On Friday 9th August Nicolas Rothwell published this article in The Australian on the state of indigenous art in Australia. Nicolas’s article details how, over the past 6 years, the old free market indigenous art sector has largely been replaced by a state backed official Indigenous cultural academy:
…..the private-sector market collapsed. What replaced it was a new kind of state culture network, funded by new or expanded programs: programs for remote community arts infrastructure, for research into indigenous societies and for their cultural support.
This new system is now entrenched. It has four pillars: central co-ordination; frontline art-making; downstream gallery display; and a dependent knowledge industry. These pillars interact, and support each other. They are well-funded and thus largely shielded from the pressures of the marketplace……….Trends in Aboriginal art-making are increasingly shaped by state galleries and public collections, and by the culture bureaucrats who guide them; artworks are supported by government-backed programs, made in approved and sanctioned studios, then bought with public funds.
Nicolas then goes on to conclude the article by talking about the visible effects that this official academy model for indigenous culture is having on the quality of indigenous art:
Tact is necessary in this well-presented, stage-managed new Aboriginal art scene. Revival, progress and reconciliation are the stock themes. There is no space to dwell on pervasive features of remote community life: welfare dependency, marijuana abuse, youth suicide and domestic violence.
He speaks of a particular kind of change: “a slackening, a dilution” and of “new, conformist work being made, in its vastness of scale and its odd mimicry of contemporary trends in mainstream art”. For an artist such as myself, well versed in the origins of modernism and its painful struggle to break free of the 19th century Beaux Arts Academy, none of the effects that this burgeoning official Academy is having on the quality of indigenous art is that surprising; it has happened in other places and times. In about 1850, Eugene Delacroix in his journal, described a particularly typical academic artist contemporary as “a conscientious servant of the art of boredom”. Tasteful laborious boredom (and often a added measure of gangsterism) is exactly what all Academies are all about.
What does surprise me, a bit, is the idea that any elected 21C Australian federal government would consciously even contemplate systematically funding the imposition of a central planning model of Art/cultural management at all – I can only assume that the government really had no idea what ‘they’ were doing.