Once upon a time there was a painter. A portraitist. For years, decades really, he had practiced his craft until he was quite good at it and had gained some measure of recognition for his talent.
One day, he encountered a woman with a particularly interesting face, and he asked if he could paint her portrait. She couldn’t afford to pay him, but that was okay with him. There was something about her face that he felt he had to paint.
And so he did. For days, weeks, months … she sat for him and he painted. After each sitting, she would look at his work and make some small comment. She would suggest a slight change to the background. She would ask about a certain wrinkle near one eye. She would question a shadow, comment on a tint, praise a minute detail.
Finally, the portrait was finished and exhibited in a show. It drew wide praise and acclaim, so much that the line stretched out the door and not everyone who wanted to see it could.
The day after the show closed and the portrait was taken down, the woman told the man that she didn’t like it and she wanted him to paint it again, this time according to her instructions. She didn’t say what she didn’t like about it, or what those instructions would be. She told him she had been afraid to tell him her true feelings about the portrait because she didn’t want to hurt his feelings. Later, she told him she had been dishonest because she was afraid he’d walk away. And still later, she said she had been dishonest because she was afraid he would blow up.
None of that made sense to him, because he had accepted every suggestion she made during his months of painting her portrait. And he hadn’t the kind of temperament that blew up over anything.
They would paint the new portrait together, she said, a brush in each of their hands. And she, not he, would have the final word on what strokes were used in the construction of the painting, what hues, what lines, what shadows. Keep in mind that the woman had never held a paint brush and had no experience in painting.
Finally, she said, when the new portrait was completed, she would sign her name on the canvas. The new work would be presented as a self-portrait.
The painter said no.
He later burned the portrait he had made of the woman. He hated to burn it. He had liked it and thought it his best work. But it was never to be seen again.