It's no surprise that a film that aimed to “push the boundaries of what it means to create and show dyke sex on screen” would cause controversy, never mind that the film cost the taxpayer over £100,000.

Rein, a performance art film by Leonie Rae Gasson, features among other things a sex party in a cave, “daddies lurking in the woods” and other similar acts of debauchery. All unsimulated, of course.

Perhaps filming an adventurous good time among friends isn’t the most appropriate use of public funds, but the situation has escalated and will continue to escalate. It has become more than just the 'how' and 'why' behind the decision to green-light Gasson’s work. MSPs will now be examining the situation, placing an unseen level of open scrutiny on Creative Scotland’s funding decisions and altering how the public body makes its decisions in the future.

Read more:

Derek McArthur: Sex in cinema – have we turned into Victorian puritans?

In a way, this is much welcome. There is little consideration given to what exactly is funded outside of Creative Scotland’s spreadsheet bureaucracy, with the line between works of sound artistic merit and products made for the commercial space obfuscated and rarely broached in any meaningful way. That it took taxpayer-funded unsimulated sex to shock people into the conversation is not anyone’s preferred way of opening the floor, but alas the conversation has arrived.

Not that the conversation will be productive or focus on what matters. What is Scotland’s philosophy when it comes to publicly funded art, and how does it benefit our national cultural identity and the artists who substantiate it? It is a question not asked by the right people, and it’s a question that won’t see a look-in from MSPs who look at Scotland’s cultural sector as a funnel for tourism and commercial opportunities.

Creative Scotland’s misguided decision to fund a ‘hardcore’ sex film will only serve to push the public body into a state of fear as its internal processes are dragged into the political arena. Creative Scotland is hopeless to defend itself, with further cuts threatened if arts funding is deemed unnecessary excess by artless politicians.

Further sanitisation of our cultural institutions lies beyond the horizon now that the spotlight has shifted onto them. Scotland’s post-devolution funding system is still relatively new, and mistakes will be made, but the conversation will not be gracious or reflective.

One of the major setbacks induced by this scandal is that it will make an already timid Creative Scotland even more reluctant to fund daring and provocative art. It might seem pedantic, and everything that’s publicly funded will not be to everyone’s individual taste or sensibility – but placing moral (whose morals?) limits on artistic expression and cordoning off large swathes of ideas that artists have every right to explore will leave our cultural identity withered and uninteresting.

Read more:

Video nasties shocked conservative Britain... what was so bad about them?

Art as a space naturally broaches explicit, controversial, or unsavoury material as a condition of mirroring our world. Perhaps ‘unsimulated lesbian sex in a cave’ isn’t a good use of public money, but the black-and-white thinking of our politics will flatten the nuance required when assessing such a subjective realm like the arts, and nuance will not serve the political interests around this situation.

These narratives are always crafted in broad strokes. Any project brought in front of Creative Scotland will not see funding if its prompt can be compared on paper in any way to Gasson’s work. This will limit works with remotely similar themes, regardless of the artistic merit and intention behind those themes. The bad apple will no doubt spoil the whole bunch.

But why is Rein unsuitable for public funding? It’s not the unsimulated sex or the brash queer sexual politics. The project has failed to convince that it reaches a certain standard of artistic integrity, where the rationality for its explicitness is flimsy and would not pass muster without its academic facade. The real issue is that Creative Scotland bought into this facade when considering its funding, and failed to look between the lines of whether the work will actually produce fruit from its artistic aims. Their response that the final work was much more extreme than what was presented and considered would certainly suggest this.

The Herald: Nagisa Oshima's In the Realm of the Senses is a work of great artistic importance – it also heavily features unsimulated sex scenesNagisa Oshima's In the Realm of the Senses is a work of great artistic importance – it also heavily features unsimulated sex scenes (Image: Argos Films, Toho-Towa)
The outrage over the unsimulated sex is also a red herring. Great care should be taken in ensuring explicit or dubious aspects at least have a defensible meaning in their use when dealing with the public's money, but drawing a hard line at unsimulated sex might not be the wisest choice, even if it is the obvious move on the surface. A film with unsimulated sex can still hold great artistic merit, and there are countless examples. Director Nagisa Oshima’s 1976 masterpiece In the Realm of the Senses was a true hot potato in the moral standards of Japan at that time, yet in hindsight it reigns as a work of great Japanese cultural importance. One situation cannot dictate every situation, and there needs to be a deeper consideration that rejects the broad strokes that this controversy is heading into.

Only the wilfully naïve would think all of this will lead to a nuanced conversation on the priorities of public arts funding. It won’t. The decision-making around public funding of the arts is entering the slap-fight schoolyard of Holyrood, and it will stand as just another weapon to beat the horse of government spending excess from politicians who couldn’t care less about art and its importance. That’s the real waste.