A Collective Noun for Artists – ‘A Valuable Difference’

Last week I attended a gathering of folk from the arts sector who are interested in the idea of a democratic Scotland. It was an inspiring evening an an honour to be in the company of such talented people. Feeling part of a team with such confidence and mutual respect made me feel once again just what a special privilege it is to be alive and part of this place at this moment in time – these are the notes I fed back to the group after the session:

1. Embracing Doubt

I was interested in David Greig’s point about conversations – specifically conversations around someone’s doubt (re: Independence) – I understood David’s point to be about the importance of listening to the doubt – rather than seeking immediately to talk the person out of their doubt. I would go further than this – in my experience, working as an artist, the most powerful position is to share your own doubt with the people you are working with. I define myself as a public artist – I define public art as ‘art that is made for a place that is not created to have art in it or on it’. This means that a significant element of my artistic practice is spent negotiating consent for myself to BE an artist in such a place – i.e. convincing other people of the value of artistic practice for THEIR place. The only way that I find I can build a working and trusting relationship with people in such projects is to start from a position of equal uncertainty about what the outcome will be. If there is a suggestion that I already have an end result in mind, the project is doomed to failure.

For me, this is one of the key differences between an artist and a politician – for the artist, the journey is one of discovery and for the politician there is set destination and it is about convincing people to come with them to said destination.

This is all a slightly long-winded way of saying that my way of doing my bit towards building a new country is to share my own doubts through my practice and keep asking questions in the hope of inspiring others to feel enough of a connection to the discussion/country to care about finding the answers. My experience of this process is that moments of action will surface and these need to be grabbed with both hands as they are the visible steps towards change.

2. A Collective Noun for Artists

I felt a huge energy rush from being in that room with everyone at Citizen M – what a talented bunch. But I was unconvinced at the idea of joint projects. The sheer complexity of getting such a group of busy people to work together caused me complete paralysis anxiety.

What I experienced in that room – as I had in the Creative Scotland Open Sessions was an utter and complete respect for the differences in our practice. All are different – all are valued.

It seemed to me that it was this respect and valuing that could be our most powerful effect within the Independence campaign. Every artist is affected by what is happening around them – so it stands to reason that each of us, to some extent, is ‘making work about Independence’? Perhaps one strategy would be for us all to believe this collectively and then all we need to do is promote each others work. Maybe we don’t need to make particular ‘Indy’ work, just to believe in the idea that our commitment and integrity radiates from what we are doing anyway.

What I am imagining here is a form of creative boosterism – where we all agree to talk up each other’s creative projects. All that would be needed would be central point for lodging information about shows, exhibitions, books etc and then an ‘Indy Notification’ to contributors about other projects from within the group (it would be easy to imagine National Collective fulfilling such a coordination roll?). Obviously there would need to be an easy way for others to join the group and other such important details (details that make it obvious why artists don’t run the world!). But if we all tried to use our own media platforms etc to share the work of other creative people working towards Independence – this could be a very powerful message of and in itself — one of cooperation, support and integrity.

The kind of cooperative, supportive and honourable Scotland we want to help create for the future.

Matt Baker


About Matt Baker

I am an artist making work in the public domain. I use participatory and collaborative techniques in projects ranging from temporary events/installations to large-scale permanent artworks and cultural strategies for programmes of urban change. Typically, projects develop over a sustained period of time, working collaboratively within communities and often involving other artists (musicians, film-makers etc) and research expertise (archaeologists, climate scientists, shipbuilders etc). Too many years ago I became an artist in order to change the world – I don’t see any reason to change now.