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66 The Fourth Miss Proceeds to the Rest of the Exam

    The second stage of the exam began shortly when those that passed entered the room. Yujia found that at the front of the room, a board was brought in with three mounted paintings.

    The examiner waited for everyone to be seated before starting.

    "In this second part, your ability to evaluate paintings will be tested. Among these three paintings, two were painted by renowned masters of our school, while one was painted by a mere beginner at painting. You must analyze each of the paintings and determine which one is the beginner's work. Feel free to come up and look closely at all the paintings, but any discussion will automatically disqualify you. Your time limit is one stick of incense. "

    He stepped to a pot of incense, lighting it. Once it began burning, all the examinees rushed towards the front of the room, crowding against each other to have a better look at all three paintings.

    Yujia looked at the crowd from her seat at the very back of the room. She didn't feel like joining in the mess. She would just go up and look when the crowd was more dispersed.

    Beside her, it seemed like Yu Zixu had the same idea. He didn't make a move either.

    The crowd finally mostly went back to their seats after a few moments of analyzing. At that moment, Yujia went up and began looking at all of the paintings.

    The first one was one of a bull. It was drawn in a simple method, without any background, but when Yujia looked at it closely, she found that the cow was drawn in a lively manner. The spirit of the cow was brought out with the painting, the gaze through its eyes realistic, and the anatomy of the animal was also drawn rather accurately, proving that whoever painted this had experience in painting bulls.

    Yujia deducted that this one was definitely the work of a professional. A beginner at art would not be so dedicated to draw bulls so much to achieve this effect.

    The second painting was a landscape painting, of a red-roofed pavilion in a pond of unbloomed lotus flowers. The sun was dimming behind distant mountains. Yujia thought that it was a decent painting at first, but the more she looked at it, the more she was reminded of her twenty-four generic mountain paintings that she worked on during the days before the exam. Compared to the first one with such a realistic bull, this painting lacked in spirit. It felt like there was certainly detail and time put into the work, but it didn't have a style of its own. It was too bland.

    If she had to guess, she would think that the second painting was a beginner's work. Though, of course, she would have to look at the third painting first.

    Upon seeing the third painting, Yujia was a bit confused. It was even more simple than the bull painting, being some blurry mountains in the distance and some crooked trees at the front. The work was chaotically messy, any sign of organization non-existent, and it just seemed like whoever was working on the painting just hastily threw some black ink diluted in water on the page after messily copying some mountains.

    This seemed like the beginner's work. Yet the second painting also made Yujia feel that it was the work of a beginner too.

    It wasn't possible that there were two works from beginners, could there? Or, unless... was the third painting a trick meant to distract the examinees?

    Yujia stared between the second and third works, her brows knitting together tightly.

    It was a trick question. It was definitely a trick question. The more she looked at the third painting, the more things were revealed to her.

    She could imagine a master at painting, one who had painted thousands and thousands of mountains, angrily staring at a blank piece of paper, ready to vent his emotions out. His work would be messy- the sort of disorganization that came from a mind of anger. While the second painting could not invoke any emotions from the viewer, the third painting would make the audience realize the rage of the painter, to experience his fury along with the violent splatters and strokes of his brush.

    That was the answer.

    It all came to Yujia. The first painting was clearly a work of a professional. The second painting was the work of a beginner who mimicked a professional style but wasn't able to achieve anything to deep in value. And the third painting was the work of a true master at painting.

    She headed back to her seat, realizing that only a fourth of the incense was left after all the time she spent analyzing the paintings. Many were already turning in their answers and leaving.

    She had to keep her answer short. Otherwise, she would run out of time.

    Picking up her brush and dipping it in ink, Yujia wrote, "The first painting encases the liveliness of the bull, proving that a painter who had dedicated much of his life focusing on bulls created it, and therefore makes the painter a master. The second painting, although pretty on the outside, serves no other purpose than being just pretty. The artist did not manage to capture any emotions or value within their painting, making it virtually worthless and no different than a sheet of blank paper. It is the work of a beginner. And despite the fact that the third painting resembles something sloppy and put together in a brief moment of time, it manages to encase intense emotions of outrage within its hidden detail. The painting is from a master."

    The incense just finished burning at her last word.

    Hastily, Yujia stood up and turned in her paper. She felt fairly confident with her answer.

    ...

    The three graders were once again looking at the submitted answers of all the examinees. Once again, when they got to Yu Ziyang's answer, they were disappointed.

    "And he dares to call the painting of the school head's son worthless?" one of them exclaimed.

    The third scorer grabbed the paper from the first one, reading through it. "How can we pass this one when he clearly answered incorrectly?"

    The second scorer read it too. "At least he did recognize that the painting of a bull is one of a master. Though... saying that the third work of a beginner's is a master's because of its 'intense emotion' is really a far stretch."

    "Does he even know what he's saying? Is this a joke? How can the lotus pavilion painting from the school head's son be worth less than blank paper? It would be worth at least a hundred taels if we sold it in the market."

    The first scorer took the paper back. "Should we pass him again?"

    "Yes." The third scorer raised his eyebrows. "Let's pass him and see what he can create in the third part. I'm intrigued now to see how good his painting skills are that he even dares to take an exam at Lingxin. No matter what though, we must fail him. His results for these two rounds are too pathetic. If the higher ups even ask about it, we'll just show them his responses and they'll understand."

    ...

    Yujia was ranked right before the cut off mark again.

    There she was, number thirteen. She couldn't believe her luck, although she wasn't sure if it was necessarily good or bad.

    How was she passing? And more importantly, was her low score because she didn't guess correctly? Was it that the second stage was actually not a stage meant to trick the examinees?

    She didn't know what to think, truthfully.
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