Little Women HTML version

Artistic Attempts
It takes people a long time to learn the difference between talent and genius, especially
ambitious young men and women. Amy was learning this distinction through much
tribulation, for mistaking enthusiasm for inspiration, she attempted every branch of art
with youthful audacity. For a long time there was a lull in the `mud-pie' business, and she
devoted herself to the finest pen-and-ink drawing, in which she showed such taste and
skill that her graceful handiwork proved both pleasant and profitable. But over-strained
eyes caused pen and ink to be laid aside for a bold attempt at poker sketching.
While this attack lasted, the family lived in constant fear of a conflagration, for the odor
of burning wood pervaded the house at all hours, smoke issued from attic and shed with
alarming frequency, red-hot pokers lay about promiscuously, and Hannah never went to
bed without a pail of water and the dinner bell at her door in case of fire. Raphael's face
was found boldly executed on the underside of the moulding board, and Bacchus on the
head of a beer barrel. A chanting cherub adorned the cover of the sugar bucket, and
attempts to portray Romeo and Juliet supplied kindling for some time.
From fire to oil was a natural transition for burned fingers, and Amy fell to painting with
undiminished ardor. An artist friend fitted her out with his castoff palettes, brushes, and
colors, and she daubed away, producing pastoral and marine views such as were never
seen on land or sea. Her monstrosities in the way of cattle would have taken prizes at an
agricultural fair, and the perilous pitching of her vessels would have produced
seasickness in the most nautical observer, if the utter disregard to all known rules of
shipbuilding and rigging had not convulsed him with laughter at the first glance. Swarthy
boys and dark-eyed Madonnas, staring at you from one corner of the studio, suggested
Murillo. Oily brown shadows of faces with a lurid streak in the wrong place, meant
Rembrandt. Buxom ladies and dropsical infants, Rubens, and Turner appeared in
tempests of blue thunder, orange lightning, brown rain, and purple clouds, with a tomato-
colored splash in the middle, which might be the sun or a buoy, a sailor's shirt or a king's
robe, as the spectator pleased.
Charcoal portraits came next, and the entire family hung in a row, looking as wild and
crocky as if just evoked from a coal-bin. Softened into crayon sketches, they did better,
for the likenesses were good, and Amy's hair, Jo's nose, Meg's mouth, and Laurie's eyes
were pronounced `wonderfully fine'. A return to clay and plaster followed, and ghostly
casts of her acquaintances haunted corners of the house, or tumbled off closet shelves
onto people's heads. Children were enticed in as models, till their incoherent accounts of
her mysterious doings caused Miss Amy to be regarded in the light of a young ogress.
Her efforts in this line, however, were brought to an abrupt close by an untoward
accident, which quenched her ardor. Other models failing her for a time, she undertook to
cast her own pretty foot, and the family were one day alarmed by an unearthly bumping
and screaming and running to the rescue, found the young enthusiast hopping wildly
about the shed with her foot held fast in a pan full of plaster, which had hardened with
unexpected rapidity. With much difficulty and some danger she was dug out, for Jo was
so overcome with laughter while she excavated that her knife went too far, cut the poor
foot, and left a lasting memorial of one artistic attempt, at least.
After this Amy subsided, till a mania for sketching from nature set her to haunting river,
field, and wood, for picturesque studies, and sighing for ruins to copy. She caught endless
colds sitting on damp grass to book `delicious bit', composed of a stone, a stump, one
mushroom, and a broken mullein stalk, or `a heavenly mass of clouds', that looked like a