To The Guardian
In your interview with the writer Valeria Luiselli, one minute she makes an admirable case for the value of fiction, and the next she asks, “If you’re going to devote your life to something as questionably useful as literature or art, I think there’s a commitment that you make to understanding others”. Questionably useful? I was tearing at the paper in frustration. Why do we feel that the arts are inferior to science? Who made us believe that?
I am a doctor; I work in a hospice. I am painfully aware that science keeps us alive. But what keeps us living is art. The overstretched, underfunded NHS still finances an art therapist and a music therapist at my hospice. When patients need something to keep them going they look to the arts. If you don’t believe that, look around your living room. Do you have a TV? Do you have a bookshelf? A music player of some sort? These are forms of art and they are what we choose to come home to. We come home to stories, whether told on the screen, on pages, or by a relative or friend; we live for stories. Every novelist should know that the arts are not “questionably useful”. They are what keeps us going. (Dr Clare Coggins, Oxford, published in The Guardian and The Week, March 2019)
Speaking personally, one great joy for me is to draw – outside in real life, inside designing greeting cards, anything as long as I have a drawing book, a pencil ( and, sotto voce) an eraser. I have drawn lions and elephants in Namibia, seascapes in Britanny and castles in Italy, sitting alongside my wife. We can be silently absorbed for ages, with only the breeze and the movement of the trees as background. This is Epicureanism at its best- absorbing, calming and a way of escaping the hassle of modern life.