Stories from Ancient China: Two Artists

There was once an old artist who had two equally diligent and gifted students. He taught them everything he knew and, eventually, they became quite famous. They were Master Zhang and Master Ding.

After their teacher passed away, Master Zhang and Master Ding both wanted to explore their artistic futures. Before they parted, Master Zhang said, "Our teacher used to say that you and I are equal in our abilities. Why don't we each bring our best piece back here after five years? Then can we take a look and decide who is better."

Master Ding said smilingly, "Of course, that sounds fine."

After they said good-bye, Master Zhang traveled all over the world, saw the best scenery, and learned from various cultures. His paintings were created one after the other. His popularity was rising and so was the price of his paintings. Master Zhang was really enjoying his accomplishments. He thought, "It is not quite five years, but I have advanced so quickly. In fact I think that my improvements are nothing short of miraculous. On the contrary, no one has yet to mention Master Ding. I am sure that I can easily win this contest."

When the five year mark arrived, Master Zhang was quite confident and brought his best painting to where they were supposed to meet. He saw Master Ding welcoming him with a big smile and empty hands.

He was not too happy, "We agreed to bring our best paintings and you come empty-handed. How are we going to make a comparison?"

Master Ding looked at his gray-haired classmate and said, "Dear friend, it is not that I wanted to come empty-handed, but because I simply didn't have a picture to bring with me."

Master Zhang thought, "I bet this is an excuse and that he is just afraid of losing the competition." Master Zhang then asked, "Why?"

To which Master Ding replied, "Even though I cannot bring my paintings, I can show them to you."

After Master Ding said that, they walked all over town. Master Zhang was very surprised to find all of Master Ding's pictures hanging throughout the various buildings in the town. Every picture was better than the previous one. The little town was cozy and quaint and filled with an artistic atmosphere. Originally, everyone in town was not well-educated, but now they were more refined in manners and temperament. The way they carried themselves was just like they were depicted in the paintings.

Every local resident respectfully talked to Master Ding. Master Zhang was a little jealous and asked, "They hired you to do all those paintings? You must have a fortune by now!"

Master Ding smiled and said, "When I was about to leave, I thought about how much hard work it was for our teacher to teach us. I decided to give something back to the people in this town. After I finished my first picture, they were very courteous towards my paintings and were moved by the beauty of my work. So they invited me to continue to paint.

First they were afraid that I would charge them a lot of money, but I told them that I would do it for free except they had to provide me with my daily meals.

Master Zhang was astonished that Master Ding painted for free, "How come you are so foolish? You could earn a lot of money!"

Master Ding had tears in his eyes and said, "Actually, they were helping me. My skill was not that good. After they saw my work, they did not know how to pay me complements but they became more sincere and kind. With such encouragement, my paintings have become better and better. How can I charge any more for my work?"

Master Zhang felt ashamed after hearing that. In his mind, the value of a piece of art was determined by its price. The higher the price the more valuable the artwork.

Master Zhang said, "You have won the five-year contest. Your paintings are invaluable and cannot be bought with money, whereas my paintings can. Your paintings can bring changes to countless people but my paintings are nothing but a part of rich people's decorations. I think that I deserve to lose and you have allowed me understand the true value of art. Let me learn from you! Let's work together and create more beauty for the world!"

They then hugged each other and wept. In the creative path, Master Ding was no longer lonely with Master Zhang by his side. From that time on, one famous artist disappeared in the world, but two happy artists with their hearts well-connected were working to bring beauty to another corner of the world.

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