Reason Number One:
Art is pointless. There’s no purpose; it’s useless. It doesn’t change the world, it doesn’t cure people, it doesn’t fix anything. The most beautiful things never help.
“I’ve never heard of an artist who hates art.”
Namjoon drums his fingers on the table and tries to stifle a laugh. “Well, have you heard of a lawyer who hates the law?”
“Sure.” Yoongi takes a sip of coffee and cringes at the sweet flavor Namjoon had picked. “But lawyers make money. And I know it’s December, but really? Peppermint? You’re Satan.” He brings the cup back to his lips anyway.
Namjoon smirks; he didn’t order peppermint for himself, but he most definitely followed Yoongi’s instructions to order ‘whatever.’ “Come on, peppermint’s good. And I do make money.” He sees the little twitch of Yoongi’s eye. “Lots of it. Because I did this one painting that landed me this one installation in this one gallery, and now everyone wants me.” He drinks his own coffee, a comfortable Americano. “So I do make money.”
Yoongi weaves his fingers together and rests his chin on his hands, a position nothing short of intimidating. “What I’m hearing is, you’re a crazy art prodigy who’s loaded, and you just keep painting because you’re good at it? Even though you hate it?”
“I despise it.”
The man lets out a low whistle and falls back in his chair. He drinks the peppermint latte and shivers at the flavor, then leans back in. “That’s fucked up.”
Namjoon knows he’s not talking about the coffee.
It’s the only art supplies store for miles, and one of the only reasons Namjoon wishes he lived in the city. He hears the dull little bell clang above the door as he enters.
Namjoon likes how the store feels; each shelf is stocked generously with paints or pens or paper, each wall piled high with colorful canvases. He knows where the oil section is from the few times he’s visited the store. So he slips between two shelves and kneels to examine each row of product, mental shopping list repeating in his head.
The voice almost makes him jump. “Can I help you find something in particular today?” It’s a smooth voice, almost like the bell above the door. A sales associate, maybe a manager, with pale hair and paint up and down his arms. There’s an aura to his appearance, something Namjoon can’t put his finger on.
“Uh, yeah,” Namjoon looks back at the shelf one more time, just to make sure he didn’t miss it. “I’m looking for oil grounds and gesso?”
He sees the man’s eyes widen—maybe in curiosity, maybe in something else. “And you’re an oil painter?”
Just tell me where my damn supplies are. “Yeah.”
“Well, unfortunately, we don’t carry oil grounds,” That isn’t what Namjoon traveled fifty minutes for. “But we’d be happy to order some for you.” When Namjoon hesitates, the man says, “It’d be cheaper than ordering online. We buy in bulk, so…”
Namjoon offers him a weak smile. “Sure.”
The employee beams, proud to have made a sale. His face is so…Namjoon can’t find a word to describe it. Proportional? Symmetrical? Pleasant? “Perfect! If you write your contact information here,” he presents Namjoon with a complicated order sheet, “then we’ll notify you when the grounds are in. I’m guessing Friday. You can just ask for Seokjin—that’s me—and I’ll get them out for you. While you fill that out, I’ll find the gesso.”
There’s really something about him that makes Namjoon’s hands itch, something that doesn’t leave his mind even after this man—Seokjin—rounds the corner and is out of Namjoon’s sight.
Namjoon had always heard the old painter’s legend—that inspiration sometimes lives inside of strangers, that sometimes the urge to paint someone is indescribable and undeniable. But he’d never had that feeling before.
It’s one of the many reasons why he hates art; there exists an unspoken community of artists, united by certain nuances, intrinsic to just painters or just sculptors or just photographers. And no matter how much Namjoon strives for that sense of belonging, he can’t shake the feeling of foreignness—none of the jokes apply to Namjoon’s processes, none of those special ‘feelings’ are ones he experiences.
He thinks about this a lot, every time he talks to another artist. And this time, he’s reminded of the man at the art store—Seokjin. Namjoon pictures his face: the soft edges that somehow seem refined, the glowing skin with a flush in his cheeks, the full lips and straight nose and deep eyes.
He pictures what Seokjin would look like on canvas, the oil making him appear perfect and luminous, with Namjoon’s brush strokes as his only flaws. And he’s reminded of the little tug inside of him when he saw the man, just a faint and indefinite pulling in his gut that he wouldn’t mind feeling again.
