Years ago, probably in 1985, the calm of a weekend afternoon was suddenly broken by the sound of shattering glass. My wife, Rohan rushed downstairs to discover our three sons, aged 6, 11 and 14, standing in front of broken pane in the door of a kitchen cupboard. Her questions as to how it happened and who was responsible were met by silence. I was called but my enquiries got no further and, keen to know more, told them all to go to their rooms and to stay there until one of them owned up.
One by one they went upstairs with their heads bowed. And, following them up at the rear with her head down and her ears flat was our dog Daisy, who identifying with the boys was on her way to her basket. We had our suspicions but never discovered the perpetrator – as a team the boys (and Daisy) stayed silent.
Such secrecy, or in this instance a failure to acknowledge responsibility for deeds done, relates here to children who had been naughty. But failure to acknowledge ones actions has a much wider implications and in this blog I will deal with such failures as they apply to authorship of creative works. I should, however, start by declaring my position – I see it that being open and honest about ones acts and endeavours, and taking responsibility for them is in the public interest.
Turning first to an example of obfuscation at a societal level that is a large part of one particular profession. For some reason, writers are leaders in name-hiding as, amongst them, umpteen ‘legitimately’ adopt a nom de plume. It could be that they hide because they want to say things that might otherwise be difficult, or in order to avoid criticism, embarrassment or even prosecution, but whatever the reason, society sees hiding in this instance as acceptable. It has, for example embraced David Cornwall publishing as John le Carré, Samuel Clemens as Mark Twain and François-Marie Arouet as Voltaire. From my perspective, acknowledging ones work is the more wholesome option.
Turning now to individuals who chose to remain anonymous, so who don’t let audiences share with them and celebrate their creativity. One reason for writing this blog was to tell the story of a late and close friend Jean-Yves le Pape. A quiet man who lived close to us in Brittany. We agreed about most things but in this instance we begged to differ. As a hobby Jean-Yves played and made uilleann pipes – the national bagpipe of Ireland. He sold them widely but, despite my attempts to change his approach, he always refused to add any indication on the instrument as to their origin. It was, he claimed, more important that they were valued and used for what they were. My belief was that the musicians who used them would have liked to have an artisan creator with whom they could identify. In the same way as there is something very special about playing a violin labelled ‘Antonius Stradivarius – Faciebat’.
While Stradivarie, Bechstein and Fender have produced instruments to last, there are other creators whose works are ephemeral and who seem to delight in giving pleasure while they themselves remain invisible – almost a tease. At a national level there is the otherwise anonymous street artist Banksy whose works on walls traditionally appear overnight often to be painted over next day. And at a more parochial level there are the carefully constructed unsigned sand beach sculptures that are washed away with the next tide.
More haunting for me was a pavement drawing that Rohan and I discovered one morning near our home in Richmond and which was best seen from above (see illustration). At ground level it was difficult to make out, but as we crossed a pedestrian bridge during our morning exercise, the image was chilling. It was a life-size drawing in chalk of someone peeping bleary-eyed and frightened out of a sleeping bag. The work had been created anonymously the day after a local hostel for rough sleepers was closed. In keeping with this type of creation, it was washed away by the rain in days.
Acknowledging, taking responsibility for, what we do is important in all walks of life. In some circumstances however there is something intriguing, even mystical, about works that appear and disappear like clouds. But here it is in the nature of the work itself.
For helping me write this blog I would like to thank Sarah and Rohan.