JON Ronson's TV documentary on Stanley Kubrick made fascinating viewing this week.
It was a reminder, if any were needed, of Kubrick's cinematic brilliance. While many of today's quickfire blockbusters have a leaden predictability about them, here was a man dedicated to, and, some say, obsessed with perfecting his art.
Not only was Kubrick responsible for some of the greatest films ever made, he continually redefined the boundaries of what was possible in cinema – from the mesmeric scale of 2001: A Space Odyssey, to the special effects pioneered in The Shining.
Ronson was invited to Kubrick's Hertfordshire home, not to dissect his films, but to explore the 900 or so boxes the film director amassed during his career. These boxes were a cinephile's dream, crammed with all manner of film reels, letters and notes carefully stored over the years.
Kubrick himself gained a reputation for being a recluse later in life, which led to all manner of bizarre and spurious stories about his alleged habits.
There is, of course, a thin line between being an artistic perfectionist and a barking loon. But if Kubrick was guilty of being obsessive it was only in his precision and attention to detail, without which his films wouldn't have been the same.
It's also worth considering that unlike many great artists whose creative flame soars early only to fade, Kubrick's artistic light never dimmed and few would argue that Full Metal Jacket (1987) is a lesser piece of work than, say, Spartacus (1960).
He was never one to rush a job, though, and Steven Spielberg reportedly filmed Schindler's List in the same time it took Kubrick and his team to research a potential project. But as Kubrick's widow, Christiane, said, he was always searching for "the magic moment of falling in love with a story", which either happens or it doesn't.
So he only made three films in the last 19 years of his life, so what? He earned that luxury, and since when was art judged by volume?
It took Michelangelo just over four years to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, while Picasso produced Guernica in little over a month, yet both are considered masterpieces, and rightly so.
The point is that art should be about quality, rather than quantity. Salvador Dali, for instance, was capable of producing such incredible works as Christ of St John of the Cross, but he was also responsible for a welter of commercial dross. Similarly, Bob Dylan's extensive
back catalogue includes songs that spoke for a generation, as well as some that should never have gone beyond the first chord.
On the other hand, not even Philip Larkin's most
ardent admirers would argue that he was prolific, but what he did produce was touched by greatness and lives long in the memory.
In an age when our cultural landscape is littered with plaster saints and one-trick ponies, it is perhaps all the more reason we should celebrate genuine artists like Kubrick, whether they're prolific or not.