To want to paint someone—maybe Namjoon knows what that feels like after all.
“Hi, is, uh, Seokjin here? I was told that my shipment for oil grounds came in.”
The man behind the counter looks at Namjoon for a long time, and it’s more intense than Namjoon feels comfortable with. He seems to stare Namjoon down like he’s a threat, or someone very strange. Then the man laughs heartily and Namjoon thinks he might be strange himself. “Yeah, good ole Jin pretty much lives here. Are you Kim Namjoon, by any chance?”
“Yes.” Namjoon almost hesitates to answer; whoever this guy is, he’s relentless on the eye contact.
The worker just nods and disappears, leaving Namjoon to stand awkwardly in front of an unmanned register. He decided to look around, up on the walls; although small, the shop does house an impressive selection. Except oil grounds, apparently. Artwork hangs on every free surface, and Namjoon’s eye catches on a bright abstract piece.
“Hello again,” Namjoon recognizes the voice as Seokjin’s, remembering its even and light tone. He’s carrying a can of oil grounds, but Namjoon pays more attention to the man’s face; there’s that itching feeling again, and Namjoon wants to grab a brush and start painting. He wants to smear pastel pinks and oranges on his palette and paint Seokjin’s skin; he wants to mix the ochres and umbers of his eyes; he wants to build up the canvas, layer by layer, until Seokjin’s face is staring back at him. It scares Namjoon, just a little bit, how affected he is by one man’s appearance. Seokjin’s voice brings him back to reality: “I can ring you up at the register.”
So Namjoon follows him, and he can’t stop thinking about painting him, and he says, “I really like the artwork you’ve got hanging here.” He points to the bright-colored canvas.
Seokjin pauses in his work and smiles, “That one there? Taehyung did that. You probably saw him on the way in. He’s very talented, isn’t he?”
Namjoon hums in agreement, and remembers the paint staining Seokjin’s arm like a tattoo sleeve. “Do you have any hanging?”
“Me?” Seokjin laughs and turns back to the register. “No.”
He doesn’t ask why, doesn’t press any further; instead, Namjoon takes a breath and decided to make everything worse. “Has anyone ever painted you before?”
Seokjin laughs again, and maybe his laugh is a little bit like bells, too. Namjoon doesn’t think anything is funny. “I’ve been offered. I know it pays well, but I don’t really want to. Be painted, that is.”
Namjoon wonders why. Again, he doesn’t ask. He just nods and accepts the can of oil grounds, wrapped securely in plastic.
The way Seokjin waves and says, “Have a nice day!” sticks between the creases of his brain. And Namjoon doesn’t know when he’ll see Seokjin again, so he takes a long look and tries to memorize every color and shape of the man’s body.
Reason Number Four:
Art makes you feel things. It’s manipulative. Deceiving, almost. It creates emotion out of lies and buried memories. It can control you. That’s not anything to love.
At first, Namjoon doesn’t know what he’s talking about, but with the way Yoongi’s eyes squint at the pages in his hands, it doesn’t take long to figure out. “It’s a sketchbook.”
“I know it’s a sketchbook,” Yoongi scoffs and fiddles with his overpriced camera, “but you never sketch. What did you call it that one time? ‘Little thoughts with little potential and no hope of being realized’?”
He guards the book close to his chest. “I can change my mind, Yoongi.”
“Okay, now I have to see it. Here, I’ll pass you my camera if you pass me your sketchbook.”
It’s tempting; Yoongi’s photographs are stunning, and a first look is hard to pass up. So Namjoon gives in. He extends the book with a firm grip, able to pull it back at any time if he re-thinks the decision.
But Yoongi snatches the sketchbook from his hands with a smug expression and reluctantly passes Namjoon his camera like it’s a human child. Namjoon finds Yoongi’s photo library and scrolls through them with one eye; he wants to pay attention, but he can see that smirk on Yoongi’s face, and soon enough Yoongi slams the sketchbook on the table. “You bastard.”
“You know what I’m fucking talking about, Namjoon—”
Namjoon wants to reach across the table and clap a hand over the photographer’s mouth. Instead, he whispers, “Keep it down, there are other people in here,” through clenched teeth.
