[Tychy today publishes an open letter to the Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop, MSP, from the Sunday Herald’s theatre critic Mark Brown. This momentous letter makes a last stand against the decisions of the arts funding body Creative Scotland.]
Dear Ms Hyslop,
I have worked as a professional theatre critic in Scotland for more than twenty years, and I can report that after years of overstretch the arts are finally at breaking point. Things have never been as bad as they are now. The arts in Scotland are facing a winter crisis.
And this can mean only one thing.
We must have more money.
In a normal society, artists, writers, and, dare I say it, even theatre critics such as myself, should expect to waltz down to the bank with a wheelbarrow and have it filled with free money. But some meddling philistine bunch of bureaucrats, who call themselves “the government,” have had the temerity to impose their “policy” on to those such as us, the arts, who are constitutionally required to remain outside of democratic politics.
Unfortunately, the Scottish government has stuck a quango in between the formulation and the implementation of their policy. So I shall spend the rest of this letter attacking Creative Scotland and keep rather quite about the SNP government, which nobody in the arts wants to criticise because we’re meant to be on the side of Scotland, unconditionally.
Creative Scotland is a market-driven, business-orientated, ideological nest of accountants and dullards. Take, for instance, its recent “draft creative industries strategy” document, which is so full of ridiculous, market-obsessed jargon that it reads as if it was written by a semi-literate business studies undergraduate. The terminology of this document, alluding as it does to “sustainable creative businesses,” reflects the intrinsic vulgarity of these uncultured spivs.
What a contrast to my own letter, which argues in high-minded tones for creativity whilst otherwise deploying virtually every cliché in the book. My imagination is disabled and it cannot possibly take the stairs. I immediately reach for the unstrenuous example of Vincent van Gogh. We should never forget that many of his works are now the most expensive in the world, whilst he barely sold a painting during his own lifetime.
You might interpose that van Gogh is a rather peculiar example to cite, since he had created masterpiece after masterpiece without ever needing any government funding at all. Indeed, you might suspect that if van Gogh had been given a fat bung from the government, as half of Scotland’s artists are, then he would have been swallowed up in a sea of absinthe and prostitutes, and “Sunflowers” would have remained forever unpainted. Yet imagine a theatre critic such as myself being forced to live in penury on a sink estate and write only for my art rather than for the considerable remuneration which I currently get. If I had to live in van Gogh’s bedsit for a single night, I would probably cut my whole head off rather than just the ear.
I cannot remember whether I am supposed to be condemning money or trying to trouser some more of it. Still, I next move on to criticise Creative Scotland for being led by a chief executive on £115k and nine board members on between £55k and £90k.
We should forget about the narrow-minded calculations of accountants. The success of a work of art is impossible to measure. Great art enhances us intellectually, emotionally, psychologically and, dare I say it, spiritually. And it can do all of this without anybody wanting to actually pay money for it. After all, when I talk about people being spiritually improved by art, I am not referring to the public, who are usually unreliable when it comes to these things. So they should shut up and have their money forcibly taken away from them and channelled into the arts through the taxation system.
The pro-market dogma of “creative industries” should be dumped and we should have a new arts council. And because this is Scotland, where most of our artists are too stupefied after their gigantic dinners to produce any original thought, this new arts council should be naturally founded upon a cliché. And it should really be an easy cliché, since this has been a long letter and I am tired out. So let us end with some stirring words from Albert Einstein: “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”
[Edit. An earlier edit of this post mistakenly featured a profile photograph of Mark Brown. We felt that an image of his sleek, well-fed face undermined the assertion that the arts in Scotland are in some way under strain, and so his picture was withdrawn.]