Composer attacks `small-minded' clique running arts in Scotland

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The Independent Online
ONE OF Britain's leading composers, having castigated Scotland as riddled with sectarianism, has now taken his homeland to task for stifling artistic talent.

Artists struggle north of the border "sorely and painfully, like a woman's birthing agonies," according to James MacMillan, who wrote the fanfare for the opening of the Scottish Parliament.

In the programme notes for his Symphony No 2, which will be premiered next week by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Mr MacMillan says that Scotland is "no place for a poet, no country for a man or woman of letters", and adds that there is a "spiritual desolation" about the country.

His barbed comments, which have appalled Scottish politicians, were backed yesterday by fellow artists, including Andrew O'Hagan, one of Scotland's most acclaimed writers.

"There is a tradition in Scotland that artists are best ignored and at worst reviled," said Mr O'Hagan.

"There is no proper acknowledgement or encouragement of their achievement. Scotland is alone among small societies in such failure."

He rounded on those who have dismissed Mr MacMillan's remarks. "The politicians," he said, "are behaving like executives of a public relations company or as employees of the Scottish Tourist Board instead of engaging with what he has said."

Mr MacMillan, in his controversial statement, quotes Mr O'Hagan, saying: "For all the glories of its humane tradition, Scotland has no time for the discomfiture of thinkers... and no spirit, no confidence, no capacity for tolerance in the face of unsettling truths".

Alasdair Gray, the novelist and painter, said he "totally agreed" with Mr MacMillan. "If you want to make a living out of art you should become an art administrator," he said.

Jack Vettriano, the Fife-born painter and arguably Britain's most popular artist, said he had been shunned by the Scottish artistic establishment. "I have been painting full-time for 10 years and in that time I have never had any letter or invitation, indeed any recognition that I exist, from the art establishment.

"There has just been a stunning, deafening silence. No museum - not even in Edinburgh where I started out - has purchased one of my works.

"I sometimes think it is the fact that the work I do is sexualised... If you look at the make-up of the big players in the arts in Scotland, they are not sexy people."

Ronald Frame, Glasgow-born author of The Lantern Bearers, which narrowly missed out on making this year's Booker Prize shortlist, said that he had been largely ignored by the Scottish literary establishment.

"In this macho culture it is very difficult to write in a sensual way," said Mr Frame, whose novel tells the story of two gay musicians, loosely based on Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears, and how they are transformed by a mean-minded, censorious culture on the south-west coast of Scotland.

A L Kennedy, the Dundee-born novelist and social commentator, praised the composer for his courage. She said Mr MacMillan should be congratulated for "reminding us not only that Scotland has a sectarian culture but that it is still small-minded.

"A lot of people from Scotland who are successful do not get their first recognition in Scotland," she said.

"For example, I was first published in an English literary magazine. The Scottish Arts Council is better now but it could be very hidebound. The trouble is that if there is a clique with power, it will tend to want to give to its pals."

However Scotland's politicians, keen to trumpet what they regard as a cultural renaissance, were unanimous yesterday in rejecting Mr MacMillan's attack.

Scotland was emerging from a "cultural ice age," thanks to the new democracy, said Mike Russell, culture spokesman for the Scottish National Party.

Brian Monteith, his Conservative counterpart, said Mr MacMillan was completely wrong both in his comments about bigotry and those about the treatment of the arts.

`it Is No Place For A Poet, No Country For A Man Or Woman Of Letters'

James MacMillan

Artists struggle "sorely and painfully, like a woman's birthing agonies. [Scotland is] "no place for a poet, no country for a man or woman of letters."

Andrew O'Hagan

"There is no proper acknowledgement or encouragement of [artists'] achievement. Scotland is alone among small societies in such failure."

Jack Vettriano

"There has just been a stunning, deafening silence. No museum - not even in Edinburgh where I started out - has purchased one of my works."

AL Kennedy

"James MacMillan should be congratulated on reminding us not only that Scotland has a sectarian culture but that it is still small-minded."

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