The artist was planning a masterpiece. The instrument held ready, the paper waited expectantly. A few tentative strokes, a frown forming on her face as inspiration struggled to find a shape. Begin with the eyes first, always the windows to the soul. Her pencil is persistant, moulding a pupil, the delicate tracery of eyelashes. And then its twin followed in newfound momentum. The artist blinks once, holds the stare, and plunges again into the picture. What a pair of eyes! Perhaps her best yet. Its gaze is transfixed on hers, with the persuasion of her own desire. Wanting to be completed. And so she did. A nose followed, gentle contours of the cheekbones, the firm roundness of a chin. A proud forehead above questioningly arched brows. Beads of sweat chase each other down the artist's face, her neck glistening, thin fingers working up to a frenzy. Dashing lines and curves she flourished now, bold daubs of colour, fluid strokes etching bright promise in their wake. And see how it is almost done. Raw emotion on canvas. Painted flesh speaks. The artist continues, draining her spirit out through her brush and hungry for more, driven to sweet madness, the incredulous delight of perfection.
At this moment out steps a critic from the watching crowd and peers over the artist's left shoulder at the easel.
"Oh that won't do, it's too ugly!" exclaimed the critic. "The face is expressionless, and the eyes! Literally popping out! What on earth possessed you to do this?"
The artist put down her brush carefully and stepped back from the canvas. It was exactly as the critic had observed. As flat as a thin layer of whitewash. Mismatched features. Incomplete, sketchy, a grotesque caricature. She reached out and, taking the unfinished picture off the easel, tore it in half, then in quarters, and lightly threw the pieces in a box of used rags. She turned to face the critic, scorn smiling brightly.
"You're right, it was rather terrible. I did tell you I'm no good at this. Bored, I suppose. Anyway. What's for lunch?"
They went off to have a substantial lunch together, and the crowd dispersed, cheated of a 'good show'. The masterpiece lay limply on some old newspapers where in later weeks it would have coffee spilled on it and meet a rat who would want to gnaw her nest out of it. And it held, deep in its painted gaze, all the passion, every drop of unasking devotion, however momentary, that an artist's heart had to offer. Long after the canvas disintegrated into random white strands, clean of colour and remorse, the treasure remained, hoarded in a pair of mismatched, probing eyes.