a short site about The Divine Comedy

The Divine Comedy

An album like Liberation by The Divine Comedy can comes as something of a shock because it forces you to re-evaluate everything that came before it.

Dance music suddenly sounds graceless and functional, loud guitars slung around the necks of ugly men suddenly become just that and nothing more. Neil Hannon (he is The Divine Comedy) would be an embarrassment to these people had they the intelligence to know it. He exists in another world. Liberation was by a mile the best LP of ’93 and it probably won’t be bettered until the follow-up.

One of the best things about Liberation (second in importance to the fact that it is often agonisingly beautiful, but vital nonetheless) is Hannon’s blatant refusal to mask his intelligence. He puts Wordsworth’s ‘Lucy’ to music and condenses an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story into the simplest form possible (‘Bernice Bobs Her Hair’). Even Chekov isn’t safe (‘Three Sisters’). In the current pop atmosphere of vulgarity and wilful stupidity, he is the sun coming through the clouds. And so, at the risk of appearing ponce-like (too late, I know, I know), this interview will take its cue from better men that us (that I looked up in my big quotes dictionary). And it will address the all-important subject of Art. With a capital A.

1. “Art is born of humiliation.” – Auden
“I saw that quote on some poster on the tube recently. I thought about it for a moment and then I decided it was just about the silliest and most lurid generalisation I’d ever heard in my life. Art can be born of anything, but not everything is art. If what I do is art, then it was born of a rather uninteresting yet perfectly satisfactory middle-class upbringing in an overly violent part of the world.”

2. “Art and religion are two roads by which men escape from circumstance to ecstasy.”– Clive Bell
“I regard religion as a necessary evil. I personally feel the need for it, and I am perfectly at ease with the notion that our existence is nothing more than a happy accident. Unfortunately many people search for some mysterious answer to it all, and because science isn’t very sexy (and doesn’t always give the answers we want to hear) people find solace and good deal of common sense in religion. And who the hell am I to say they shouldn’t?”

3. “I wanted to become a work of art myself, but not an artist.” – Bernard Berenson
“I don’t think anyone but a blind second-hand suit salesman could consider me a work of art, and I have no plans to become one.”

4. “In matters of art it is more blessed to respond than to judge.” – Lord David Cecil
“I regard critics as a necessary evil. Their job is to speak the truth about artists, and I’m sure they’d expect nothing less of me when speaking of them. They are a grotesque crowd of incestuous, back-biting, hypocritical cowards without an ounce of gratitude for those who keep them in free CDs and Nescafé. I love each and every one of them as my own.”

5. “The artistic temperament is a disease that afflicts amateurs.” – G.K. Chesterton
“I think everyone has their own personal artistic temperament. That doesn’t make everyone an artist, though. Mine is the least ‘artistic’ of anyone I know, and my relationships with those I work with are perfect (as long as they do what I tell them).”

6. “If you want to know what actually is occurring inside, underneath, at the centre, at any given moment, art is a truer guide than politics, more often that not.” – Percy Windham Lewis
“Art can comment but I’m not entirely sure it can inform. If you want to know what’s happening in the world you read a newspaper. If you want to know why it’s happening, ask Mr Bono or Mr Stipe.”

7. “An artist is always alone – if he is an artist, the artist needs loneliness.” – Henry Miller
“Oh, Fuck off!”

8. “After Matisse and Picasso there is nothing more to be done.” – John Minton
“Art is not dead. Where there’s life, there’s art. Some forms of art, however, have been so thoroughly explored that they have nowhere further to go; but even they don’t die, they just fall asleep, to be reawakened at a later date.”

9. “Art for art’s sake is a philosophy of the well-fed.” – Cao Yu
“There is no logical or practical reason for art, no moral justification for faffing about with pianos, paint or word processors. Only the knowledge that without it life would be bloody boring.”

10. “All art is a revolt against man’s fate.” – Andre Malraux
“Yeah – but hey, it’s a steady job!”

Graham Linehan
Volume 9, 18/04/1994