The Glasgow Herald newspaper of 2nd August, 1997, carried an article by Sandy Stoddart as follows:
ALEXANDER STODDART suggests a means of proving the political unity of the nation's artists
Recovery of a people and native land
No stone unturned:
Sandy Stoddart is determined to build monuments to Scotland's forgotten heroes.
The great thing about monuments is that they can be appreciated both by the philistine and the aesthete. When I was wee, and necessarily a philistine, I simply worshipped the Three Commandos Monument at Spean Bridge. How I wanted to be a soldier like that and to carry a wonderfully rectilinear pack on my back, and to attain an equally rectilinear look of determination and sheer unmitigated bravery for my infant jaw. Then I grew up and became an aesthete, affecting the attire of Nausea.
I began to appreciate the modelling of the work, as a sculpture, and made thoroughly boring observations about its ultimate descent from Rodin, and the French clay-gesturalists. Scott Sutherland, the sculptor, had after. all worked in Paris for a short spell earlier in the century. Then something happened. Both my youthful inclination towards a healthy, conceptual philistinism, and my powers of aesthetic appraisal undertook an immense surge. I discovered that I had been right first time, and that soldiers are much more interesting than sculptures. And at that moment I became a political artist.
Yes, all the old Athenian anxieties about Sparta came fretting around again. Let me explain. The ancients, and indeed the moderns too, had and have an idea that in Sparta there were, with perhaps the exception of Alcmaeon, no poets. It is the thought of the state having rid itself of the pack of lies, the sybaritic critic-type, the collector and the decadent that comes, to the man of true taste, as a vision of beauty in itself.
This is more handsome than any picture. Tragically, the yearning afer such a vision is the prerogative only of the artist. Thus Rousseau, consummate prose-turner, man of feeling and taste, wins the Dijon essay competition by concluding that the development of the arts is bad for mankind. When the Spartan king Agesilaus was told ot. a musician imitating the song of the nightingale in the agora of Lacedaemon, "no I shall not come," he said, "for I can hear the nightingale herself."
We might stoop to draw existentialist parallels from that to the likes of Gilbert and George, yet Agesilaus himself really meant it. The Spartans had no word for actors, they called them all buffoons.
The monument is really a mean term between the soldier and the sculpture. Its precise lexis consists in the language of statuary. A statue is made of sculpture, but its sculpture is there to be concealed by the work's meaning, dedication, votive function. In this way the sculpture strides out of its formalist cage and enters the world of continent mental life.
It must be so, for statuary is consistently excluded from the attentions of the contemporary arts authorities. Furthermore, statuary is able to breed with history, and history is what makes politics. In the contemporary art world, thoroughly depoliticised as it is (possibly an "ultra-cultural" stroke of genius by Mrs Thatcher in the eighties) there is a determined policy, promoted by the Scottish Arts Council and other "enabling" bodies, to exclude art that relates to history - and let us specify Scottish history, since there is no other that really matters a damn, yes?
This is why I believe that a Scottish Monumentalism, recovered in our time, is a means of proving the political utility of the nation's artists in this most significant moment of Scotland's history for 300 years. It's even more important than the Disruption of 1843. State revolutions have always been attended by the artists, and they certainly were present in the time of Welsh and Chalmers.
It is, however, quite disgusting to see today how the generality of Scotland's artists, swivelling in a pus-pot of irony and "wit", seeks renown in the international art closet of Los Angeles/Cologne/Venice, while its country convulses in yet another birth pang, deserted as a subject, despised as a location. Only Scotland could have a national sculptor, Paolozzi, who disdains to live in the benighted territory, and is so sucked-up-to by the Anglo-British plants in cultural power.
The provisional, devolved period in the history of Scotland's recovery of total autonomy will, as announced last week, have its wee £50m "meaner and greener" debate-facility building, built on some available site, probably in Leith. But when true authority is won (and I think it shall not be given, but rather taken as it logically must) then the first question ideally should be not "how much will the tax be," or "what about the office-provision." but "Who, among the national dead, has been the most unjustly forgotten, and how shall his or her monument look."
And if this question can even just be asked, then we will have taken a serious step towards the recovery of a people, a history, and a native land. We shall have a statue of Lord Belhaven, who warned us, on the eve of Union.and who was laughed at by some scum of the earth.
So we want dances more than we want dance, and pictures more than we want paintings. We want monuments more than statues, and statues more than sculptures. Most of all we want anything, yes even Douglas Gordon's buttock-clenchingly boring "Trust Me" tattoo. Anything rather than scul?ture. Do you know what I mean?
Alexander Stoddart expounds his views on Wednesday 6th August, 1997, in One Foot in the Past (British television: BBC2 8pm).
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