On Making Masterpieces

My dad received a special picture for Christmas. It’s a circular frame filled with water, sand, and just a hint of air. How does it work? You turn the frame until the sand is at the top, separated from the water by a line of air bubbles. Then, you wait.

As the air bubbles slowly pop one by one, the sand starts trickling into the water. A bit on the left side. A bit on the right side. Perhaps some more in the middle, and then it’s back to the left. Since the sand comes in black, white, and gold, shapes begin to emerge. A white desert. A black mountain. A golden coastline.

If you’re lucky, enough sand remains above the air bubbles to form a second landscape. One time, we ended up with a range of three, increasingly larger black pyramids at the top, and what looked like two mountains by the oceanside at the bottom. A true masterpiece!

Turn the frame too fast or too slowly, however, and all the sand will fall down in one big slump. Thump! Here’s your unrecognizable mess of sand!

It’s funny. In a way, this frame allows you to create perfect artworks on demand — and yet, it’s just as easy to screw up the process. Plus, even if you time your turn just right, there’s no telling what you’ll end up with. It’s almost as if beauty refuses to be framed completely, let alone be mass-produced.

Whatever the masterpieces you’re hoping to create — paintings, books, human connections or a snug, protected home — remember there’s no way to force the universe’s hand. You might fail a thousand times, but on that one thousand and first attempt, flowers will rain from the sky. And if not? Then you can always take another turn, and the sands of creativity will start flowing once more.

Great art is not about whether the stars align in the end. The true masterpiece is showing up.