The Curse of Unrivaled Talent

Oh, to be born with talent; it can be a blessing, but it can also be a curse.

There is, of course, the weight of expectations resting upon your feeble shoulders, the constant need for perfection. Yet there are other reasons, reasons I want to share with you, my dear reader, as a confession, if you will.

I was born in abject poverty, in the shanties surrounding a sparkling city comprising ivory towers of stained steel and polished glass.

My parents were quick to recognize my talent. I could scarcely walk, they said, when I showed an affinity for the fine arts, an eye for color and forms, and used my delicate hands to capture life and bind it to the canvas.

They did what little they could to nurture my talents, as did my teachers. I was soon hailed a genius, one in a generation, a God-given child born under the luckiest of stars, and long before I was of age, my works attracted the attention of those who deemed themselves connoisseurs of the fine arts.

I was showered with endless praise, and paid lavish sums to paint one thing, and one thing alone, the thing I excelled at the most: portraits.

Over the years, I worked feverishly, driven on, almost unconsciously, to perfect my craft. While others spent their adolescence in play, I studied color theory, scene composition, light, and perspective. Brushes, paints, oils, they became a part of me, an extension of me. Yet all these were mere tools, merely instruments of a craft I was far from perfecting.

Deep down, I knew I was missing something, and that I needed more to reach my art’s distant pinnacle.

For in my portraits I set out to not only capture a person’s likeness, to capture not merely who, but also what they are, their very essence; to create something more real than reality itself.

To accomplish this, I dedicated long years to the study of other fields: philosophy, psychology, anthropology and even anatomy.

Did you know, my dear reader, that the human face comprises fort-three muscles, all of which are needed to form a frown, but only seventeen to form a smile?

Yet a smile, I realized, is so much more than the contraction of muscles. It is influenced by a myriad of other factors. Genetics, of course, but also oral hygiene, the size and form of the jaw, the width of cheekbones, the color and structure of one’s teeth, but more than anything, a person’s character, their mentality and their feelings.

Every part of a human’s face and every part of a human’s mind come together to create a smile.

I lived a hermit’s life, secluded myself from society, and locked in my study. I analyzed the interplay of all these factors, the effect they have upon one another, all to bring forth the most perfect of smiles.

The works following these years of contemplation, those showcasing this perfect smile, are not found in any gallery or exhibition. For they are valued as treasures of unprecedented nature, sold only to the highest bidder whose vanity forces them to hide them away from any and all prying eyes.

Before long, my works comprised solely of commissions from the most elitist of circles who sought me out to bind a perfect representation of themselves to the canvas.

Yet unbeknownst to me, and unbeknownst to my patrons, my works began having a certain effect. You see, my dear reader, they comprised a perfect smile, a perfect version of a human face, an expression that wasn’t real, could never be. For it was a version of their face which would only have been possible if they’d grown up under perfect circumstances. An impossibility of its very own.

At first, my works were celebrated, awed over and praised, but slowly, ever so slowly, this would change. I learned they plunged people into a state of inadequacy, making them feel imperfect, depressed even for they knew what could’ve been yet never was. They’d realize the perfect temple their bodies might have been had become flawed, ruined.

Many of my patrons had chosen money and power over health and beauty. These decisions, either made by themselves or forced upon them, would spawn resentment, resentment of the vilest kind for both themselves and others: parents, friends, lovers and even their children.

These tragedies, however, only ever played out years after a work’s completion, and were, I thought, entirely unrelated to them.

Yet as I heard and recognized more and more of my patrons’ names, as I learned of the tragedies that befell them and the ghastly deeds they committed, I realized it was my art and nothing but my art, my perfection which was the cause.

For my talent, my craft, dear reader, it’s a curse, a curse upon those who partake in it. And yet, over the years, I’d painted feverishly, as if delirious, creating hundreds if not thousands of people’s portraits, not knowing I’d doomed them all.

After this realization, I retreated from society once again, cast myself out and tried to abandon my art. Yet wherever I went, I was still sought, implored to paint again, begged to create one last piece, and to make them the final testament to my art. And I did. I painted that very last, final portrait, and then a month or even a week later, I’d paint another.

I knew what I was doing, I knew, yet I ask you, my dear reader, how can you, as an artist, abandon that which you spent a lifetime honing? How can you stop and deny yourself that which you perfected?!

