You take a walk along the river. You’re enamored of the river. It sings to you.
You see a duck and fall in love. The duck is effervescent – the finest duck you’ve ever seen. Until you see the other ducks and you’re smitten with them all, and the very nature of ducks.
You carry home in your head, like a prize, the thought of ducks. You want to pay homage to their excellence. You feel you must paint a picture of them.
You ready a piece of paper, the good stuff, the 300-pound paper. You stretch it expertly and so nicely that you’re bewitched by the paper’s whiteness and tautness. It is immaculate! You’re very fond of clean, white paper. You select a favorite brush (the one with the brown handle), and sort through the tubes of paint, pausing to admire your favorites – the cadmium red, the indigo, the yellow that reminds you of good butter. You’re delighted with all the colors you have.
You plunge your brush into the water that calls to mind the river, yet without a river’s personality, clear, and with no secret organisms swimming. And no ducks. You dip the pointed end into a pool of paint and hold it, hovering over the paper’s whiteness. You’re enchanted with the paint and how it clings to the brush glossy and brazen. You begin to paint.
Over the next several mornings, in the cold basement, you paint. You get lost for a while in the completely satisfying feeling of the activity of painting. You revel in the way the paint spreads, the way your wrist moves so adroitly over the pleasant paper. You almost forget about the ducks! You reign yourself in from getting lost in the process. You paint the ducks. And repaint them. They come close to looking like the ducks you remember and then they recede, resembling nothing. You realize (after many hours) that your painted ducks are poor impostors – not excellent and certainly not effervescent. Those ducks refuse to appear. On top of it, your guileless paper is now besmirched with your futile renderings. Your delicious colors have been misused and squandered. Your wrist aches.
The next day you peruse your work, the implausible ducks stare at you balefully. The paper is silent as if in mourning. After a long pointless session of staring at the painting, trying to regain your vision of ducks, nothing changes, though you wait patiently. In a fit of pique, you wipe out the ducks. Starting with their heads, their disappointed eyes are covered in thick paint, black and bitter green. There will be no ducks looking out at you. You realize you are no longer painting ducks, you are painting umbrage.
You cover them in geometric shapes, in un-ducklike basement colors, grayed and funereal. You are no longer in love with ducks – nor with painting. You lean the sad rectangle of paper against the wall, revisiting it with your eyes. The ducks are perfectly hidden and quiet. But still you’re not content – it’s not enough to wipe out your hideous ducks, you must redeem the paper, the paint, your original joy!
Finally, you see a way forward. An unbidden abstract now confronts you. It has some merit. It needs just a little cadmium red, a touch of geometry, roundness and angles. A bit of texture. A touch of white!
Suddenly, you’re happy again! You’re not dealing with nefarious ducks, but random colors and shapes. Skills you mastered in kindergarten. You WILL save your paper. You WILL have a painting, even if it’s not of ducks. No one looking at this painting will ever know that there are misshapen ducks hiding beneath your carefully rendered shapes. Only you will know of their existence, your former darlings now misshapen and divested of their resplendent duckiness, halted in mid-paddle, enduring their lumpishness in private. Only you will know why this painting is entitled Ducks.