Once there was a great and wise king who loved roosters. He was so inspired by their majestic fierceness, their flashing colors, their every graceful move, that he commissioned hundreds of artists to draw giant paintings of roosters to hang on the wall of his palatial throne room. But to his dismay, none of the portraits were to his liking. He invited greater artists, and then even greater ones, but was left unsatisfied.

So he sent invitations to three of the greatest artists in the world, along with fine presents and promises of fame and fortune. Each would receive fifty thousand gold pieces, in addition to a fine house with servants and all their needs, for one year, and at the end of that time the king would pay one million gold pieces for any picture that found favor in his eyes. The year passed swiftly, and word of the three pictures spread throughout the kingdom.

The day of the unveiling arrived. A massive stadium, built especially for the occasion at the king’s orders, was packed with thousands of noisy people. On the stage were the three huge canvases, each covered with its own ornate curtain.

The crowd fell silent as the first artist approached his canvas, hesitated a moment, took hold of the cord that opened the curtain, and turned to face the king. The king nodded, and the artist, without even turning around, triumphantly pulled the cord. A hum went up from the crowd. It was a masterpiece.

The king rose from his royal seat, walked to the picture, examined it from near and from afar, and announced: “It is truly a work of genius, but . . . it is not exactly what I want.”

The crowd was abuzz as the king returned to his seat and motioned for the second artist to approach. The same scene repeated itself: silence, tension, the victorious pull of the cord. This time, when the painting was uncovered, shouts of “Bravo!” were heard. But the king, although he admitted that the picture was exquisite, was still not satisfied.

Finally the third artist approached and stood by his picture. Again the king nodded. But the artist, before he pulled the cord, made a request. “Your Majesty, I humbly ask that you make no judgment of my work until fifteen minutes after it is unveiled.” An unusual request, but the king nodded in agreement. The artist pulled the cord and revealed—the crowd gasped—an empty canvas!

“What is the meaning of this?!” shouted the king, but remembering his promise, he fell silent. The artist, meanwhile, had paid no attention to the king’s outburst. He was concentrating on the empty canvas before him, palette in one hand and brush in the other. Suddenly he began to paint.

The colors flowed from his very being. The lines danced, changing like fire, like a rushing river, like a field of wheat, like the eyes of a child, of a king.

And then, after ten minutes, the picture was finished and the artist turned to face the king.

Everyone was so silent you could hear only the wind; everyone was frozen as though hypnotized.

Then someone broke the spell and began clapping, then another and another, until the crowd was like thunder, on their feet, whistling, clapping and shouting, “Bravo! Bravo!” The king rose from his seat with open arms, walked to the artist and embraced him with tears in his eyes. “This is what I have been seeking!” The other two artists raised his arms in victory and were weeping with emotion.