When I was a teenager I used to go to the cast-rooms at the V&A.
They had perfect plaster casts of statues from all over the world, and I liked to draw Michelangelo’s David.
You could sit on the floor and spend all day if you liked, just drawing.
So when my daughter was a teenager, I took her there and she’d sit and draw David.
I said I’d take her to Florence to draw the real David, and one day we all went.
But the real David is displayed more like a tourist exhibit, crowds are moved past it by guards, no one is allowed to sit on the floor and draw it.
Cathy and I had to stand in front of Jade, who hid behind a pillar to draw it, so the guard couldn’t see her.
In Rome, it was the same with all the art treasures at the Vatican museum, no one was allowed to sit on the floor, so no one could draw them.
That’s why Florence and Rome aren’t among my favourite cities.
Paris, New York, and London are my favourite cities, they allow people to sit and draw.
In Paris, for instance, if they see you have paper and pencils, you can sit anywhere to draw.
Paris is a city that prides itself on culture, and art and artists are part of culture.
Paris wants culture to be a living thing, they want artists practicing, so they openly allow it.
Paris isn’t just a city for tourists, like Rome or Florence.
Neither is New York, at the Metropolitan Museum they not only allow you to sit and draw, they encourage it.
They know that having artists choose to draw their exhibits is both a compliment and an endorsement, an advertisement for the museum.
In their Renaissance Sculpture Gallery they provide chairs which you can pull into position to draw the sculpture, there’s even a cappuccino bar at the end of the gallery.
London isn’t quite so plush it’s true, but London recognises the value of artists sitting and drawing their works.
When Jade would draw the cast of David, we would take collapsible fishing chairs.
So many people enquired about these that now the cast-rooms provide them for artists wishing to draw.
I think London’s attitude was summed up for me one Saturday when I took Jade and Lee to the National Gallery.
Lee had been asking me about ‘foreshortening’ and Alan Read, the agency researcher who was also an art expert, told me the best example was Caravaggio’s ‘Supper at Emmaus’.
So we went to the National and Jade and Lee sat in front of it and began drawing it.
An elderly man walked past and stopped and looked down to see what they were doing.
After a bit, he looked at me and smiled and said, “Wonderful, wonderful”.
I think you decide what sort of place you want a city to be by the way you behave.
Paris, New York, and London want to be living cities, Rome and Florence want to be museums, there’s a lesson for us all there.
When I was young we had two rooms downstairs: a family room which we all lived and ate and watched TV in, and a room kept for best, that was only used for guests.
Guess which was the warmest, friendliest, nicest room, which still reminds me of home and my family?
If we get too precious about things, they can’t be part of life.
And that for me, is what awards are about, they are like Miss Havisham’s Wedding Feast.
No doubt the statuettes were beautiful at one time, but they have long since ceased to have any relevance to the real world.
Only a few people care, only a few people remember, they are remote from real people.
They are not alive, they are aloof.