The Artist: a Tale from Old China

"Life is short, art is long."

--Isabelle C. Chang, Tales from Old China

A painting of Guan Daosheng *

There was once a king who loved the graceful curves of the rooster.  He asked the court artist to paint a picture of a rooster for him.  For one year he waited and still this order was not fulfilled.  In a rage, he stomped into the studio and demanded to see the artist.

Quickly the artist brought out paper, paint, and brush.  In five minutes a perfect picture of a rooster emerged from her skillful brush.  The king turned purple with anger, saying, "If you can paint a perfect picture of a rooster in five minutes, why did you keep me waiting for over a year?"

"Come with me," begged the artist.  She led the king to her storage room.  Paper was piled from the floor to the ceiling.  On every sheet was a painting of a rooster.

"Your Majesty," explained the artist,

"it took me more than one year to learn how to paint a perfect rooster in five minutes."


Life is short, art is long.

Guan DaoshengView (Bamboo Grove in Mist 3). Scroll detail. Ink. 15 x 26 cm. Attributed.

(Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT)

I found this story in a book in the Easton Area Public Library.  The title is Tales from Old China by Isabelle C. Chang.

I admit that I changed the gender of the artist in the story.  I wanted her to be a woman.

*Guan Daosheng (管道升) was a Chinese poet and painter who was active during the Yuan Dynasty.  She was the wife of Zhao Mengfu, also an artist.  She was talented in calligraphy and painting with delicate and elegant strokes. The calligraphy of herself, her husband and her son Zhao Yong were collected in a scroll by Emperor Ren, who commented that it was a rare thing for a husband, wife and son to all be talented.