A very long time ago, the Emperor of all China commissioned an artist to paint a picture of a carp. The artist told him he would begin work immediately. A month later, the Emperor had not heard from the artist, so he sent an emissary to inquire. The artist sent back word that he was working diligently and would send word as soon as the painting was done. Yet another month went by. Another emissary was dispatched and received the same answer. Finally, after a third month had passed, the Emperor set out himself for the artist’s house, accompanied by many bodyguards and courtiers. When the Emperor arrived in his palanquin, he entered the artist’s house and demanded that the artist produce his painting. Watched carefully by bodyguards, the artist set out paper, ink and brush. Over the course of 20 minutes, he executed the most perfect painting of a carp the Emperor had ever seen. “This is excellent,” said the Emperor, “but I am most displeased that you didn’t do this when I first asked for it.” He glared at the artist, who quaked with fear. “May I show you something, great Emperor?” the artist asked. The Emperor grunted approval. The artist went to his closet and opened the door. Out poured hundreds of carp paintings. Each one was good, but none so exquisite as the one now before the Emperor. “I have only just become able to create a painting worthy to present to you, great Emperor,” said the artist.
Does anyone know where this story comes from? I don’t remember where I read it.