The painter dabbed her brush in indigo goo and applied it to two remaining sections of the canvas labeled number 11, then she was done. "It's brilliant," exclaimed her friends. "Wonderful," her family told her. The style seemed so original and the execution so fresh. The picture's brushstrokes were airy where appropriate and in other spots dense and heavy where the scene demanded it. Everyone who saw the painting thought that it was remarkable to have created such a masterwork from a paint-by-numbers kit.
The painter's pride swelled along with her confidence. "I am a brilliant painter," she thought. "Just look at this masterpiece I've created." So she purchased another paint-by-numbers kit with similarly spectacular results. She hung that one prominently in her living room and subjected every new visitor to a mandatory viewing until one day someone asked to buy it. She was thrilled, and sold several more for modest fees to folks around town.
Everyone agreed they were very well-crafted paintings, especially, one visitor added cruelly, considering they were produced from paint-by-numbers kits.
But that last remark stung. Why was her painting lesser than any hanging in a museum because it came from a paint-by-numbers kit? Was not the artistry of the execution what's important, the airy brushstrokes and large globs of paint distributed across the landscape? Who could even see the silly lines when she was finished, and besides, she went over them ALL the time.
So the painter decided the next painting would be one of her own creation. She used light, airy brushtrokes in parts and dark globs of paint in others and all her favorite colors, since they no longer had to be selected based on some pre-set number scheme. She enjoyed herself quite a lot and it was very fulfilling, she thought, to produce one's own original art.
When it was finished, though, the painting was not like the others. Its figures were deformed and awkwardly posed, the landscape childishly drawn, if impeccably colored. But the painter was thrilled. " I am SUCH a brilliant artist," she thought. "Just look at my wonderful work."
To her dismay, others did not have the same reaction. No one offered to buy this painting, and when she showed it to friends their reaction was muted and cautious. "Don't worry about it," one said, "you can always go back to painting by numbers."
"I don't need to paint by numbers," the painter replied. "I am a great artist. I'll never paint by numbers again."