Scottish Independence And The Future Of British Art

People in Scotland have begun voting on independence today. If Scotland votes yes to their independence from the United Kingdom – each will split ending a 307-year-old union – a separation that could also include the re-appraisal of cultural and artistic relationships which could change the face of the contemporary art scene in Britain and Scotland. As the Turner Prize in its 30th anniversary year, awards its accolade to: “a British artist under 50 for an outstanding exhibition or other presentation of their work in the 12 months preceding” – everything may be about to change.

Scottish artist Douglas Gordon was the first video artist to win the Turner Prize, and a Scotsman; way back in 1996, viewed by an eager post-graduate artist – long before I became a journalist. Back then, it was just another artist succeeding in gaining the prize; but now it takes on an entirely different perspective: one of inclusion or exclusion.

The Prize helped to give the recognition Scottish contemporary art deserved; Glasgow’s School of Art has long had a strong relationship with the British art scene, launching many successful Scottish artists – are they now better off alone?

This potential change may also give a new identity to British art – English art? – is our culture bound for exclusion? How does this culturally enrich a nation? Nationalism is not renowned for creating cultural utopia’s – but often the opposite; and what of our shared art collections and identities? The British Museum? The title itself is inclusive of a united kingdom – will it become the ‘English Museum’? – this may all seem quite unimportant as we are merely ‘un-inventing’ an invented identity, even if it has existed for 307 years, and often disputed at that.

The changing nomenclatures of art may also seem unimportant – and some will say that nothing will change – but they could reflect a more serious outcome to the potential for an independent Scotland – a cultural confusion of artistic identities.

Words: Paul Black © Artlyst 2014

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