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To Paint the Portrait of a Bird

First paint a cage
with an open door
then paint
something pretty
something simple
something beautiful
something useful…
for the bird
then place the canvas against a tree
in a garden
in a wood
or in a forest
hide behind the tree
without speaking
without moving…
Sometimes the bird comes quickly
but he can just as well spend long years
before deciding
Don’t get discouraged
wait years if necessary
the swiftness or slowness of the coming
of the bird having no rapport
with the success of the picture
When the bird comes
if he comes
observe the most profound silence
wait till the bird enters the cage
and when he has entered
gently close the door with a brush
paint out all the bars one by one
taking care not to touch any of the feathers of the bird
Then paint the portrait of the tree
choosing the most beautiful of its branches
for the bird
paint also the green foliage and the wind’s freshness
the dust of the sun
and the noise of insects in the summer heat
and then wait for the bird to decide to sing
If the bird doesn’t sing
it’s a bad sign
a sign that the painting is bad
but if he sings it’s a good sign
a sign that you can sign
so then so gently you pull out
one of the feathers of the bird
and you write your name in a corner of the picture.

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Origin, other sources and thanks for this Brew News story, “To Paint the Portrait of a Bird”:

  • Translated by Lawrence Ferlinghetti from”Pour faire le portrait d’un oiseau” by French Poet and Screenwriter, Jacques Prévert (1900-1977.)
  • William Scott‘s 1947 “Boy and a birdcage” is alive and well at WikiArt
  • The short by the same name, “To Paint the Portrait of a Bird” won the award for Best Short Film USA at the 2007 Avignon/New York Film Festival.
  • “Egyptian Vulture” portrait thanks to Tambako at Flickr
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