Maestro Pappeti’s Art Academy


We were allowed to work on a tiny section of our paintings for an hour a day. The other hours we spent watching him do his own work. Anyone who could not sit still or seemed restless or even not fully at attention was dismissed for the day.

“I don’t want you doing it your own way, developing bad habits, and then thinking they’re right. I’ll show you right.”

My secret pleasure was making imperfections. Where he said blur the line, I kept it sharp. Where a face was to be composed of a thousand different shades gently flowing into each other, I reduced to two alternating colors.

I never flipped the canvas upside down to paint an object in and of itself. He would become incoherent as he explained to me the error of my ways.

“It’s is not correct. It is insensible because that’s here will be hated by all. The viewer is deceived; it’s error-filled. I can’t let you say you have been a pupil here They’ll say him taught I nothing. Him. You taught me nothing. I mean him taught me! Asgg!”

Then, he would hurl a tin of brushes at me to clean—the brushes from the infinite junk collection. These were brushes from his student years—he never threw away a brush—all collected in tins and lined up along every flat and level surface in the old artist’s chambers.

The fibers were knotted together with thick chunks of coagulated pigment, the proportions of which had long been forgotten. They were absurd, beautiful, and unreasonable colors: the color of porcupine quills in moonlight; the shade of a poppy ground underneath the boot of an old soldier; the feces of a dog left in the sun for four days; and another brush with the color of the same feces left outdoors for a fortnight and observed after a rainstorm.

There was a cylinder full of nothing but the light yellow of stains on a bed sheet. Those were composed of varying proportions of thick mustard paste dissolved in cow urine and suspended in viscous oil.

It took the better part of an afternoon to convince the rough bristles of a single brush to come apart from the bonds developed over a quarter century. He let you keep the ones you salvaged. The man was a genius; there’s no argument.

Then. A new bishop was appointed. He was a careless young man who was very good at making friends while drinking, and reminding those friends of the promises they had made while drunk. He had plenty of money and very little else in the world.

He dismissed old Pappeti almost immediately, telling him his work was, ”too too.” From what I understand, Papetti pestered the bishop so much that he got branded a heretic and exiled and forced live in the sewer well at the end of Church Street.

By chance, the Bishop had seen some of my work in Pappeti’s studio, and he had exclaimed that it was brilliant and sought me out. I visited Pappeti before setting off to my new commission. “The ways of purity and correctness have been destroyed. Nothing appears on your canvas but your insolence. I suppose that’s what they want now.” he rasped at me.

I empathized with him; he still didn’t realize that all of his skill and mastery had not been directed toward painting beautifully, but toward pleasing the old bishop. And now I have about one hundred and forty seven of the best brushes in the land.