One of David Hockney’s favourite quotations is from Tchaikovsky – “Inspiration is a guest that does not willingly visit the lazy.”

The quote certainly applies to Hockney, whose vast, new show opens at Tate Britain this week. The exhibition covers all the phases of his career: his portraits, swimming pools and Yorkshire landscapes.

Work just keeps on pouring out of him, constantly changing and almost always in the first division. At 79, Hockney, and the Tchaikovsky quote, are ripostes to the idea that good art must be produced with great pain and only rarely.

There are artists who find it hard to produce their work: Virgil, squeezing out three lines of the Aeneid a day, or Francis Bacon, tearing up his paintings because he didn’t think them good enough.

But there’s no reason to think a prolific artist should be a bad one. Good builders finish on time, while bad ones miss deadlines. Certainly, in journalism, the fastest writers – like lightning-quick AN Wilson – are often the best.

The late Beryl Bainbridge had no time for self-indulgent agony over the production of art. When a friend of mine said she was having difficulty finishing a book, Bainbridge said, “Oh, writing’s very easy. You just think of an idea and write it down.”

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