“The painter must put all his heart and soul into his work, or his art will be empty and pointless," my friend said to me as he prepared his paints on his glass palette.

I watched him smear colors together with his knife, more curious about the pigments than his words.I  thought he was just being over dramatic, as I assumed all artists were.I  had no idea that he meant it literally.

He sketched out vague shapes on his canvas before he ever loaded his brush, needing to figure out where this piece would take him before he started this journey. His wide brush swept across the white plane as I left him to his work. I can only imagine what transpired between the time I left and the time I returned.

Did something possess him? Was the act of creation finally too much to handle? Did every stroke eat away at his core, crumbling his sanity into dust? With every scrape of his knife, did he peel off layers of himself? Did he intend to spill open his veins and mouth and body onto the canvass, turning it into a monstrous work of human decay?

The painting did not sell, even after all the press. People came to see it in the gallery, but could not look at it for too long. It stared back at them unblinking, as if challenging them to speak up and fight back. After a while, I put it in storage. I certainly couldn’t hang it in my home, although I had many of his other pieces there.

I couldn’t let it look at me the way it looked at them, the way it looked at him. Sometimes, when I go down into the gallery basement for old sculptures and sketches, I can see it in the corner of my eye, wrapped in paper and tucked between two file cabinets. The paper crinkles in the breeze, even though there is none.

When looking for new artists to display, I occasionally think of showing it to them to get their reaction. If they love it, will they try to replicate it? Emulate it? Imitate it? If they hate it, will they know better than to give their art their everything? And will they be lesser artists if they don’t?