Issue 196
Winter 2016

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Oct 18, 2017
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    This latest jeremiad by Richard Demarco (ArtWork 199: The Festival: A (very) Special Case) might well be generationally dismissed as the rant of an old-stager.

    Indeed, my inclination to support an oft-aired stance with regard to Edinburgh Festivals could be construed as the response of another fogey; after all, I invited Demarco to Dundee to address the DYPS, when secretary of the Young Painters' Society, and was frequent visitor to all incarnations of the Demarco Gallery and DEAF. Further, I would credit Strategy Get Arts, his 1970 curation of Duesseldorf art at ECA, with a massive revitalisation of visual arts in Scotland, reinforced in successive years by the Polish and Romanian shows. Much later, I was part of the Symposium led by Demarco, to launch the regeneration of Alloa through art.

    His espousal of an 'enduring art' that 'ascends to the condition of prayer', one essentially informed by the horrors of WW2, as had been both the Festival, and the Common Market, precursor to the EU, exemplifies the difference between the 1947 ethos and our contemporary malaise. Now tourism, commerce, PR and marketing all share the politician's view of art as a handmaiden, or design form, instrumental as a branch of Creative Industries, a massive contributor to GDP.

    That contemporary artists define their practice in instrumental, rather than intrinsic and spiritual terms, is evidence of this colossal shift from a philosophical to a marketing basis. The Scottish Artists' Union survey annually documents how small a percentage of artists succeed in financial terms, and the more aggressive commercial activity may be driven by this fact, allied to the limited residential opportunities and Creative Scotland funding.

    I recall Tessa Jackson's appointment as the first director of the Edinburgh Art Festival, now in its 14th year, and the attempt to make coherence and ease of exploration of visual art under this umbrella somehow substitute for the lowly status of art within the EIF, despite Demarco's efforts. Music and Drama, Opera and Dance always generated more financial support, but over the decades, a canon ossified, particularly in music, a conservatism that stifled risk-taking contemporary works.

    The Fringe, having become the beacon for theatrical daring including Demarco's visual arts, expressionist theatre and particular support for East European creativity, transformed, itself, over the years into a vast, unwieldy corporate enterprise allowing a handful of promoters to become rich, even as the performers were almost universally in debt.

    Demarco rails against the stand-up comedy, rightly in terms of its lack of true internationalism, although it is the ultimate model for these promoters, with 140 pages in the Fringe catalogue, but there is another tendency, one of the Spectacle, which Guy Debord warned against, with its tv spin-off shows, Circuses and Entertainments, although wonderfully creative shows for children have inhabited this domain.

    Both EIF and the Fringe have encouraged seasons and mini-festivals in which countries such as Taiwan and South Korea, Finland, India and China fund companies to travel to Edinburgh, much as Demarco had done with, say, Poland. While this may increase the international dimension of the Festivals, it is not necessarily a promotion of the most exciting or experimental performers, and can be subject to a degree of window-dressing.

    Your editorial makes a point about music programming, which may in part have been answered by my earlier comment. Yet there is a further aspect to bums on seats. An attempt was made by EIF two years ago to address the woeful lack of musical diversity by programming jazz events at the Hub. The result was that Jason Moran, with his Fats Waller tribute, and Robert Glasper, known for his cross-over into Hip Hop territory presented their celebratory contemporary music to audiences cruelly split between the largely senior and uncomprehending trad-jazz aficionados, and the, yes, younger and more open-minded fans of the music. I sat next to tutting gentlemen who walked out, but had already affected the atmosphere.

    Last year, EIF brought Mogwai and Young Fathers to the stage. Perhaps there is a learning curve involved in the overall programming. Certainly, when the Jazz Festival coincided with the EIF, the venues and audiences seemed to co-exist successfully enough.

    It is true that all festivals, and directors, may suffer fatigue and loss of nerve. The ability to reflect the most important tendencies in contemporary art may desert both. Summerhall, through its imaginative programming and utilisation of a magnificent site and characterful spaces, felt almost like the reincarnation of Richard Demarco's St Mary's, and perhaps it is fitting that he may be found there with aspects of his Demarco European Art Foundation.



    Nick Jones is wrong. It was Dr Tom Honeyman, GP, art dealer, author and Director of Kelvingrove who, in his words, coined the phrase the 'Scottish Colourists.'

    He initially referred to three SCs (Hunter, Peploe and Cadell) and included Fergusson when the latter returned to Scotland from France.

    This is stated in Honeyman's memoirs, Art and Audacity, published when he retired in 1970.


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