And Yoongi looks positively exasperated as he flips the sketchbook around and points to the roughly-lined face on one page, and the next, and the next. “Who is this?”
He considers saying, ‘It’s nobody,’ but of course that’s a lie. So Namjoon settles on, “Nobody you know,” which is both more honest and more mysterious. When he looks down at the sketch, there are some things he’d fix; he couldn’t capture Seokjin’s eyes quite deeply enough, or the angle at the corner of his lips, and his mental photo of Seokjin fades each minute.
“You’re really gonna be a bitch about this? Just tell me who he is, man.”
Namjoon starts browsing Yoongi’s photos again. Even Yoongi has a regular model, an actor named Park Jimin who always asks Yoongi for headshots. But as Namjoon views photo after photo, they appear as more than just headshots and Namjoon senses a similar inspiration as he feels with Seokjin. “I don’t know, actually. I needed some supplies from this one store, and he was working, and I just wanted to draw him.”
“Oh, please, there are like fifteen pages dedicated to this guy’s face. I don’t do that; it’s not normal. It’s creepy, Namjoon.”
He mocks Yoongi’s tone. “Oh, please, you have over forty photos of Park Jimin’s face one here—”
“—That’s different. He’s my client who asked for headshots—”
“I don’t know, this one looks pretty candid to me.”
Yoongi reaches over the table and grabs his camera back. “It was supposed to look candid. I’m a professional.”
“Yeah, after you converted your closet to a darkroom. That’s so professional—”
“This isn’t about me,” Yoongi takes a sip of his coffee and shoves his camera in his bag, “You have a problem. A mildly sexual, potentially obsessive problem. And as your friend, I prescribe that you either get laid or actually communicate with this guy like normal human beings do. Maybe you’ll get over it.” He brings the straw to his mouth again and it makes that empty, hollow sound. “Now re-fill my coffee for me.”
He buys Yoongi the peppermint latte again.
Namjoon hates galleries. Perhaps he hates them because he hates art (it boxes him in from all sides at galleries), but maybe he just hates the pretentiousness. The black-tie socialites with two sips of wine in their glasses, the bullshit interpretations of paintings that mean nothing, the dim lighting and plain walls and boring presentation.
He sees galleries as business opportunities. He arrives with a pocketful of paper cards and a well-practiced handshake. Small talk is inevitable and Namjoon creates a formula on his tongue: ‘The blue in this piece stands out to me. I think it shows strength in the face of adversity. Reminds me of Renoir.’ ‘Their use of white is intense. To me, it symbolizes creative thought. Very Lucian Freud-esque style, isn’t it?’ And he’d sip his own wine and wish it were beer and subtly monitor his own paintings.
The person standing in front of his primary work—a dull, thickly-painted and almost morbid still-life—is easily recognizable; there aren’t many tall, blond men in South Korea, after all. Namjoon slides quietly beside Seokjin and says, “Recognize the oil grounds in this one?”
Seokjin turns his head and clutches at his heart. “Oh, you scared me!” He looks back at the painting again. “Well, the artist painted it so you can hardly see through all the layers, but there’s definitely that glow beneath.” Seokjin takes a sip of the bitter wine and Namjoon swears the man cringes. “I’ve done some research, you know.”
“Have you, now?”
“I have.” He smiles and Namjoon wants to paint all his straight teeth. “Kim Namjoon…you have the same name as the internationally-acclaimed young rising oil painter, Kim Namjoon.”
Namjoon laughs as much as he can without drawing attention. “What a terrible coincidence.” he tries to stop looking at Seokjin’s face and tracing the lines of it with his eyes. But it’s not a secret; Seokjin can see him staring, so Namjoon says it and the words soak into the flat white walls. “I still want to paint you.”
“You know, in case I didn’t imply it enough the last time we met.” Maybe he doesn’t just want to paint Seokjin. Maybe Yoongi was right; maybe it runs deeper than that. Namjoon takes in Seokjin’s smile and thinks it just might.
Seokjin looks at his artwork like he intends to burn a hole through it. “I told you I don’t do modeling.”
The artist sighs. “Why, is my art not good enough?” He has confidence, with reason. He knows he can get Seokjin to agree with enough perseverance.
