“DO YOU think that Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of the Last Supper is a greater work of art than Walt Disney’s Donald Duck?” my late mother had asked at the breakfast table on an autumn morning. A light fog still ghosted over the house, as a pale glow from the hidden sun crept through the sky.
I considered her words which, as always, had been delivered in the refined but mildly mocking Scottish accent that had clung to her being, as close as the lick on a lover’s envelope.
“I think he might have the edge, but there’s not much in it,” I replied, thickly – raising my booze-threaded face over the gossip pages of the dear old Daily Sketch stretched on the salt cellar.
“Perhaps,” she said, savouring each delicate vowel. “But there is no doubt that Donald Duck is more fun.”
Daffy Duck was good, too, I suggested, but Felix the Cat had both the wisdom and the mischief. “Och aye. He was my favourite when I was a wee gel,” my mother said.
It has always been hard to compare artists and entertainers.
Their performances cannot be measured like those of people in the safer and more certain professions. Our own Ken Dodd has long been an admirer of the magicians, fire-eaters, acrobats, tumblers and clowns of the variety halls.
But can you measure the worth of a violin virtuoso against that of a unicyclist who pedals furiously while juggling balls, balancing a bucket on his head and whistling Beethoven’s Fifth? Of course, there are also what might be called natural entertainers. For example, gleeful crowds of whooping grandparents, dogs, squirrels, robins and children gather around me when I do my physical jerks on the keep fit contraptions that have appeared near the park pond. I try to take 500 steps on the swing-walker every day.
“Come on, you can do it. Don’t fail at the last,” they guffaw, as I creak on to my destiny, showering sweat.
Still glowing from such exertions, I arrived the other morning at our table among the ghosts on the old bandstand in the marble café, hidden off the windiest street in the world. There was the rangy form of the Philosopher and our mutual friend the Artist.
Before them, tea ripened in a swollen-bellied brown pot. “What’s today’s topic?” asked the Philosopher, as a heady tang arose from the jar out of which he had just scooped a dollop of chunky marmalade to spread on his thickly buttered toast.
“Well, my mother used to say that Donald Duck was in its own way a great work of art, like the Last Supper,” I said.
“What do you think?” said the Philosopher to the Artist, who smiled mysteriously, and then replied “I try to find holiness in every face. Which do you think Jesus would prefer?”
“Suppose Leonardo had come to Birkenhead to paint Mona Lisa,” said the Philosopher. And at that moment we were staring at our friend with mouths agape. Had he finally lost his grip on reality? But, seeing our surprise, he went on hurriedly.
“Hush now and listen to your imaginations. I can hear the locals and they’re saying, ‘What a gob on ‘er. Talk about enigmatic. Some joker must have put nettles on her egg butties instead of cress – as a jape to see if she had a sense of humour’.”
The Philosopher then released one of his throaty chuckles. “More seriously,” he continued. “We should make up our own minds about art, whether its painting, sculpture or writing. Too often we are told what is good by others. Think of the joy that Mickey Mouse, Bambi, Beryl the Peril, Desperate Dan and all the comic book heroes have given us. It’s great art.”
“Would Jesus have thought that Leonardo had caught a good likeness of Him in the Last Supper?” I asked. “Good Lord, what a question,” said the Philosopher, dabbing a crumb from his lips with the altar-white napkin. “I confess that even I do not know the answer to that one. By Jove, I’m truly baffled.”
“My turn to pour the tea,” I said.
LISTEN to David Charters on his picture podcasts at www.liverpooldailypost.co.uk