Today I was interviewed by Virginia Nicholson for her new book about the ‘sixties. It was more like a long chat with an interested new friend, really. But she asked one very engaging question at the end – what did you take from the experience of the ‘sixties?
I think there are three major things that stayed with me from those golden years – one was the joy of living in a positive world – we really did feel in that ten year democratic blip that we – from any background – could do anything – that doors were open or opening that had once been closed. And women were just beginning to spread their wings.
Another thing I’ve retained was a sense of the value of ourselves in the world and the value of the world we were in – not in money terms but in the almost giddy exhuberance, the joy of creativity that rolled in with that decade. Working in the world of contemporary art was all about making things happen, or seeing things being made – on the canvas, on the etching plate, out of bronze or stone, from fresh ideas – making marks and making a mark on the world with them. People bought art because they loved its freshness and vitality. Of course money changed hands for art but not in the way of the mid-‘seventies and beyond. Not Art as Investment in the way it has become. Galleries dared to take risks, artists took risks, buyers took risks – it was exciting – it was young – and it had integrity.
Out of these two things, the sense of democracy and the sense of spiritual integrity rather than secular or corporate value, came the third – my very beady eye – an eye that watched how the world was shaping up and questioned the slickness and money-rush and the resultant tinsel values of the post-‘sixties age. It’s that beady eye, perhaps, which has given me the style in which I write. When a reviewer in ‘The Times’ said I was ‘…Jane Austen in modern dress…’ I was genuinely amazed – but I also knew I was on to something. Her beady eye is legendary and its observations coloured with humour. She was of her time and perhaps I am of mine. If I can follow the brilliant Miss Austen in even a small way then I must look back over my shoulder to those fabulous, life-changing ‘sixties and given them a grateful bow and thank them for their legacy.