“It’s not that, not at all. You didn’t get all tons of awards because you’re a bad artist.” Seokjin tilts his head as if it would reveal something more to the painting. “I just…would rather not.” It seems for a second that Seokjin intends to give him a legitimate reason, then decides against it. “Sorry, it’s stupid.”
“I’m sure you have your reasons,” Namjoon says, but he’s hardly given up. “What are you here for, anyway?”
Seokjin reaches into his pocket and pulls out cards similar to those in Namjoon’s own pocket. “Business. I have to advertise somehow.” He looks nice without his uniform, Namjoon thinks, dressed in a dark shirt and tie. He almost looks too nice.
“Me too, actually,” He shows Seokjin his own business cards, and when Seokjin swaps one with him it feels comfortable and friendly. Then they stand in silence, and Namjoon should be promoting himself but he can’t find an incentive to leave. “You wouldn’t have to model, you know,” Namjoon says, “You’d just have to sit there.”
Seokjin laughs and the sound echoes off the concrete floor. “Really, you’re still on this?” He looks down, finding interest in his glass of wine. “Why do you want to paint me so badly?”
Namjoon shrugs. “You have an interesting face,” Seokjin laughs again, and so Namjoon backtracks. “In a good way. Like, I feel like if I paint you, I’ll figure out what’s so interesting.” It’s a better explanation than he’d given Yoongi.
“And why should I say yes? Don’t answer ‘I’ll pay you,’ because that’s a weak pull-factor and it sounds like artistic prostitution.” His humor catches Namjoon off-guard; it’s refreshing.
There are potential clients all around them, and Namjoon lets them walk past. “Because I’ll owe you one, and you have nothing to lose, and I like to think I’m not that bad of company, and I’ll even treat you to a meal—”
“I’m standing my ground here, Kim Namjoon,” There’s something in Seokjin’s eyes, an almost teasing expression. “How often do you do galleries like this?” Seokjin asks, and Namjoon supposes it’s just to make conversation. Namjoon feels a kind of heaviness between them, like they both want something, and Namjoon knows what he wants and can only hope Seokjin wants the same.
“Too often,” he rolls his eyes and lowers his voice, “They get boring after a while. I don’t even like wine.”
Seokjin sighs and swirls the wine around in his glass, “Me neither,” He moves his hand slightly, resting it on Namjoon’s arm so discreetly that anyone else won’t notice it, and says, “We could get out of here.”
Namjoon knows what he’s suggesting and he’s seen it before; art is an inherently promiscuous profession, Namjoon thinks, and in his experience galleries are equivalent to late-night bars or clubs. He’s reminded of Yoongi’s exes and how Yoongi has claimed, “I met them at a gallery,” for each one. That’s entirely possible, because really, nobody wants to be at such a desperate and promotion-driven event. Namjoon would much rather be looking for fun instead.
He thinks about what Yoongi said: ‘I prescribe that you either get laid or actually communicate with this guy like normal human beings do’. And Namjoon’s always been about killing two birds with one stone. “Alright,” He feels the weight of Seokjin’s hand on his sleeve and Seokjin’s business card in his pocket. It’s good to know, at least, that they both do want the same thing. “My place isn’t far.”
Reason Number Sixteen:
Art is inconvenient. It always seems to spring up at the worst of times, like a surprise. And at the moments I would actually want to pay attention to it, I don’t have the time or motivation. So it just throws me off and disrupts my thoughts and my life.
He can’t recall a one-night stand where the other person is still in his bed the next morning. But Kim Seokjin never fails to surprise him; the shape of his body is outlined in the white linen sheet and it reminds Namjoon of one of those erotic Greco-Roman paintings, the cloth hanging too loosely over his waist. Namjoon looks at his face for a long time: hair matted to his forehead in relaxed curls, lips parted slightly, the natural light bouncing off his neck and chest.
Namjoon can’t exactly leave; it’s his own home. So he walks out of the bedroom and goes about his typical morning ritual of grabbing a yogurt for breakfast and eating it in front of the television. He doesn’t live lavishly, but certainly lives in comfort. The house is small, single-story, and had been severely discounted. It’s hard for others to find, and maybe that’s for the best—Namjoon lives somewhere between the suburbs and the country, off the side of a road where few people can bother him.
