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State of the Arts: just when you thought it was safe to go on holiday

....or more Creative Scotland notes, and a look at this year’s Turner Prize show:

Before I set off on my week away from work, it seemed the Creative Scotland issue was heading in a more positive direction.

A series of letters and statements from Creative Scotland seemed to be more conciliatory and open than we had seen previously and, going into the two artist meetings in Edinburgh and Glasgow, one sensed the beginnings of a sea-change at the top of Creative Scotland, at least at board level, and a sense that it knew it a) needed to change its ways and b) would benefit from some internal reforms.

Those reforms will come, I am told, and will reinstate, in some fashion, the emphasis on art form specialism, as I reported before my break. There is a drive to use more straightforward language, language which is not encrusted in deadening and sometimes meaningless business jargon. Sir Sandy Crombie, the chairman, I have been repeatedly told, is determined to grip the issues and suggest changes.

However, I’ve now heard talk of at least one view from inside the agency, criticising the 100-artist letter which brought to a fine head all the many concerns about Creative Scotland which had been building all year. (I'm sure you remember the letter: it was signed by, among others, the nation’s Makar Liz Lochhead, James Kelman, AL Kennedy, Turner Prize winners Douglas Gordon, Richard Wright and Martin Boyce, the master of the Queen’s music Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Ian Rankin and Andrew O’Hagan).

These signatories, more than 400 now if you count the additional online signatories, was apparently written off by a senior member of Waverley Gate as, I am told,  ‘only a Glasgow cabal/clique’ of people who ‘live close to each other and babysit each other’s children’. Now, I know this is not the view of the majority of staff, many of whom are very keen on getting the body heading in the right direction. But it is deeply unhelpful that this view was even expressed.

Oh dear. Undermining the validity of the letter and dismissing its signatories is not only an ill-conceived exercise, it engenders even more antagonism (if I have heard about it, I am sure plenty others have...walls have ears, even at swanky dinners) and is also, factually, wrong. Of course some artists know each other. Many live in Glasgow (it’s quite a big city, you know) but many do not. One or two or even five of them may even be friends. But all 400 of them?  Even if every artist who has signed the letter knew each other - which they don’t - would that actually diminish the importance of the letter, and what it is asking for, and what it has led to?

I can understand some senior staff of Creative Scotland being defensive but such pettiness is indicative of some seriously misconceived opinions, views and priorities.

But my wife and I are always in need of a good babysitter, so if any of the illustrious signatories have a free evening....

The Creative Scotland Awards, someone said to me this week, once designed as a triumphant conclusion to the Year of Creative Scotland, now rather resembles the dry rimshot at the end of a very long bad joke. I know some at Creative Scotland wish they weren’t happening at all, for sure. Maybe it will be a fun night at the Kelvingrove. It’s being described as an event “unlike any other awards”. Yes, I'm sure it will be. But having a long but male-only judging panel, which has caused many waves this week, seems yet another example of an easily avoided own goal.

For those with a long memory, Creative Scotland was actually the name of a series of awards given out by the old Scottish Arts Council, starting in 2000. I am sure I reported on some controversies connected to those prizes, but they seem small beer now.

Meanwhile, in London...

I saw the Turner Prize exhibition at Tate Britain. While impressed, again, by the work of Glaswegian artist Luke Fowler - All Divided Selves, his third film about RD Laing is rich, skillful, thought-provoking and disturbing - overall my impression is that this is not a strong year for the prize.

I find Paul Noble’s intricate and large pencil drawings of his imaginary world of Nobson Newtown to be pretty formidable technical achievements but somehow dead and lifeless.

Spartacus Chetwynd’s performance art is very eye-catching, alarming, and fabulously alive and vital, but somehow not that enticing either. The film by Elizabeth Price, I am told, The Woolworths Choir, has its supporters, and she may win the prize based on the body of her work to this point.

Overall, I left the Tate a little underwhelmed. If Fowler wins the prize, he will be the fourth Scot in a row to clinch it: he is a fabulously talented film-maker.

The winner will be announced on Monday 3 December.

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