The master had us painting the same sitter today. To have this far in our work to be painting a sitter is no small achievement and I could almost feel myself reaching the rank of master artist. Of course, painting this sitter was a test in itself, a test to see if we true artists and not simply inferiors that would be chasing the great artists for the rest of their lives.
The time came, we entered the workshop and set our paints out. The process was to be a long one, I believed. The sitter was a women, perched regally on a fine chair, sewing delicately. Once we had readied ourselves we were to begin. The sitter became still and stared off into the dark corner.
The only light in the room seemed to cascade down on her, making it difficult to see our canvas, but the beauty of light and dark perfectly capture her. The master was wise to have chosen her as the sitter. She had beauty and elegance which coupled with the position and lighting made her appear angelic.
We lit candles to make it easier for us to see our work and we painted slow and carefully. The master payed us no mind at first, simply sitting near his own canvas which had a painting he had been working on perched on the easel. He lounged in his chair, reading a book lazily, eyes closing and openings slowly. It wasn’t long before he fell asleep and we were left to paint without an audience.
There were four others in the room. Not many made it under the masters scrutiny and yet there were more of us here than he expected. I believe it was the master's plan to get rid of all of us as soon as possible. He never seemed to like the idea of having apprentices, but he mentioned that someone in his life convinced him to.
The day went on, hours passed and paint was delicately added to canvas. I wouldn’t say I struggled, but I was never happy with the result. I kept staring at the sitter and the canvas without actually making any changes. Eventually it got so noticeable that the eyes of the sitter flicked to mine and my face went red. I looked away, bashful and tried to hide behind my canvas on for the master to grasp me by the back of my neck and put me back.
“She is just a sitter, boy,” he told me and smacked the back of my head.
The master was awake and he was doing the rounds. He walked up to the first canvas and shook his head, he didn’t even look at one and the third he voiced his disgust. Finally, he settled in front of my work and for a moment I felt hopeful, but it was dashed when he took a knife from his side and slashed the canvas.
The other students gasped and my heart sank to my shoe. I felt a coldness take over. The sitter must have felt this as well, because she simply left her throne and walked out of the workshop. To this the master became even more disgruntled.
“Get out, all of you fail,” he told them. “More than that, if I ever see some of you again I will call the guard on you. You wasted your time and you wasted enough of mine. Go do something else with your lives!”
The other three needed no further convincing and left in an instant. Everyone had other options aside from art, but for me, I could not see myself doing anything else. I stayed behind while the master walked over to his desk. I must have angered him further when he heard I was still there collecting my paints.
“Didn’t you hear me, boy?” he told me. “There is no artist in this room save for me.”
His words were crushing. A mentor such as him destroying my work and insulting my skill with art brought my self-esteem down immensely, but that didn’t stop me from collecting the paints I worked hard to make, it didn’t stop me from collecting the paintbrushes.
Once I had packed and collected everything I was confronted with the master he blocked the way to the exit.
“What is it you think you will do?” he asked me threateningly.
“I...I will continue to paint,” I told him and once more he struck me.
However, this strike was not that of master to student, by man to enemy. I fell to the ground, my paints and equipment scattering across the floor. I believe he meant to cause me more damage, but it was the sitter who stopped him. More than that, she stopped him with an embrace and now I understood who she was. She was our masters and most likely, the one who convinced him to teach apprentices.
“What is this stubbornness in youth!” the master bellowed.”Do you not fear hunger? You will starve without sponsorship, you will die in filth before you reach your middle years.”
“Please, stop,” his wife begged him, but he was determined to continue.
“I will still paint,” I told him, gathering my things quickly, panicking as he might escape her grasp and strike me again.
Instead, while was I was gathering my equipment on all fours, I felt his hand on my back, but it wasn’t threatening this time. I turned my head to look up at the man and I saw something I never seen before. The master was smiling. It was a small smile, but a smile nonetheless. His wife stood behind him and gave a similar smile.
“In light of those words, I believe you have the dedication to continue my apprenticeship,” the master told me. “From here on I will not watch you copy my works or make your own paints, but I will help you see art the way only a master can.”
Those words marked my graduation and he shook my hand, as one master to another.