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Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this item to editor@pnreview.co.uk

This item is taken from PN Review 23, Volume 8 Number 3, January - February 1982.

Editorial
The Scotsman (29 June 81), under the headline 'Arts Told To Unite Against Cuts', reported on the Director of the Scottish Arts Council Mr Tim Mason's 'first major speech since taking office nine months ago'. The first striking feature in the report of the mountain's labour is the occasion: the 'major speech' took place at a degree and diploma presentation at the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, Dundee. The address to young artists was not by an artist or a writer or a musician. It was by an arts administrator. It was not about art but about money. The triumph of state funding over the arts was implied both in the occasion and in the more alarming fact that no one appears to have seen anything incongruous or odd in it. I felt it was as strange as if the (now imprisoned) financier Mr Sindona had been invited to address the College of Cardinals.

It's worth asking-I would really like to know-what Mr Mason, or his predecessor Mr Sandy Dunbar, who was also given to such public appearances, has written, sculpted, danced, composed; what gives him the authority to 'tell' 'the Arts' what to do? What has he read, or indeed how has he read, that he can use language as he is reported to have done on this maiden occasion?

'It is up to those who value the arts,' he said, 'to speak up for their importance.' And he continued: 'For too long those concerned about the arts and working in them have spoken in disparate voices, separately stating their anxieties, even arguing publicly with each other.' (I have added the italics, to emphasise his outrage.) 'It is now, I believe, that we must unite because the threat is to the arts as a whole.' This was not a call for a fusion of forms, such as Scriabin in a visionary mood might have urged. It is the advocacy of something lower than the conformity of Socialist Realism in art: a call for that conformity in life. Of course, this has nothing to do with art. It is about lobbying, money, 'pooling interests'-the common interest, getting money from government. To this particular barricade the Artist is led (how many true artists would let themselves be led?) by-an arts administrator.

'It is time we politicised the arts,' he said, 'that we made the question of national and local government support a political issue worthy of debate.' Is this what 'politicise' has come to mean? To agitate for funds . . . not to agitate for liberties, to agitate for truthfulness and accountability. Mr Mason has a vested interest in 'the arts uniting' to seek further dependence, not independence.

Why are 'the Arts' under threat in Scotland? Because of the habits of dependence encouraged by the local bureaucracy. Because with its increasing power and its proven unaccountability the Scottish Arts Council lacks the courage of artistic convictions and remains a 'politic' body responding to those who can or who will work the system, punishing those who can't or won't. Implied in Mr Mason's speech is the assumption that money buys imagination and art, that more money means more art, that if initiatives do not come from the community they can be sown in the community with 'incentives'; finally, 'the Arts' are a form of social service, the artist is one with the arts administrator, combining the functions of local government officer and social worker. 'Even in the somewhat gloomy times we must take a positive attitude to broaden our audiences, to make the arts more accessible, to examine our policies with education and the arts, to encourage more people to become actively involved in participating in an arts activity of their choice,' said Mr Mason. So much for agit prop.

* * *

How does this relate to the way the Scottish Arts Council actually treats artists and members of the general public? The phrase to make the arts more accessible' will strike anyone who has followed the Ian Hamilton Finlay affair in the Literary Review, PNR or the Observer as particularly ironic. For a very long time now the SAC has denied Finlay the right to document works' in a public collection and has failed to make available to lecturers and other interested parties slides and other material relating to his work. Rather than concede the poet's right (implicit in the SAC charter) to document his work, the SAC was willing at public expense to send its solicitor from Edinburgh to Glasgow to try to dissuade the Consumer Protection Department from bringing a case against it on this issue. It would have gone to court-again at public expense-to deny the poet his right to document the works.

It should be borne in mind that the Finlay case is a particular instance of a general wrong: a public body with immense resources acting autocratically and deliberately against an individual artist; that artist pursuing every possible means of redress; with the goodwill and understanding of many individuals, of the Consumer Protection Department, of the Press Council; and then finally being penalised for having been mistreated in the first place-and expressing his complaint.

It is hard for me to set down the degree of incredulity with which I have been going through the voluminous SAC correspondence of evasion and obfuscation that I've watched growing over the last few years-a correspondence in which dozens of people have been involved and under which very simple truths have long been buried and issues of personality have obscured issues of truth. Law, Justice and Reason seem to have been devalued. Even now, a simple statement of fact, an acknowledgement of error, by a public body would end this stupid saga. Instead, new evasions are added and the guilt compounded, the life of a Scottish artist is made increasingly unbearable and those Scottish artists who might be expected to show solidarity with one whose battle is fought in large part on their behalf remain-with a few exceptions-grazing placidly on the hillside. The fact of their culture-and our culture-seems to be that one cannot set down facts. The reign of opinion and assertion is absolute.