So many thoughts float through his tired mind as Namjoon thinks of last night. Seokjin had made it clear, somewhere between the cab ride and when they entered Namjoon’s front door, that whatever they did that night would be forgotten in the morning. That appears to be a lie, however, as Namjoon remembers every detail of the night before: Seokjin’s body as perfect as the rest of him, Seokjin’s features influenced by lust and ecstasy, Seokjin’s smooth voice coming out in moans and breaths, Seokjin’s hesitance to kiss him, and the feeling when he finally did. It’s something Namjoon knows he’ll never forget, because being an artist is a lot of things, if not lonely; he may not experience another night like that for a long time.
Having another person in the house is odd. There’s enough room for two, but Namjoon’s always thought it was perfect for one person: himself. Even when Yoongi stops by, he never stays for long. As Namjoon looks around his living room, there are signs everywhere of a visitor: Seokjin’s shoes at the door, his jacket hung over the back of a chair, his tie lying on the carpet. The smell of the air is different; it reminds Namjoon that he’s not alone that morning, no matter how lonely he is.
And then there’s Seokjin himself—he stands in the doorway to the bedroom and rubs his eyes and yawns, “Morning.”
“Morning.” Namjoon takes in Seokjin’s appearance: it’s the first time Namjoon’s seen him so messy, with his hair sticking up and the same clothes he wore to the gallery, this time wrinkled and hardly presentable. He looks like he’d had sex the night before, and Namjoon still can’t believe he had. In Namjoon’s bed.
Seokjin catches sight of himself in a mirror and laughs at the reflection. “Sorry for not leaving earlier. I’ll be going now.”
“You have work today?”
“No,” Seokjin slips on his shoes, “I just don’t usually stick around after, you know,” He sounds like he intends to continue, but doesn’t.
Namjoon would have let him leave, but he’s learned to take opportunities as they present themselves. So he says, “Well if you’re not working, I could show you my studio. You might appreciate it.”
Immediately, he sees the flicker of temptation in Seokjin’s eyes. “What happened to a one-night stand?” He grabs his jacket off the back of his chair and picks his tie off the floor.
“The night’s over,” Namjoon says, “so now we’re both out of the woods.”
For a moment, it seems like Seokjin really is going to leave, when he pulls his jacket over his broad shoulders and unlocks the door. But then he looks back at Namjoon and smiles, “Aren’t you going to show me the way?”
He leads Seokjin outside and to the old garage he’d claimed as a studio. It’s a reliable space, full of natural light and unfinished canvases stacked against the walls. Seokjin gasps when he enters, a sound that makes Namjoon chuckle. “It’s nice, isn’t it?”
“I’d go with ‘horrifically messy’, but my expectations were probably too high. They do say the best artists are the least organized.” Yoongi’s said something similar before, but it stings more when Seokjin says it.
The man walks the perimeter of the garage, stopping intermittently to pick something up and set it back down again. “You have an impressive inventory here,” he says, “Everything’s really top-brand.”
Namjoon settles himself on a stool and finds his palette and a spare stretched canvas. “I’m sure you get supplies pretty cheap, with your job. Must be nice.”
“It would be, if I could use any of it.” Seokjin stops for a moment to feel the grit of an unprimed canvas.
“Hm?” The painter squeezes out some white and cadmium red and yellow and opens the masses of color with a palette knife.
“I’m not an artist, you know,” Namjoon had just dipped a round brush into his turpentine, stopping because he did not know that about Seokjin. He doesn’t know much of anything about Seokjin. “I work at an art shop, yes, but I don’t make art.”
Namjoon holds his gaze, trying to see if he’s lying. “None at all? Why not?”
“I’m terrible at it. Always have been.” He sounds embarrassed, or resigned, or a combination. “I try to paint or draw every once in a while, but it’s no use.”
The paintbrush finds the red-pigmented oil and Namjoon drags it across the canvas in an outline of Seokjin’s face, the turpentine making it drip to the bottom. He wishes Seokjin would keep still, but takes what he can get. “Isn’t it a bit ironic, then, to work at an art store?” Maybe he’s prying too much.
Seokjin shakes his head and sits on a stool opposite Namjoon. Finally, a better angle to paint him. “My grandfather was an art collector and my mother worked in ceramics. I’ve been around art my whole life. And when I was young, I’d turn out drawings like crazy, just waiting for them to improve.” Namjoon watches his lips move and traces the curve of his mouth with the brush. “I guess some people are just blessed with the creative gene—I kept waiting to become skilled, like it would just happen someday, and it never did.” He sighs, “But I love it.”
