OLD TALES and NEW HEADS exhibition at the National Galleries of Scotland, Duff House Banff 1998.

International folk tales are contemporary phenomena with origins of incalculable antiquity. Perhaps they are almost as old as language itself. These stories are not only orally transmitted but also embedded like fossils in the world's myths and religious texts which is indicative of origins earlier than their settings. Whether we call them Marchen, Fairy Tales or Barrie Mooskins, the tales are the cultural equivalents of our anatomical tails.

For most of us there have been considerable changes of circumstance since these tales began. First we changed from hunting to pastoralism and agriculture and now, although collectively we still depend on agriculture for sustenance, most individuals survive by selling their mental or practical skills. Each change of economic strategy has necessitated the creation of new orthodox descriptions of the world: our 'new heads'. Just as we make the environment suit our cars and lorries rather than create vehicles that suit the world, we force ourselves into roles dictated by our newer cultural descriptions in defiance of our biologically evolved drives.

By contrast the old tales are ruthlessly realist about the basic dynamics of human nature and the human condition with its inevitable mortality. Many contemporary ways of thinking and the economic activities that result from them function, like motor cars, only on restricted artificial pathways and require adherence to sometimes arbitrary rules. These tales which originate in a nomadic hunter/gatherer culture can still be an intellectual vehicle suited to the world we really live in. Modern man is currently torn between mourning the old human culture and suppressing the desire for it in himself while he persecutes its surviving representatives and prohibits their activities.

Be warned our souls are not the same as our physical world. When we try to destroy the wild wood of our spirit to make way for a six lane motorway of orthodox thinking we only manage to change it from a safe home for ourselves to a place of monsters that threaten our destruction. The Great Tales have survived longer than the languages in which they have been told or the peoples that have told them and may help us to find a way of living in harmony with ourselves and our world.

heads and tails, drawing