Would Scottish independence unleash a British art identity crisis?
Source:The Guardian Date: 2014-09-12 Size:
Tate Britain changing its name, no more YBAs, the return of ‘English’ art … and what about the Welsh? If seismic political change splits nations, what will Britain’s future artistic landscape look like?

The Scottish National Gallery in the heart of Edinburgh: what would independence mean for institutions elsewhere in the UK?

If Scotland votes yes, it will have an obvious impact on British art. For it will no longer be “British” art. Will we be back to the days when Nikolaus Pevsner gave the 1955 Reith Lectures on The Englishness of English Art– and will we also keep hearing loads about The Scottishness of Scottish art?

It’s been a long time since anyone talked about English art. When a new generation of artists concentrated in London and Glasgow starting making waves internationally around 1990 no one called them English – they were dubbed YBAs – Young British Artists. Their fame was enhanced by the Turner prize, given every year to, and I quote the Tate, “a British artist under 50 for an outstanding exhibition or other presentation of their work in the 12 months preceding”.

The Turner has toured to several places, including Derry, but its primary home is Tate Britain.

Tate what? Tate where?

And what becomes of the British Museum, founded in 1753 as the first national museum in the world, with a name that explicitly celebrates the 1707 union between England and Scotland?

Perhaps these are trivial matters. Or perhaps the black comedy of redefining and renaming our/your/their art reveals something more serious. It is not true, as some supporters of Scottish independence claim, that Scotland will still be just as “British” if it votes yes. Nor will England or Wales. The idea of Britain is not a given of geography. It was invented, constructed, made – and it may in a few days be unmade.

Its place will be filled by petty nationalisms. Especially south of Hadrian’s Wall. For the shrugging off of Britain by Scotland will surely lead to a resurgence of self-proclaimed Englishness. You can see that in the simple question of how art will be redefined. Perhaps the British Museum will keep its venerable name. Perhaps Tate Britain will too. Or perhaps they will have to think of some formula to be English, Welsh and Northern Irish institutions.

The more likely truth is that it will just be simpler and clearer for people to speak of English art, English museums, English culture.

Going back to Pevsner’s old celebration of “English art” may not be oppressive in itself. It may even be more accurate about some artists –Thomas Gainsborough is so absolutely English – but the changes of nomenclature that may happen in the gentle realm of art are a pale reflection of the angrier, nastier transformation of the wider culture that seems likely in a rejected, spurned, unloved England. Remember the old Millwall chant? “No one likes us, we don”t care.” Look out.

Yet Labour folk are swerving towards independence in Scotland because of a sincere belief that in a new country, there will be better values – a true community. I discussed this with artist Ross Sinclair earlier this year as he unveiled an installation on top of Edinburgh’s Calton Hill in which electric guitars are on offer to young people forming bands. It is this desire to build a new, socialist nation that is firing so many Scotland’s yes voters.

Nationalism never yet created a utopia. The real impact of a yes will be divisive, bitter, and will release the ugliest phantoms of national antagonism. Even – whose? – museums will thrash around in confusion after the wreck of the good ship Britannia, where there was loads of room for everyone.

[Editor] 刘建兰