Saturday, March 26, 2011

It wasn't me. No one saw me do it. I wasn't there. You can't prove a thing.

Universities are letting Australian art down

Nicky McWilliam
March 24, 2011
"I recently advertised on an arts industry website for a part-time assistant for a commercial gallery in Sydney. There were more than 80 applicants, and all were either graduates of, or students attending, tertiary art schools. At interviews, there were works on the gallery walls by significant Australian artists including John Coburn, Gary Shead, Sidney Nolan, Arthur Boyd, Brett Whiteley and Grace Cossington Smith. Only a handful of interviewees could identify any of the artists or works. Interviewees showed little knowledge of or interest in Australian art and art history; most said their courses offered Australian art only as an adjunct or secondary field of knowledge.

I discussed my concerns with an art history student, Vi Girgis, and we began to investigate: is there a new generation of graduates in the arts who have little understanding of and appreciation for Australian cultural and artistic heritage? If so, why?..

This lack of interest is not a new phenomenon, but a dysfunctional cultural cringe trumpeting the superiority of European-American art over Australian. The variety, depth and high standards of art practices are a strong foundation for not only the successful practice of art making and theorising, but also a deep appreciation for the art, culture and heritage of this country. It is incomprehensible that this is not a fundamental focus of universities teaching art history.

Elizabeth Grierson, head of the school of art at RMIT University, has suggested a new way of looking at art institutions that would turn the focus away from the northern hemisphere. An art school, she says, should operate ''as a knowledge-generating site with a role and responsibility to the community of which it is a part. As such it contributes to, shapes and reflects the cultural and historical values of a given community.''

Australian culture deeply appreciates the history and participants of sport, entertainment, fashion and gastronomy. It is time for tertiary institutions to promote critical appraisal of Australian art and its participants by making Australian art mandatory knowledge for students of art theory.

Nicky McWilliam is a lawyer and fine arts graduate who is a director of her late mother's gallery, Eva Breuer Art Dealer."

accessed Saturday 26 March 2011

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