The Why?s Man

"My art is place specific and people specific." George Wyllie

Back to Prose


(ArtWork 82 - October/November 1995)

"Glasgow has smashed its previous personal best in attracting tourists thanks to a multi-million pound marketing campaign built around the city's Festival of Visual Arts.

Wow! This quote from a Scottish newspaper refers to a tourist jamboree which boosted coach tours, the B&B industry, and the printing of two-colour folded glossy brochures. Dammit, and here was me thinking that art was meant to go a bit further and have a shot at changing the world.

I concede that the bus drivers, landladies and printers have good reason to be grateful for the industry of artists - now categorised as the 'art industry'. I even created an arty rail disaster to help keep the trains running on the Fort William line, but come to think of it, this could help the big tourist spenders to by-pass Glasgow - although they'll be happy about it up north.

I like my native city but it is becoming increasingly difficult to artistically pat Glasgow on the back. Maybe the art supply exceeds demand or the product isn't right, but if the art world is trying to change the unreal real world, you'd think everyone would be grateful for anything as long as it changes something. A 15-minute stop in a gallery shop stuffed with T-shirts, fridge magnets and dainty notelets is not what I had in mind. Art as bait for tourist traps will not change the world before the bus leaves.

One of the changes I've noticed is that we don't build much any more, and even when we do, we don't do it very well. That could be the reason why we seem so keen on design - but if we'd just stayed at being good at it like we used to, then we wouldn't need design festivals to show us how to make electric kettles instead of big ships. A festival poster says this about a chair, "I hope that it is as confidently modern as it is comfortable to sit in." This worries me, for I'm inclined to slip off the ergonomic bent wire that seems essential in good design.

There is much talk about an arts renaissance which some say is likely to happen when Scotland has its own Parliament. That would be fine if it stays as a renaissance and doesn't get worse. Politicians and tourist boards are already figuring out how our culture should be, and it could even break out in Gaelic, in which case the Fort William line will be handy for getting to it.

But back to the business of changing the world - the big question for the artist is how do we do it in a more meaningful way than propping up bus tours, B&B and glossy brochures?

Tourist boards and travel agents know a lot about the world and they seem quite chummy - provided you're not trying to get a refund after a duff holiday. They had an international conference here and the same Scottish newspaper said their 'jamboree will introduce Glasgow to the most influential group of travel agents in the world'.

This most influential group will arrive in shiny Boeing 727s, stay in lush hotels, and will be armed with full-colour 32-page high-gloss brochures. They will be suggesting that we book a trip and have a shot at changing the world - but somewhere else. This is better than a 3-star renaissance, more than a 4-star jamboree... it's a 5-star bonanza

...I wish us all 'Bon Voyage'."

Essay reproduced from My Words by George Wyllie, with permission.

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