EIBF 2017: Alexander Moffat and Alan Riach: Framing the Arts Debate

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Alexander Moffat, John Purser, Alan Riach, Leoni Bell (chair)
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The ‘Bosco Theatre’, one of the Edinburgh International Book Festival’s satellite venues on George Street, seemed an odd choice for situating what proved one of its more stimulating events. Painter Alasdair Moffat and literary expert Professor Alan Riach have previous form as cultural commentators, as does musicologist John Purser. The former pair have already written ‘Arts of Resistance’ and ‘Arts of Independence’, duologues on various aspects of Scottish culture in the context of the independence debate. Purser’s best-known work is perhaps his encyclopaedic ‘Scotland’s Music’.

Having suggested to ‘The National’ newspaper that they might contribute a series of articles highlighting lesser known or under appreciated aspects of Scottish literary and artistic culture, their proposal was taken up and John Purser added to the team. ‘Arts of the Nation’ brings together several of these otherwise fugitive pieces to form a third volume of essays and discussions on the arts in Scotland, both historical and contemporary.

It is perhaps an indication that despite and perhaps because of the 2014 independence referendum, the questions implicit in the writings of the three contributors remain subjects of lively debate, sufficiently so for a newspaper to continue to publish their work. All three paid tribute to both editor and newspaper for the support they have received.

Cultural commentary requires culture upon which to comment, and time was given to discussing in particular modernism in Scotland, exemplified by what might be termed the ‘Montrose Moment’, when that part of Scotland’s east coast thrummed with the debates of folk such as ‘Hugh MacDiarmid’ (Christopher Murray Grieve), Violet Jacob, Helen Cruickshank with intermittent appearances by the likes of Edwin and Willa Muir, and the stimulation of magazines such as ‘The Modern Scot’ and the more conservative ‘Scots Magazine’, which nevertheless published both Neil Gunn and Joe Corrie.

There has always, it would seem, been a contention of competing voices and visions creating and promoting Scottish culture. This new collection of essays by three of our most interesting and informed commentators on both the present and past cultural life of the nation makes a fresh and valuable contribution. So ‘hot off the press’, however, that no guide price or ISBN appears available.

Alexander Moffat, John Purser, Alan Riach ‘Art of the Nation, Luath Press