The latest title off my list of seven books from The Guardian Best Books of 2013 was the most challenging so far. William Boyd thought that Breakfast with Lucian by Geordie Greig was “fascinating, intimate… a revelation. Every question I had about Freud – from the aesthetic to the intrusively gossipy – was answered with great candour and judiciousness.”
Candour, yes. Judiciousness, I’m not so sure about. I really struggled with this book; not with reading it, but with reconciling my admiration for Freud’s paintings, my horror at his behaviour and my guilt at finding myself judging a great artist for the way he chose to live his life.
“Judge the art and not the artist,” I kept telling myself. None of us is perfect. He stayed friends with some of the women he treated so badly. Most of his acknowledged children loved him. He never pretended to be anything other than what he was.
But somehow none of it worked. I read it through to the end; it’s well written and I never considered not finishing it, but I was constantly gasping at Freud’s behaviour. Actually gasping out loud. Sometimes I had to put the book down to have a really good gasp. Next I’ll be reaching for the smelling salts.
Perhaps it was what Greig chose to concentrate on. Freud’s relationships with women as lovers and models are covered in detail, while his friendship with the Australian performance artist Leigh Bowery and the amazing works he produced using Bowery as a model are hardly alluded to at all. It may be that reproducing images featuring Bowery is problematical or too expensive. Or it could be that no-one except me is very interested in Bowery any more, whereas sex will always sell.
A few years ago I really enjoyed reading Man with a Blue Scarf, which was all about Freud’s practice, not his life. I think I’ll re-read that and get over myself.
What do you think about separating the art from the artist? Are there authors you won’t read because of what you know about their lives or their politics?