What the artist saw

A certain artist in the nineteenth century chanced one day to look out of his window.  He saw the pathetic figure of a beggar limping past, clothed in rags and plodding mechanically along.  Something about the man made the artist dash out and invite him to sit for his portrait.

 

The beggar, sensing the chance of a little money, perhaps a meal, followed his host into the studio and slouched in a chair.  The artist looked critically at the tramp – a broken man, old before his time, all the light of life faded from his eyes.  Or nearly all, for suddenly – inspired by the face of his model – the artist set aside the canvas on which he had been working, took a new one, and with bold strokes began a new portrait.

 

The artist was unmindful of the time; the beggar inquired if he would ever be finished.  “My good man,” he murmured, “I’m sorry to have kept you so long, I’ll make amends.  The picture will take a lot of finishing but I think I have all the essentials now.  Would you care to look at what I’ve done?”  The beggar, tired and hungry, could only think of his pay and possible food and drink.  However he did take a look.  At first he could not make head or tail of what had been done – the portrait was not of a down-and-out but of a well-dressed, perfectly groomed, middle-aged man with a fine figure and a handsome face, character in every line of the strong, resolute features.

 

Slowly light dawned on the beggar.  The artist had painted not the man he saw but the man the beggar might have been or might become.  He kept starting at the picture, tears began to run down his cheeks.  “Sir,” said he, looking the artist in the face, “if that’s the sort of man you see in me, I reckon that’s the man I’m going to be.”  The story says that the artist gave the beggar his chance, and that the beggar took it, and made good.

 

The New Year is a time for resolution, especially for Christians.  Jesus could always see the best in people.  There was no such word as ‘hopeless’ within his vocabulary.  He had an optimistic regard for the ordinary people he met; he saw their inner potential as children of God.  That is how Jesus regards us.  Having Someone with that kind of faith in us, makes New Year resolutions easy to keep!

Graham Haslam

This article was originally published in the January 1973 issue of Look and has been reprinted in the January 2016 issue of Look-In, our monthly church magazine.  To download the full issue, please click here: Look-In – January 2016