“The Grandmaster” describes a very old and very successful painter who gives insight into his philosophy on art.
It is written in free verse.
The old man was paralyzed from the waist down,
But from there up, he was perfectly spry.
His words flowed like water;
his thoughts were as pure as bees’ honey.
And what kind of a man was he?
He was insubordinate, obstinate,
Clever, and polite. They said he was a kind man,
A kind and gentle man, even if
He didn’t follow orders.
He was dominant at chess,
Where he sat at the table in his wheelchair,
While a longcase clock ticked behind him,
And he studied the pawns, the knights, and bishops,
As if he were looking out over a playing field of life.
His old friend, the doctor, would call on him
And bring him suits of charcoal grey,
Shirts of ivory white with soft collars,
And red roses for the boutonnieres.
These the old man would wear,
Dressing up every day, as if for his own wedding,
With a fresh flower pinned in the button hole
And a golden ring upon his finger.
In such dress, he would paint with oils.
He made great canvases of genre scenes:
Men and women at weddings, in funerals,
Sitting by lakes, and along beaches
With a range of magnificent mountains behind.
“I expect more from art than I do from life,”
He would say. “And I am apt to be more
Critical of a fine painting than of a life poorly lived.
For there is but one thing that the artist should focus on,
And in his pursuit of perfection, he must neglect all else.
While in life, a man must focus on many things,
And neglect nothing. Such is the paradox of the grandmasters,
That they must neglect life to reproduce faithfully
Its finest imitations.”