Art is about the artist, says Director

Simon Groom talked about art last night. He commissions artists. Well, it’s his job, he is the Director of Modern and Contemporary Art at the National Galleries of Scotland. But what a talk, and what a privilege to join the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland who invited him, and what a place to meet in—the Glasite Meeting House, of all places, the 1836 chapel in the New Town of Edinburgh used by the followers of one John Glas a radical Scottish Christian minister from Auchtermuchty in Fife! (You must see this chapel just once, box pews and no slouching, ramrod straight upright backs are the only way of sitting—unless you try lounging in a corner and even that is hard!)

So, the talk, it was about sculpture, especially recent works commissioned at Jupiter Artland, Scotland’s art park at Bonnington House in West Lothian. Simon’s view is very robust: you choose your artist, you discuss and perhaps outline the work you wish to see, and you let the art come. Who knows where it will lead? Andy Goldsworthy’s “Stone House” is a good example—when Andy started digging to make foundations he immediately hit rock and then exposed all of this rock to make it into the entire floor of the house, so you have a house with blank stone walls, a tiny window, an open door, and the interior not of domestic comfort but of the unforgiving crumpled rock as ancient as the earth.

And why is this art? Simon speaks about art leaving something unanswered, making us want to wonder more, sometimes to ask ourselves why us, what are we for? Is this fanciful thinking, not the way he tells it. A far cry from the poor public complaining they can’t see what art is all about, Simon wants to lead the way the artist wants to go. The artist makes the art, the pace moves on, and we can stand amazed at what we see. To enjoy and to understand is only partly why the art is there, it also presses us to think of more. What irony to hear all this in John Glas’s house, who stood by spriritual things!