top of page

Devil's Advocate: Should We Have Public Art?


I’ll admit, at first I thought it was an alien invasion. But after some time, the Scottie dogs, variously decorated and dotted around town, have not only grown on me, but come to embody many of the merits of public art

For one, the strange feeling of encountering art in public, in the sense that it is bizarre and out of place, is part of the point. For too long galleries and private collections have determined how we engage with art.

Their predominance tends to obscure how they rose out of a European aristocratic instinct, an attempt to preserve “high culture” at the exclusion of most “lower” onlookers. Entrance and exhibition fees are increasingly high nowadays, even with concessions. While this is primarily the fault of cuts to government spending, many galleries are still lagging behind the times, slow to make their artworks more democratic and accessible.

Moreover, the design of many galleries today reinforces this cloddish distinction between a pure aesthetic space within and the vulgar world without. In the early modern world you had ornate door knobs and colonial plunder. We now have minimalist ‘whitescapes’, to use David Batchelor’s term from his book Chromophobia: pallid, sterile, purged of all colour and flavour. There are certainly instances where this pared down aesthetic is needed to complement the work. But its ubiquity is inappropriate and implies falsely a clean severance of art from our everyday lives.

So yes, the Scotties do feel strange, but that is to their credit. Their oddity and variety invite engagement with, rather than detachment from, our environment, whether that be curious inspection, creative selfies or clambering children. I’ve seen quite a few real Scottish terriers placed beside or atop like religious offerings to their great gauche idols. They make our rather prim and proper town sporadically silly, undoing some of the self-seriousness that all the old churches demand. More than merely uncanny, public art, with its lack of limits, can be good fun.

Even if you’re allergic to dogs, public art can be beautiful, too. If you walk along East Sands towards the Fife Coastal Path, on your right, just before you reach the incline, you can see three large bands of mossy granite with a line of poetry written on each. The monument was commissioned by Alumno Developments in 2015 and installed the following year, the words by Jacob Polley, who used to teach English here.

It plays with perspective, the three disjointed lines becoming a unitary extract when seen from the right angle, its structural resemblance to cascading waves, the vibrant imagery used in the verse: each aspect alone is interesting, but placed in the open air, facing the actual sea, the parts cohere into a unique whole. The work is necessarily public, exposed to the elements, becoming part of the world while at the same time commenting, or indeed rhapsodising, on it.

Consequently, public art is also well-equipped for signalling social issues and decrying political crises. Christo and Jeanne-Claude were a pair of French artists who, for over fifty years, created numerous spectacular, if occasionally scandalous, works of public art. For example, there was the Wrapped Reichstag (1995), where the duo surrounded the famous German government office in 100,000 square metres of polypropylene fabric.

In full display of the public, the building was dressed as a shimmering ghost of its former self, but also coated in a markedly modern synthetic material, capturing Germany’s uneasy historical position after its recent reunification. Equally, their Wrapped Trees (1997) and Surrounded Islands (1983) can be seen as early ecological critiques. The latter piece encircled eleven trash-ridden islets in Florida with thick perimeters of hot pink plastic: it is as if they are leaking, or brightly bleeding. Paint as many watercolours of sad polar bears as you like: public art can speak to societal catastrophe and complicity like no other art can.

To reiterate, defending public art should not be mistaken for gallery abolitionism. There is a time and place for both. But in an age of increasing privatisation, of increasing reliance on Patreon and paywalls, we should stand up for public art when we can, in all its urgent, moving, challenging — even its canine — forms.


Public Art — a vandalism site at best and a waste of taxpayer coin at worst. Galleries and museums, sites quite literally made to house works of art, have been pushed aside for works that clutter our public spaces with incomprehensible installations. And St Andrews is the pinnacle of this asinine “artistic creativity”.

Now, I haven’t the slightest clue about anything related to the world of art —however, I do consider myself a proud lampooner of this town’s oddities, and the creative vision of this town’s art certainly tips towards the bizarre. Let us never forget when the University erected a statue of a blue-eyed lobster wearing a navy suit patterned with sunny-side-up eggs, with not so much as a plaque to explain away the lobster’s significance or why it was stationed in front of the Main Library. Or when the University unironically ‘lost’ the hand of the statue of St Andrew himself. Even the non-functioning-clock-fountain of Market Street creates a most confusing roundabout, which I argue encourages awkward parking arrangements, traffic jams, and pedestrian-car crashes.

But let’s get down to the real elephant in the room — or rather the dog invasion of the town— the Scotty dog statues. The Scotties by the Sea trail, a gaggle of dog-esque painted statues planted across the town and the Northeast Fife Coast, with the goal of ‘attracting tourists’ (as if this town lacks any). The project, while valiant in its charitable cause, has only furthered the scourge of incessant and unattractive clutter in this town.

Between the dog wearing banana pants and the green-turf-golf-dog, the creative jumble of these designs are simply too reminiscent of a primary school art project. Now, I profess that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and perhaps my far-sightedness contributes to my inability to appreciate this vision. Nevertheless, in my eyes, and the eyes of many, this trail fell flat of its artistic ambitions.

The Scottie installed across Whey Pat, wears a design that verges on the satanic and deranged. The statue is genuinely a dog, painted as a pig, dressed like a man, holding a chicken eating a sausage. If this imagery is not an embodiment of the anti-Christ, or some kind of cult, I do not know what is. The clown-inspired-Scottie not only triggers the sensitive coulrophobics of this town but has the audacity to boast a multicoloured-party-hat while its buttocks (directly pointed at all passersby) are labelled with the words “See these flea’s trapeze!”. The absolute nonsensical design of these statues borders on the criminal, more criminal I argue than the inevitable theft of the tiny Cromars Scottie.

Walking past Hatch you will be affronted with perhaps the most troublesome public art the town possesses: Elvis-Impersonator-Scottie. Armed with freakishly long eyelashes, egregiously luscious lips and a low-cut V-neck bodysuit, this cheeky dog unnecessarily seductively stares you down as you pass by. A painted reminder that you are watched, no matter the lengths you take to flee these statues.

As the Scotties’ farewell approaches, I for one will be shedding no tears, for finally I will have found reprieve from the daily visual assaults of these monstrosities. Or at least until the University or Fife town council finds its next patron animal to artistically defile. Perhaps the only redemption for the public art of this town, is held in the tiny paws of the honourable Hamish McHamish memorial statue. May he and the rest of the cursed public art of this town lie in peace.

Illustration by: Darcey Bateson

39 views0 comments
bottom of page