Yesterday, another man sought me out, an entrepreneur of the wealthiest nature, offering me a grand sum to use my art to capture his daughter’s likeness, a girl no older than seventeen.

I did just that. Without question, without slightest hesitation, and I told them, as I’d told many others, that hers would be my final piece.

I spent hours upon hours meticulously capturing a perfect likeness of her, one more beautiful than she was, and would ever be, knowing fair well that this work, this portrait was destined to destroy her.

Yet as I did, as I sat there, feverishly working, I felt something I’d never felt before; it was a recognition of the strangest kind. For my hand, and the brush it held, was moving by an accord of its very own, driven over the canvas by something not of me.

And I realized then that talent is truly a curse, and that I’ve been cursed from the moment I was born.

You see, my dear reader, as much as I want to stop, as much as I tell myself I hate what I’m doing, that it is wrong, there’s a voice that whispers to me. This very voice tells me that deep down, I am enjoying it, all of it. Not just the art, the craft, but the doom, the darkness the beauty I create brings forth.

It tells me, this voice, that in the most hidden, most secret part of my soul, I’m loving it.

And over the years, over all my life, it teased me, spurred me on, celebrated what I did and told me it was the right thing to do. It influenced me, tainted me with its words, convinced me and eventually took over, making me nothing but an extra in the grand game of life.

It reminded me of my childhood, of poverty, of parents’ untimely death brought forth by terrible working condition, a suffrage cast upon them by men only out to fill their own pockets. Men who’d eventually become my patrons, who’d made their money of people like my parents and used it to have me bind their likeness to canvas, a testament to their own vanity.

And deep down, the voice told me I wanted nothing more than to create these horribly beautiful paintings, these curses. Oh, how I enjoyed them, it cackled on, and it was only fair to enjoy them.

Eventually, I was done, finished with this newest, final portrait. As I listened to their praises, that of the pretty young girl and her father, I felt them again, those invisible fingers as they stretched and warped my mouth into a smile, and listened as the voice whispered to me of coming doom and an end to their lineage.

At that moment, it terrified me. It terrified me so much, my dear reader, I couldn’t speak; what I’d become, what this voice, this being had made me, what it had set out to make me from the moment I was born.

I paid my leave soon after, ran and hid in the confines of my study. There I screamed at the voice to leave me alone, knowing fairly well it never would. For it is the voice of talent itself, the demon called talent, which hails from the pits and bound itself to my very being.

It’s a mocking, ghastly thing, an impish monstrosity that celebrates what I did today, and tells me, tries to convince me to paint another, and another, and yet another, to create an endless series of curses against the bourgeoisie of the world, against those fat with money, who gorge themselves on all they see as lesser creatures.

Yet I knew, for the first time in two decades, I knew the girl’s portrait wouldn’t be my last.

I set myself free. The lie was gone, dispelled, and I gave into the demon’s pleading and paint, paint without restraint.

The work I promptly set out to do, however, is not what it wants of me, for this portrait is going to be of a different nature, and it is going to be my true final piece of work.

As I sat down, as I began to work, I once more painted a person for who and what they truly are. There’s no beauty here, for there’s no beauty to be found in that person. Yet it is perfect, a perfect showcasing of a ghastly, twisted and spiteful man, a twisted broken thing with not a brush but an instrument of murder in its hand.

It differs, this work, for I set out to capture nothing but reality, to reveal the true nature of unrivaled talent, to bind this horrible demon’s nature to the canvas. I paint it as its hand rests on the murderous instrument, paint its impish face grinning from right behind my shoulder, and paint it as it breathes down my neck.

It’s a disgusting creature, one who drove me on endlessly throughout the years, to accomplish what I did, and thus unleashed its curse upon the world.

Even now, it still whispers, it still spurs me on, celebrates me as I paint.

Yet I can’t help but smile, smile by my own volition, because for the very first time its voice sounds hollow, its giggles containing a hit of fear, a hint of doubt, for it has long realized that this will indeed be my very last work.

I have to leave you now, my dear reader. I leave you and end this confession as I soon end my very last portrait, as well as my life.

For the rope is already fastened around my neck, a rope to end it all, and to drive this demon back, this demon called talent, to drive it back to where it belongs:

The deepest, darkest corners of hell.

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