When we stood before the work of the apprentices, Master studied what they had done. Then he took a brush and painted an annihilating red stroke through Cristobal’s picture and stood silent (which was praise) before Alvaro’s. They had been set to do a still life-a piece of moldy cheese, wine in a glass, and a hard crust of bread. Cristobal’s painting was beautiful; the wine glowed ruby through the crystal glass, the cheese looked golden and creamy, and the bread was in shadow. Alvaro’s showed the cheese dry and covered with green mold, as indeed it was, and further, he had painted a great ugly roach on it.
“Unimaginative Alvaro,” commented Master, smiling. “There was a roach?”
Oh, how foolish, I thought. He should have frightened it off, not painted it.
Cristobal was sulky.
“I would like to ask, most respectfully,” he said, in a disrespectful tone, “why my painting was destroyed?”
“To teach you not to beautify. It is a great temptation.”
Cristobal struggled not to say more, but he could not help himself. He looked at Master with rebellion in his bright eyes.
“I thought Art should be Beauty,” he muttered.
“No Cristobal. Art should be Truth; and Truth unadorned, unsentimentalized, is Beauty. You must learn this, Cristobal.”
Taken from I, Juan de Pareja written by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino.
I, Juan de Pareja is told through the voice of the slave of the great Spanish master painter Diego Velazquez. It is the 1966 winner of the Newberry Medal for the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.
Diego Velazquez lived from 1599-1660. That was a long time ago. You might wonder if his life, his work, and his feelings and beliefs about art could be relevant to young art students today. (Don’t worry, I would never be as severe and harsh to my students as Diego Velazquez was to his.) I read this passage from I, Juan de Pareja to my drawing students because I want them to understand that art is not always pretty and I want them to start to think about the many ways art can be truth.