This story was first posted on August 25, 2017. I think that most people hope to leave behind a lasting legacy. However, often our most important work isn’t the kind that is hung in a museum or a palace. I think it would be nice to be able to do both kinds of work.
artist unsealed the scroll with trembling fingers. It was a summons
from the emperor himself. After decades of work, he might finally
have a patron. The artist did a little victory dance and grabbed his
purse. This called for cake with dinner.
next morning, he packed up his paints and brushed and canvases. He
sent them ahead and asked the messenger to leave them in his new
studio. Then he packed up his clothes and books and personal items
and cancelled the rest of his lease.
said goodbye to his neighbors and waited for his ride to the palace.
He had no idea what to expect, so he dressed in his nicest clothes.
But, he was brought straight to his rooms and served a nice meal. He
would meet with the emperor the next morning.
the next morning he re-wore his nicest clothes, doing his best to
smooth out the wrinkles. He tried to give himself a pep talk. “Stop
worrying. This is every artist’s dream. Your paintings will hang in
the palace and live on forever. This is the next best thing to
immortality. You’ve finally made it.”
guard escorted him in to see the emperor. The artist bowed. The
emperor smiled. “Ah yes. Welcome. I am impressed with your
talent. I think that your paintings are just what I’m looking for.”
would you like me to paint?” the artist asked. “A
portrait? I am well-known for my portraits.”
emperor laughed. “Oh no, that wouldn’t do. I need you to paint
food. The tastier looking, the better.”
the artist asked. “Like a still life? Would you like me to include
some mementos in the picture?”
I think that would be a mistake,” the emperor said. “Just paint
food. Bring me the first painting at the end of the week. If
it pleases me, I will have a contract for you to sign.”
you,” the artist said. He bowed and left.
spent the next week painting tempting, almost-real food on a blurry
background. Melty cheese, crisp toast, and jewel-like berries seemed
to float on the surface of the canvas. He was constantly ordering new
models for his work from the kitchen, because he kept taking bites of
things absent-mindedly as he worked. It was a long week.
emperor was thrilled with his painting. “It’s perfect,” he
said. “Here’s the contract.”
artist accepted the first scroll from the emperor’s advisor. He
signed the non-disclosure agreement, and then he was handed the
contract. He started reading through it and then paused. “This is a
contract for a chef,” he said. “I’m an artist.”
course you are,” the emperor said. “But you are painting meals,
so you are a chef.”
they aren’t really meals,” the artist said. “Even if
they’re meals for the eyes, eyes don’t eat.”
this isn’t a meal for the eyes,” the emperor said. “Come
with me and bring your painting.”
artist followed the emperor and his advisor through a maze of
hallways. Finally they stopped in front of a large door. The emperor
pushed it open. He smiled as a large furry thing rushed forward and
leaned against him.
had black fur and giant eyes as blue as the sky. And it had a
giant mouth full of very sharp teeth. No one else in the room looked
at all nervous about the emperor petting the scary furry thing, so
the artist tried to be brave. When it came over to sniff at him, he
took a deep breath and managed to not run away screaming.
think she likes you already,” the emperor said. “That’s
wonderful. Give her the painting.”
artist made himself hold out the canvas. The furry thing ripped it
away from him and ate it in a few messy bites. It was gone. The thing
made a warbling noise, and the emperor clapped his hands.
turned to the artist. “You see. You’re a chef, and a very good
one. If you keep painting this well, I’ll double your salary.”
this way, and we’ll finish the paperwork,” the advisor said. They
left the emperor and the furry thing behind and walked down the hall
to the empty room.
artist stared at the contract. Was this the end of his dreams for the
next best thing to immortality? Would all of his work be eaten? He
looked up at the advisor. “Will I be able to paint other pictures?
Pictures that will hang in the palace and not get eaten?”
advisor smiled. “I’ll add it to your contract. If you paint one
meal a week, you will be permitted to paint one official portrait of
the emperor each year.”
me where to sign,” the artist said. And when he went back to his
rooms he did a little victory dance and ordered a cake from the
kitchen. He made sure to sketch it before he ate it.