25th March 2016
My father was a minister, and at every Sunday service he would give a children's address. One of his favourite pictures to paint on young minds was the image of the thermostat. He meant it in purely Christian terms, of course, but his point was that while the thermometer registers the change in temperature, the thermostat actually controls it. So, being a thermostat was an ideal I grew up with. I abandoned Christian ideology long ago, but the image applies just as well to the arts.
My brother-in-law, sculptor Malcolm Robertson, has just been commissioned to create a monument to one of Scotland's more successful attempts to wriggle out from under British rule: the Battle of Stirling Bridge. Fans of the film Braveheart will remember this as when William Wallace and his outnumbered rabble army forced the well equipped English into a corner and won the day. Things are starting to change in Scotland, and, whether the politicians realise it or not, the artists should be at the forefront. The large metal sculpture depicts Wallace and his ally Andrew De Moray holding the Scottish flag up high. It's a mark of defiance - art can do that, even when it doesn't mean to - and no wonder the ruling class has discouraged it up until now.
Pictures are powerful tools because they almost bypass the intellect and work directly on emotion. If you watch the BBC news and hang on until they show the British weather forecast, you might be surprised to see a map that reduces the size of Scotland by close to a half. If you have been watching that all your life, it's no wonder you might be rather timid when it comes to proposing monument's to your country's history.
This week I read a few Yeats' poems at a St. Patrick Day's gathering. Yeats was not a radical politician but he was an artist at a time when the tide in Ireland was turning. History thrust him into the path of that struggle by simply being true to his craft. This is the joy and the gravitas of working the arts. They are in any case a thermometer. But in times like these, they can turn the tide and re-set the weather map.