“Art?” Namjoon wipes his brush against a rag and mixes the color of Seokjin’s cheeks in the morning light; maybe it’s a color he’s used before, maybe in a warm shadow or a plain wallpaper, but it looks more alluring when it’s used to fill his skin.
And Seokjin sighs, “I can’t be good at everything I love.” He smiles, but it’s heavy and almost distracted. “What are you painting now?” He doesn’t even get a view of the canvas, but says, “You’re painting me, aren’t you. And I told you not to,” His expression is disapproving but there’s something in his eyes that Namjoon can’t pick out. “Why are you painting me?”
“Hasn’t anyone ever told you?” Namjoon doesn’t glance up from the easel. “Anyone can see you’re…well, ‘beautiful’ might be too delicate of a word.” He’s much more than beautiful—he’s intricate, enticing, strong.
Seokjin laughs and claps his hands together. “Are you always this flattering in the mornings?”
He layers red-pigmented oils on Seokjin’s lips next. “There aren’t many people around here to flatter. There’s the family that lives down the road, and sometimes my friend stops by. He’s a photographer. Apparently my backyard is a good photo shoot venue.”
That makes Seokjin laugh, too, and Namjoon likes how much laughter Seokjin has inside him. “Do you need me to like, keep a straight face, or…?”
“It’s fine. Just be natural. You’re not modeling, after all.” Namjoon thinks he could use this to his advantage; Seokjin seems so complicated and he hasn’t even scratched the surface. “Talk to me—do you like your job?”
“I said I love art, didn’t I?”
“You also said your job isn’t art.”
Seokjin sighs. “It’s hard to be surrounded by things I want but can’t have. I’m sure you can see where I’m coming from.” Namjoon doesn’t know what he means by the last part.
“An ocean full of water, and not a drop to drink.”
“Exactly. At first I thought it would be the next-best thing to actually creating art, but at this point, it’s just taxing.” The image on Namjoon’s canvas is a thinned view of Seokjin’s face, as if he’d painted it with blurry vision. Namjoon can’t wait to build the paint up into something realistic, something that does Seokjin justice.
The door to the studio opens, and Namjoon doesn’t have to turn around to know who it is. “Hello, Mr. Namjoon—oh, I didn’t know you had company.” The boy from down the road, Jeon Jungkook. He’s an art student, and Namjoon lets him use supplies because, with the boy’s mother always bringing food to Namjoon’s house, it’s the least he can do. “I was just—I’m having trouble with this one painting, and I was wondering if…?”
He looks nervous to even ask Namjoon, even though he knows what the answer will be. “Jungkook, I’m not an art teacher. Sorry, but I can’t help you. Keep looking at it; I’m sure you’ll figure it out.”
Jungkook keeps his eyes on the floor and nods. “Can I…can I borrow this, then?” He eyes a thick brush, a flat one, and Namjoon thinks he might have been wanting it for a while.
“Sure,” It doesn’t take much deliberation; Jungkook is talented and takes care of the things he borrows, “Go right ahead.”
“Thank you, Mr. Namjoon,” His eyes light up and Namjoon can’t wait to see what he does with that brush; he always looks forward to Jungkook’s finished products, even if he never helps them along. The boy is gone as quickly as he arrived, the creak of the door signaling his exit.
Seokjin is smiling when Jungkook leaves. “He really looks up to you.”
“You think?” It doesn’t feel like Jungkook admires him at all; Namjoon’s seen how snarky the kid could be. When Seokjin doesn’t say anything in response, he grasps for another topic, as if he has to know everything about Seokjin before their time together is up. “If you could have another job,” Namjoon picks up where they left off, “what would it be?”
Seokjin doesn’t take long to answer; perhaps he’s thought about it before. “A teacher. In a classroom and everything.”
He doesn’t look like a teacher then, with his crooked clothes and his hair sticking up, but Namjoon can easily imagine him at the front of a classroom. “That’s a lot of hard work,” he says, “but you could do it.”
