Art for Artists. Farts for fartists. An odious little story about glory, rhyming and comparisons

Almost exactly eight years before I arrived singing and dancing into this world, the painter Mark Gertler gassed himself in his studio, in the very same house where I was born. The story goes that his paintings were not selling at the time — he had become unfashionable, people that once liked his stuff, had gone off it. It is said, that shortly before he topped himself, he was at a party with friends who were looking at a book about Picasso. Joining in with the admiration, he murmured something like “I’m going to go home and look at my work and if it’s not as good as this, I shall kill myself,” and he did.

Mark Gertler 1891-1939

It seems that Mark Gertler was constantly threatening to top himself – he was often melancholy, yet he was a seriously talented artist (the two often go together) but like all artists he spent a lot of time comparing himself to others, and suffering as a result of this. Is this comparison stuff something that took off in the spirit of enterprise in the 19th Century, and escalated into the 20th and the 21st, or is it part of the human condition? Are we destined to compare ourselves to others all the time – muttering such phrases as “I know better than her” “He’s got more dosh than me”, “I got my knitting certificate three years before you,” “Doris Day is a better than Minnie Mouse “and so on. Our lives are contaminated by odious comparisons. And yet we all do it, even when we should simply appreciate something for its beauty, its artistry, its real skill. TV programmes create a real spirit of competition, from “The Great Bake-Off” to “The Apprentice” to the endless sports coverage. It’s all about judgement, competition and comparisons. Politics stink with comparisons, they’re never infused with truth, unless they’re Green.

I frightened myself witless when I went into a bookshop yesterday and came out with some stunning books of poetry. One of them is entitled “Poems that make Grown Women Cry” the other is Kate Tempest’s “Hold Your Own”. Going through the first one triggered an internal monologue about sexism (this book is the sequel to “Poems that make Grown Men Cry” and is edited by two blokes). After this I went on to annoy myself even further by the number of literary references it contained mentioning people whose books I never even knew about, let alone read. If this wasn’t bad enough, the Kate Tempest volume just cast me simultaneously into joy and gloom by its terrifying brilliance, purity and economy… and she uses rhyme too! When I try to make poetry rhyme it sounds like doggerel and dead catterel. And as I read her brilliant poetry I thought “blimey she’s 31, and famous and brilliant and I am more than twice her age, and I am only just beginning to write stuff that is vaguely good… and when it rhymes it stinks. And then I thought… Anthea… if you think you are a spiritual being, you should just connect with everything, and connecting with everything makes you everything, and making you everything means that there is a microdot of Mark Gertler in you, a bit of Donald Trump in you (try not to throw up) a slice of “The Great Bake Off” in you and a page out of “Poems that Make Grown Men Cry” in you. And this consoled me a bit, and my deflated ego tried to re-adjust a bit… And then I suddenly remembered… the number of my own funeral readings that have made grown men cry was quite considerable. Here’s a tiny little thing that somebody read last week that had everybody snuffling into their hankies. It’s used for all sorts of funerals, for people young and old. Last week they read it for a scientist and a star gazer.

Star

I chose a star for you
It’s bright and beautiful
It has your name
And it shines from a distance.
I picked a rose for you
It’s heaven sent, and heavenly
It has your name
And its scent is perfection.

I gave a thought to you
It went like this:
Distance is no object
But when we look upon a star
It changes
It becomes lovelier
More familiar
It senses your love…
It’s as if
We’re one
And have never, ever
Been parted.