It is therefore in an elegiac spirit that I note some facts. The SAC declared publicly that Finlay had put matters in the hands of his solicitors and that, as a result, they could speak to him only through solicitors. Here is an alternative version. The Under-Secretary of State, the Scottish Office, told Judith Hart, MP (25 January 79) that the SAC had put matters in the hands of their solicitors. The SAC director's claim is further disproved by the Law Society of Scotland (19 February 1979), by Mr Finlay's advising solicitor (30 August 1978) and by J. Bain, the Lay Observer, the Law Society of Scotland (13 June 1979) who was satisfied that no action on a legal level was envisaged by Finlay. In 1980 and 1981 the SAC kept to their story, despite independent witness.

When Dr Anne Smith of the Literary Review asked me to write about my experiences of the SAC, the SAC Director took certain actions which Dr Smith later reported to me. Representing the SAC-which was about to grant-aid the magazine- Mr Dunbar visited the editor, made allegations about Mr Finlay's sanity, and urged her to suppress the commissioned piece. When she refused, he extracted from her an agreement to give the SAC the final word. Fortunately the editor, under pressure of conscience, changed her mind. When, before making the SAC Director's conduct public I asked his successor, Mr Mason, to comment, he refused to do so. No denial was issued and the statement was not contested.

When the Consumer Protection Department case against the Scottish Arts Council was suppressed by the Crown Office, the Procurator Fiscal conceded that the SAC had committed 'the offense' but that it was 'comparatively trivial'-compared to what they did not say. Not having consulted Mr Finlay, four expert and independent witnesses who had offered to testify, or any of the other people who had expressed concern about the case, they personalised a matter of principle and declared that Mr Finlay's motive for wishing to document his work was 'to embarass members of the Arts Council'. No evidence to substantiate this judgement was offered. No investigation had been made. It was a convenient form of words. It was the same when Judith Hart, Mr Finlay's MP, 'investigated'. Evidently she visited Lord Balfour, then Chairman of the SAC. They spoke the same language-a language of expediency-and so settled the matter. She never visited Finlay to see if, perhaps, the SAC had given her an incomplete picture of the affair. Of all the inquiries made, none included both parties. The SAC, accused, was asked to judge itself. It declared itself blameless.

What are we to conclude? That the SAC stands outside the law? Or that it regards the law as its possession, to be used rather than obeyed? Is the SAC's conduct characteristic of other establishments? Had this matter stopped with Mr Dunbar, it would have ended with his retirement and an inquiry. But his successor took up where he had left off and found to support him the Crown Office. The game seems to be deeply institutionalised, then, at a high level. Even the Minister with Responsibility for the Arts-after a six month 'investigation'-allowed the SAC inthe end to judge itself guiltless, without- of course-consulting any of those who had experienced the SAC's actions, though several had expressed willingness to testify to the Minister on Mr Finlay's behalf.

* * *

'The Arts' are indeed under threat in Scotland. Mr Mason is another more or less plausible ventriloquist's dummy, spoken through by a curious and confused jargon. The ventriloquist is somewhere back in the 1960s and perhaps dead.

Would that in his maiden speech he had declared: 'We must take a positive attitude to broaden the Scottish Arts Council's sense of truth, to make the Scottish Arts Council more accessible, to examine its policies with artists, to encourage more administrators to become actively involved in communicating with artists and understanding their fields of action.' There is still time, Mr Mason!

I find it disheartening and difficult to set down this summary account. For people in culture to be debarred from their culture by bureaucracy-a bureaucracy which was established to enable the artist to work-is absurd. There appears to be no understanding of the pain that the SAC's conduct has caused a serious artist, the waste of his and their time, energy, resources. What is as disheartening is the acceptance by fellow artists-and by critics, commentators, the informed public at large-of the SAC's conduct towards Mr Finlay, the advice he has had that, if only he would play ball and let the lies of the past stand, the coffers might again be opened to him, he might be re-admitted to the kingdom. Yet that kingdom is available to him only if he agrees to enter it stripped of his integrity and accepting the right of the king of the arts administrators to make truth. It cannot be so dark in Scotland that other artists are blind to the wider implications of the SAC's actions, or of their own growing dependence on a wilful and unaccountable patron.

This item is taken from PN Review 23, Volume 8 Number 3, January - February 1982.



Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this item to editor@pnreview.co.uk
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