Seokjin just nods. There’s a patch of bright light that had drifted over the bridge of his nose, and Namjoon can’t stop thinking, He’s gorgeous, he’s perfect. “What about you? If you weren’t an artist?”
“Anything,” Namjoon fires back, “I’d do anything.” Seokjin seems stunned by the response, so Namjoon continues, “Being a prodigy, or a genius, or whatever you call it…This is a curse. Everyone expects so much from me. If I wasn’t so good at it, I’d want nothing to do with art. It doesn’t matter to me. Give me a sewage-cleaning job, a fast-food worker—hell, make me a garbage man. At least they do things for the world.”
“Namjoon,” Seokjin is smiling so gently, like Namjoon is a child, “Art does matter. It’s everywhere. Look around—this stool, your house—it was all designed and created by someone. And it makes people happy. I know it made me happy. Even just looking at your art makes me want to try again and again. Nothing else in the world can do that, except art.”
Namjoon doesn’t say anything. He keeps looking at Seokjin, keeps painting him, and decides that if Seokjin really feels this way, it doesn’t make him wrong or stupid or ignorant. Maybe it makes him right. Because Namjoon hates art, but he doesn’t hate Seokjin (not at all), and Seokjin is the closest thing to art he’s seen in his life. He wants to take a picture, but he knows it won’t do any good; he doesn’t paint from photographs. It’s not the same as seeing something in person, even if Yoongi tries endlessly to convince him otherwise.
They sit like that, for at least an hour longer, and make stupid conversation and Namjoon loves it. His canvas is hardly finished (only the eyes and mouth are close to complete), but Seokjin’s not a model. Namjoon doesn’t expect him to stay for another six hours, or however long it will take to complete, and it’s sad that he’ll have to let Seokjin go.
He asks to look at the painting so far. And Namjoon obliges; he turns the canvas around so Seokjin can see. The man almost glares at it, the way his eyes focus on the frame with an unreadable expression. And then, after a long minute, he stands up. “I’ll go now,” Seokjin takes his jacket in his arms. Namjoon spots a blotch of white oil paint on the cuff of Seokjin’s shirt. He’ll never get the stain out, but Seokjin doesn’t seem to care.
“You should stop by sometime,” Namjoon says, “I’ll never finish this otherwise.”
Seokjin laughs and it’s a sound Namjoon has just begun to get used to. “I know this ‘night is over’ and all that, but when another night passes, isn’t that too much?”
So Namjoon walks the man to the side of the road as he waits for a taxi. A minute goes by and there’s no sign of any taxi, let alone any cars on the dirt road. And Seokjin turns to him and kisses him like he did the night before: gently at first, with a hint of roughness at the end. It tastes like a good-bye. Another minute passes and still, no taxi. Seokjin kisses him again, quickly this time, and says, “I’m glad, actually, that you showed me your studio. It was good to get some things off my back. Just remember how lucky you are—how you have this gift that not a lot of people have. I hope you can appreciate it someday. You can do a lot more with it than just paint.”
Those are words Namjoon will remember for a very long time.
He doesn’t know when he’ll see Seokjin again, or if he will at all. And he sees a car—a taxi—at the far end of the road. So he looks at Seokjin a final time, and Seokjin becomes a different person in that one second. He looks sad, he looks tired, he looks like he can’t be real. Namjoon could paint thousands and millions of pictures of his face, could fill walls and rooms with painted snippets of Seokjin’s hands or eyes or jaw. And he’d never tire of it, never find this man uninspiring.
When the taxi rolls away, Namjoon stares after it in fear that he’s already forgetting.
New Reason Number One:
I was wrong and I was stupid. Just because something doesn’t matter, just because it’s controlling and distracting, isn’t a reason to hate anything. I can enjoy pointless things; people do it all the time. Maybe pointless things are easier to love.
He enters without the intent of buying anything. The bell sounds above the door—its clapper has been replaced since Namjoon’s last visit, or perhaps the bell itself, as the sound rings out more.
There’s a man at the counter, one Namjoon has never seen before. He smiles cheerily at Namjoon and greets him with a loud, “Welcome!”
“Hello,” Namjoon says as he approaches the counter, “Is Kim Seokjin here, by any chance?”
The employee goes quiet for a moment, then tips his head back in obnoxious laughter. “Wow, that’s a name I haven’t heard in a long time!” He abandons the counter for a moment to call into the back room, “Hey, Tae! There’s a guy here asking about Kim Seokjin!”
