overheard.

            How beautifully sensual…the curve of her hips…I love her eyes, look at them…who do you think this is? Oh, it must be someone he knows quite well…she is quite lucky, then…or not, I hear that artists actually live terrible lives…are they still living together? So that’s why he’s always been so eager to leave—she’s waiting for him at home…

            The artist, who had never believed in any power save for that of paint and canvas, found himself praying—perhaps to God, perhaps not. And as he prayed to whatever powers ruled the city of Manhattan and to whatever powers presided over art and beauty, he found that the light breeze intermittently blowing in from the balconies had grown into an insistent wind that tugged at his hair and pulled at his thoughts. His gaze was drawn to the balcony—and the darkness beyond.

            God—or whoever had heard his prayers—had answered. There was indeed a place where he could find his beautiful woman, his love come to life. He ran towards the balcony, shoving people out of his path. Startled cries followed him. The artist reached the railings and was about to fling himself into the city below—

            Someone hurtled into him from the side, tackling him and bearing them both down into the ground. The artist swore and wrestled with the creature between him and a world of beauty. The thing pinned him down on the ground with slender hands.

            Sir! Sir! Stop! Calm down, okay? Look at me! Calm down! Look at me. Stop! Calm down; everything’s going to be okay…sir…look at me! Calm down!

            The artist obeyed. He saw fine cheekbones and a swanlike neck sculpted in ivory, rosebud lips and crystalline blue eyes, curls of burnished brass and a dress of painted navy and peach. But those hands resting on his shoulder were warm and supple, like wax warmed on the fire, like…

            Living flesh.

            The artist looked at her, at her beautiful and worry-filled face, and he began to laugh. He laughed as he reached up and embraced her, and his joyful laugh rang through the air. He opened his eyes—truly opened his eyes—and his first sight of the world unhindered by disgust and antipathy was that of both his lover and the arched dome of the eternal sky.


*This modern myth is a retelling of the story of Pygmalion. 

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