I used to have a rather naive view about creative artists; I suppose many of us do. So, I used to assume that someone who created works of art (novels, poems, operas) which express worthy and admirable sentiments must themselves be worthy and admirable people; or else they were hypocrites.
And then along came, among others, John Lennon, Philip Larkin and Richard Wagner. Lennon wrote painfully honest songs about love, need and the importance of living a good life while at the same time getting his kicks shoplifting and humiliating waitresses; the man who wrote “imagine no possessions” was a multi-millionaire property investor, after all. Larkin wrote poems of breathtaking compassion and humanity (“what will survive of us is love”), while his letters show him to have had a mean, petty and possibly racist streak. Wagner, who wrote possibly the greatest music ever written, and whose 4-opera 15-hour Ring Cycle is based on the idea that love is the only antidote to power, was (at least in popular assessment) a virulently anti-semitic, arrogant womaniser.
And yet, and yet. Does any of this matter? I think not, because in each case there is no reason to believe that their works of art were insincere. In other words, just because they also behaved in ways that we find repellent, it doesn’t devalue their ability to encapsulate the nobler aspirations of the human condition in a song, or poem, or music drama – which is what I find so admirable about them. It just means, to be cliched about it, they were human. In fact, I wonder if this isn’t the point? Maybe because they were fallible, they were all the more able to articulate what they aspired to. (After all, how many religious leaders who have attained enlightenment have written songs like “Help!” or “In My Life”? Not many, and I bet you can’t download them from iTunes.)
I’ve had plenty of time for this sort of thinking, as I’ve been on leave this week, enjoying the sunshine back in Somerset, reunited with my music collection, cleaning up cat vomit (on one occasion, after I’d stepped in it cold in bare feet the following morning) and catching up on the knitting. The back is finished and the shoulders and neck are each on holders of yarn from my previous gansey, so it’s a case of “haul away and sheet her home me boys” for the front.
It’s odd, but an 80cm circular needle which served perfectly well while knitting in the round feels uncomfortably tight now I’ve switched to back-and-forth knitting like this. It gets easier once you’ve done a few inches and the knitting can double back on itself, but I tend to change needles to 90cm at this point. They get floppier when you’re near the top, but they’re more manageable at this stage.
And remember, be nice to waitresses: they can spit in your soup.