If you don’t mind, I’d like to take this opportunity to talk to you about bosoms. And art. And music. Not necessarily in that order, but in my mind they are currently closely interlinked.
I wandered around the National Gallery the other day, in search of inspiration for my next album cover and pondered two things:
1. How I must be getting old because when I was a bedraggled art student way back in the day, I was all over the modern stuff, literally transfixed by Duchamp and his latrines, and would run back to my college studio to make meat sculptures with specially created soundtracks. (Yes, I too would like to go back in time and throttle nineteen-year-old me.) Now I utter those fateful words “my four year old could do that!” and stroll blithely past.
2. How every other painting is of the Virgin Mary breastfeeding the little baby Jesus. Boobs all over the shop: Renaissance boobs, Baroque boobs, Chiaroscuro boobs – you name it. It all stops abruptly when we get to those pesky fun-killers the Victorians. They definitely weren’t keen on bosoms, boring old stick-in-the-muds, but that’s a whole other story and one quick glimpse of dear Queen Vic dressed head to toe in her crinoline purdah pretty much explains it.
It struck me as bizarre – given humanity’s centuries-old acclimatisation to bare breasted ladies – how prudish we still are as a civilisation about women feeding their children in the way nature intended. There is an entire industry devoted to selling products to preserve female modesty, apparently, while going about this very necessary business; but I suspect it’s more about appeasing a not insubstantial section of society who shock, horror! simply don’t want to see any evidence of such an innocent act. And yet – forgive me, but I’m going to say it – these psychologically confused individuals will happily coo and ahh over works of art with lots and lots of mammaries and not bat an eyelid.
This isn’t about feminism – which, as an adherent, means I couldn’t give a stuff about how ladies feed their babies as long as everybody’s happy – but more about mankind’s frankly astonishing hypocrisy. How can we live in a world with electricity and the internet and reality telly, and still have Page 3 but be squeamish about a boob in a baby’s mouth?
There’s a beautiful poem by W.H. Auden called ‘Musée des Beaux Arts’, and as I wandered this much loved gallery, from it the line ‘The old Masters: how well they understood’, popped into my head.
Oh yes. Even those old codgers in their dusty archaic studios knew: Breast may well be best.