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History | Geography | Art & Design | RE

All you need is love – and a cheese sandwich

Are food and love the only real things in life? At the age of 82, Britain’s greatest living painter, David Hockney, has written a moving letter telling the world his deepest convictions. The BBC journalist Will Gompertz could not believe his luck: he had just been handed an exclusive story to make rivals green with envy. Britain’s greatest living artist, David Hockney, had written him a letter summing up his philosophy of life, accompanied by nine iPad paintings that he was sharing for the first time. Coming amid the gloom of the pandemic, it was a scoop to lift the heart. Hockney is in lockdown in France, with two assistants and his dog Ruby. His paintings, which he hopes will give people “a respite from the news”, show flowers emerging and trees bursting into blossom. One is called Do Remember They Can’t Cancel the Spring. Reflecting on the pandemic, he writes: “We have lost touch with nature rather foolishly as we are a part of it, not outside it. This will in time be over and then what? What have we learned? I am 83 years old, I will die. The cause of death is birth. “The only real things in life are food and love in that order […] the source of art is love.” Other people across the ages have attached enormous significance to food, and not just as something to keep us alive. The essayist Michel de Montaigne wrote: “The art of dining well is no slight art, the pleasure not a slight pleasure; neither the greatest captains nor the greatest philosophers have disdained the use or science of eating well.” The poet Virgil described a poor old man with beehives and a kitchen garden as being as happy as a king. The artist Vincent van Gogh, writing about his painting of equally poor people, The Potato Pickers, emphasised the importance of “a meal honestly earned” – the fact that his subjects “have dug the earth with the self-same hands they are putting into the dish”. As for love, the writer Khalil Gilbran argued that “life without love is like a tree without blossoms or fruit”, while the philosopher Socrates declared: “One word frees us of all the weight and pain in life, and that word is love.” The psychologist Sigmund Freud reached a slightly different conclusion to Hockney, arguing that only love and work matter. And the poet Hilaire Belloc thought that nothing was “worth the wear of living/But laughter and the love of friends”. Are food and love the only things in life that really matter? Vital ingredients Some say that Hockney is right. Food is the essential thing that keeps us alive, and connects us to the natural world; love is what makes life worth living. Many of our happiest experiences are when the two come together: meals are not only the main focus of family life, but occasions for meeting our friends and celebrating important events, such as weddings. Others argue that it is ridiculous to make so much fuss about food. Yes, it is essential to our survival, but so are water and shelter. A lot of people do not particularly care about what they eat. Those who are very religious would say that faith is far more important, since it gives meaning and purpose to a life than can otherwise often feel painfully pointless: full of “the unbearable lightness of being” as the writer Milan Kundera once put it. KeywordsMichel de Montaigne - A Frenchman who lived in Bordeaux and is credited with inventing the essay as a type of writing.

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