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Art for Heart's Sake

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A recent trip to the cinema got me thinking of the old adage about life imitating art imitating life.

I found myself stood in front a poster for the new Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones movie, 'Hope Springs'. The plot revolves around a middle-aged couple trying to put some pep back into a tired marriage.

The poster reminded me of the rise in so-called 'silver divorces' (those divorcing over the age of 60) in recent years: a pattern seen frequently among my own caseload and that of colleagues at Pannone and borne out in official statistics (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2063430/The-growth-silver-separations-Divorce-rate-60s-surges.html).

However, the fact that it features a husband and wife who, in rediscovering their love for one another, avoid a marriage split had me wondering whether it was a case of culture echoing developments in society or the other way 'round.

Screenplays can take a long time to reach production and general release but the writers may have been reacting to vast numbers of couples postponing divorce plans. That development has been documented in a UK survey and reflects a trend partially fuelled by the pressures of recession on domestic finances, meaning spouses simply can't afford to go their separate ways.

It is often difficult to determine what came first: fiction or marital fact. Art is created from a particular set of social circumstances. Yet how many of us find inspiration in a book, song or movie, or at least have a piece of art confirming thoughts which we might already have had about our own lives.

Much has been written about the potential impact of violent films or video games on the attitudes of those who watch or play them, yet little has been said about the potential influence of supposedly more genteel forms of expression on our domestic habits. Given the importance of family, any such effects might be more subtle but more widespread and longer-lasting.

Did 'Kramer versus Kramer' merely reflect or actually fuel bitter custody disputes in the same way that 'Shirley Valentine' is anecdotally acknowledged to have prompted many unhappily married British women to go off in search of adventure in the Greek islands and elsewhere?
And, only a week or so after a court hears how a couple squandered their fortune on their divorce, is it worth reflecting how much of the battle between Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner in 'The War of the Roses' might just have been down to creative licence?

In my opinion, the way the arts reflect divorce shows how far society has moved on in recent decades in its regard of all matters marital. Less than two centuries ago, the Bronte sisters felt compelled to write under male pseudonyms because their views on relationships - and, yes, divorce -might not be considered "feminine".

Publishers also set down strict etiquette to be adhered to by Victorian wives, who were largely denied the right to divorce. Since Henry James' 'Portrait of a Lady', the pace of social change has progressed to the point whereby authors such as Dr Catherine Hakim now happily expound theories on how infidelity is the key to maintaining a happy marriage.

Art, though, is not merely the beneficiary, having music, print and movies informed by change in the home and the divorce court. It has long had a role to play in softening up viewers and listeners, and making once-sensitive concepts more acceptable.

Tracks by the likes of Regina Spektor, Elbow and many more in recent years illustrate that divorce no longer carries a stigma. Equally, having Kanye West hollering "We want prenup" suggests modern artists and their fans might be rather more in tune with the delicacies of modern relationships than some would have us believe.

Until recently, middle-aged sex and marriage difficulties were considered taboo. I believe that seeing both explored by big-name actors on the big screen at the same time is a positive sign.

Having seen the misery associated with divorce on many occasions, I hope that 'Hope Springs' encourages other, real-life couples to save their relationships rather than splitting up for good.
After all, I'm sure I'm not alone in loving a happy ending.