Namjoon vaguely remembers ‘Tae’, his memory jogged by the bright canvas still hanging on the wall. He hears a voice call back, ‘Oh man, those were the days!’ and it makes Namjoon’s heart sink. “So he’s not here?”
“Nope.” The employee’s name is ‘Hoseok’, if his handmade glittering nametag is anything to go by. “Haven’t seen him since he went back to college. Jin used to be the manager here, but now he wants to be a teacher. He’d be a good teacher, I think.”
Namjoon lets a smile creep onto his face. “I think so, too.” He certainly taught me a lot.
“Oh? You know him?”
“Not really.” Namjoon shakes his head and looks around the store. He might as well buy something. “Do you carry oil grounds here?”
Hoseok raises an eyebrow. “Ooooh, an oil painter, are we? Yeah, we’ve got plenty of oil grounds. Let me get one for you.”
He’d expected a ‘no.’ Unfortunately, we don’t carry oil grounds, but we’d be happy to order some for you. Namjoon pictures those words in Seokjin’s smooth voice, but he can’t imagine what his lips would look like saying them.
And Namjoon leaves with a can of oil grounds and the knowledge that he taught Seokjin some things, too.
“Did I just hear you right?”
“Repeat the last thing you said. Before ‘what.’”
Namjoon looks at the canvas and decides that yes, it’s a very good painting. “That I really like this painting and I’m excited to finish it.”
Yoongi sits on a stool and stares with Namjoon. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s an amazing painting so far, but since when have you ever been excited about art?”
Automatically, Namjoon’s eyes flicker to the corner of the room. “I’ve been excited about art before.” They keep their voices down, but the garage is so small that they’re probably heard anyway.
“And how long are you going to let that sit in the corner on a spare easel, collecting dust the whole day?” It’s the portrait of a man, still in its beginning stages, with all the colors blocked off in washes but detail only concentrated in the eyes and lips. Namjoon hasn’t touched it since the subject was in front of him. It hangs like a ghost, like a long-forgotten memory, gazing at Namjoon with unrendered eyes.
Namjoon makes a promise to Yoongi then: “I’ll finish it the next time he walks through that door.”
Yoongi just shakes his head. “You’ve really come around, then? Don’t ‘despise’ art anymore?”
“No, I don’t.” He answers truthfully. “It’s the opposite.” Namjoon still looks at the painting, and he wonders if that’s really how Seokjin’s eyes looked—were they really so captivating, or did Namjoon just paint them that way? “I think I know why he didn’t want me painting him.”
“Yeah. Imagine being obsessed with photography, and then seeing an amazing picture of yourself. And just knowing you could never take a photo like that.” Yoongi seems to think about it, but he keeps quiet.
Another voice pipes up, a voice Namjoon had nearly forgotten was there. “Namjoon? Sorry, I need your help again.”
“Don’t apologize,” Namjoon walks over to Jungkook’s corner—he’s practically set up camp, with his own supplies everywhere and a small duct-tape label on the wall reading ‘Jungkook’s Corner’. He keeps his distance from the easel to view it from afar, “What do you need help with?”
“Just the colors here,” Jungkook scrunches his face in frustration, “It’s not green enough. Why don’t you have green paint?”
Namjoon laughs, “Because you can make green paint.” He takes the palette knife and begins mixing an emerald green. This is the kind of art he should have been making for years, he thinks: a selfless kind, a collaborative kind, a humble kind that didn’t lock him in his own brain.
And he loves it. Art is beautiful; it makes him think, makes him feel. All the reasons why he hated it before have quietly turned into reasons why he’s in love with it.
Namjoon wonders if he can ever be satisfied with his art. Because he’ll never again paint what he wants to paint most. Maybe someday far away, someone will step into Namjoon’s life—someone beautiful, someone inspiring, someone that challenges him. But today he stands in front of Jungkook’s canvas and tries and fails to picture Kim Seokjin’s face, his memory weathered by time and unreliable eyes.
New love had come to him, but a love that never really existed left when Kim Seokjin walked out in his dress shirt and polished shoes. He’d lost a different love—something rare, something exciting—and he may never figure out whether or not it was worth it.
He never finishes the painting.