“It’s a lie, but it’s only a little lie.”

Whenever Mick Jagger is in the media I think of high school art class. In response to a dot drawing assignment I’d produced a version of a Herb Ritts photograph that had appeared in Rolling Stone:


Yes, that is the original Herb Ritts photograph and not my “art”work, which was loved by my instructor and I kept, proudly, for a very long time. In retrospect, it was not a bad attempt for a 16-year-old but really cannot compare to the extraordinary dot drawings of Mick Jagger on the internet.

Anyway. Art. And the interesting story of Nat Tate, an artist who lived a tragically short life, 1928-1960. At least, that’s the story. He was the subject of a biographical hoax executed in 1998 by William Boyd and his publishers, David Bowie and Karen Wright at 21 Publishing. According to Wikipedia, “The literary editor of The Independent, who was at the New York [biography] launch, said that no one he spoke to claimed to know Tate well, but no one claimed not to have heard of him.”

The result, in addition to (and this is my personal presumption here) gaining attention for 21 — who knows if it was the right kind of attention — was to shed light on the tendency of people to not admit when they don’t know something. As Karen Wright put it, “Part of it was, we were very amused that people kept saying ‘Yes, I’ve heard of him.’ There is a willingness not to appear foolish. Critics are too proud for that.”

I think of myself as someone who isn’t good with dishonesty, that I have an internal mechanism that fights against it, but I am rarely in the position where I have to fudge the truth to save face. Except, it happened yesterday. A client asked me if I remembered a now-defunct law firm. I said, “Yes,” even though the name was only vaguely familiar. Depending on how established I felt in my role as art critic, I may have been silent at the Nat Tate book launch, not admitting any knowledge — or lack of knowledge — of the artist.

There’s always been this thing about Bowie, that he plays with the truth, used to call himself an actor, blah blah. V&A curators, in the film that was broadcast to UK theatres to conclude the London exhibition, cited claiming to be gay as an example. (Yeah, but he certainly participated in gay, didn’t he? He did. I mean, come on. Speaking of Mick, we all know that rumour is true. And in my opinion, it’s not scandalous — it’s kind of nice, sort of sweet.) The live recording of the Reality tour includes a very likeable version of “Never Get Old,” that ends with Bowie saying, “It’s a lie, but only a little lie.”

Only a little lie. And the lie, itself, is the art.