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142 When the Artist Creates Trash

    "Ah."

    Yujia glanced at the painting, glanced down at her two hands, and glanced back up at her master.

    Well, that was something nice to hear. Getting her hard work called trash wasn't the best feeling, especially when she expected something nicer, but if she were to think positively, it meant she had room to improve, right? And though Yujia would've replied with more of an attitude if anyone else said it, it was her master who spoke that sentence.

    Thus, even if she wanted to get angry, she technically

    couldn't

    .

    "You want to know what's bad about it?" he continued, raising his eyebrows.

    Yujia lifted her brows as well. "Please do tell."

    Her master ran his fingers along the painting, sighing deeply once more. "You attempted to depict the branches of plum in your yard, yet you drew red flowers on a plum tree that only blossoms in white. By the sixth principle of Xie He, Transmission by Copying, there is already something conflicting about this- how could you know how to capture the true beauty of this blossoming tree if you have never seen it bloom? Besides, you have no idea of the history behind the tree... you could not capture the true age of it either." Her master tapped the central trunk in the painting. "What I see right here is a young tree, barely old enough to have a magnificent bloom, yet the tree that you attempted to paint was a tree almost seventy years old."

    Seventy

    years old? Yujia stared at her painting for quite a while, trying to decipher exactly what went wrong. How was one supposed to paint the age of a tree?

    Carefully, she noted, "So, you're saying that if this painting was not supposed to depict the tree in the courtyard, then it would be alright as a young tree?"

    "Well yes..." her master mused, "and no. Yes that you managed to get around two of the six principles completed decently- but as for Transmission by Copying, Correspondence to the Object, Bone Method, and Spirit Resonance... it is truly lacking. Do you understand what I mean by this?"

    Yujia shook her head. She knew that she needed to study the Six Principles still, especially after she failed spectacularly on it during the entrance examination to Lingxin. The only problem was that she never truly got to it. Most times, she simply forgot they existed.

    While she painted, she never really spent much time considering the Six Principles. It just wasn't something she was used to doing in her past artistic career. She painted to create lively and visually appealing pictures, not to consider how much enlightenment one would receive after viewing her work. Her customers who bought her work didn't look so deep into it, so she didn't herself.

    Her master, upon seeing her response, sighed again and shook his head in disappointment. "You must study them if you wish to advance. The colors, values, and tones are excellent, as well as the composition. But you must also practice your Bone Method." He paused, looking up. "Do you know why the masters of painting are considered masters?"

    Yujia remained silent, shaking her head.

    "Because they have spent years, decades, practicing and focusing on specific things. Their effort into achieving true greatness with their art is all the result of countless hours, day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year of hard work. They do not strive to be able to paint everything to true likeness, but to capture a few small movements of life within their work, to as much as human capability allows. How many days have you spent practicing the plum tree?"

    "Less than a week."

    "Less than a week- do you see now, child? You have tried to perfect something within a week that few could perfect through their lifetime. I evaluate your work not in a way to flatter you or to raise you up on an imaginary pedestal. I score this piece as if I were judging the work of a master, because only with high standards will you improve." He reached forward and patted her hand reassuringly. "So do not take it to heart when I criticize this painting like such. I'm sure that you've put lots of effort into this, yet it will take much, much more effort into creating true art. You have a long journey ahead of you, so do not expect instant mastery. Understand?"

    As the words sunk in and Yujia thought about her past values, she realized that her master did make sense. Why was she so reluctant to accept this other world of art which valued the Six Principles and much more different things than the art she was used to in the modern world? If she wanted to improve her work in this time period, then she should not judge and paint in the same way as she did in modern times, where she painted for profit. Not only were the two motives behind creating art different, but her master had a set of beliefs that would only work if Yujia shared the same beliefs as him, to allow him to pass his ideas on.

    At first, she admitted that she was a bit crestfallen to hear her master call her painting trash, but she could see now that he had every right to. Her painting

    was

    trash, compared to the great works that painting masters created. It would be unreasonable for her to say anything else, when she still didn't truly comprehend how to paint plum trees.

    She was so used to receiving praise over her work. Now, though, standards were different. The plum painting in front of her which would've received much praise in the past was now held to the standards of the masters, which she strived to improve to the level of. As a result, the value and skill level of her work drastically changed as well. What was once a sophisticated painting by her previous lower standards could only be considered as the messy work of a beginner by the current standards her master held her to.

    "Master." Yujia clasped her hands and acknowledged, "I will keep your words at heart, and keep striving to improve! I understand what you mean."

    He smiled warmly. "Ah, that's good, that's good."

    Now that the conversation over the painting Yujia created had come to a conclusion, Yujia rolled up the painting and stashed it next to her. Then, she chose to ask the question she thought about right before she entered her master's residence.

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    "Master, allow this disciple to be a bit curious, but I can't help but notice that the courtyard you allowed me to reside in seems a little... peculiar, in some ways. I don't think I've seen many courtyards similar to it before. Why is that?"

    The warm smile dropped off her master's face. His eyes glossed over, as if reminiscing the past, but then he blinked, and the glossiness vanished.

    He forced a stiff smile on his wrinkled face, asking softly, "There is indeed a background behind why the courtyard has some of the things it has. You want to know the truth?"

    Yujia nodded eagerly. "Yes!" She always wanted answers.

    Liveliness seemed to jump back into his expression. He grinned teasingly and made a face. "I'm not going to tell you."

    "What?" Yujia's expression dropped, her eyebrows knitting together. She should've known that it wasn't so easy to get the answers she wanted.

    "- right now. I'm not going to tell you right now," her master added, "If you want to know the story behind it, then you must work hard on improving your art! Drill the Six Principles into your head, then create a week's worth of plum tree studies. Then, I'll tell you a part of it. Fair?"

    She had to wait a week to know the ending? It was truly a little unbearable now that her master dangled the truth in front of her, yet still refused to convey its entirety to her.

    But, thinking about it, a week's worth of work would be worth it. She recognized her master's attempt at creating an incentive for her to keep studying art. Plus, there were many mysteries that Yujia faced that would not solve themselves within a week. A week truly wasn't that long of a time.

    With that encouraging thought, Yujia nodded with a bright smile. A week's worth of learning for a precious story was not a bad deal at all.
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