Good artists copy. Great artists steal.

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“Hey, Original Source,” I said, feeling magnanimous. “Want to borrow a brush? I’ve made a lot of extra orange.” It’s hard to mix a good, true orange.

“Sure,” Original Source said. “I love orange.”

“Cool,” I said, growing self-conscious as she scrutinized my cheap paintbrushes.

Lately, I’ve been painting sticks and other smooth surfaces. Furniture. Old wooden boxes. Broom handles. Sometimes, I follow the patterns in the wood. Other times, I find an image and sketch it on whatever recycled object is available. I feel a little guilty, but the truth is, I’m a copyist. A reconfigurist. What I add is imperfection, which turns out to be an oddly satisfying addition.

No one creates from emptiness. There’s always preexisting light, or former acts of creation, partially dismantled. Digested. Great artists translate and solve problems. I envy their inner vision. But even then, Original Source is present, sometimes made more salient by denial.

“Look,” I said, showing Original Source a picture of a trout I’d painted on a piece of discarded trim board. “I saw this fish on the internet and painted it. I call it fish stick.”

She laughed. Original Source laughed. She howled. Her mouth opened wide; her beautiful teeth gleamed. Her mouth was a river. The room filled with clear water and rainbow trout. They swam in adoring circles around her, and after I grew my gills and fins, I joined them. Original Source troubled the waters with ribbons of lavender light. I longed to grab them, but I had no hands. In fact, there wasn’t much left of me, and it was such a relief. I wanted to give the rest away. I offered myself to the fish.

“Oh no you don’t,” Original Source said, as the waters receded and the fish went home. My limbs regrew, my old body reassembled. The awkward mixture of secondary colors that define me returned. I didn’t want any of it. I wanted to dissolve into a single, primary color. “Not an option,” she said. “Your complexity is my delight.”

I lifted my hands to protest, but she continued. “When I lean into your soul and whisper a secret, you naturally mix it with what you already know, and when you pass it on, it takes a fraction of you with it.”

“Well,” I said. “That seems like a bad idea.”

“Not necessarily,” she said. “It’s one of the ways the universe expands. Keep painting. Whisper the truth. There are so many reasons for violet. Chartreuse. Magenta. Glaucous and marengo. In time, you’ll learn to love them all.”

“I already do,” I said.

“Ok, then,” she said. “Let’s use up this orange before it dries.”

 

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