A kick in the arts

The decision of the Morrison Government to remove the word “art” from a department title has drawn widespread concern from the cultural sector, yet for years artists seem to have been avoiding the term

In 2014 I heard a panel at the Dream Big conference acknowledge that art wasn’t a word they used to describe their activities.
Casey Jenkins opted for the term craft and Katherine McLean said her organisation CuriousWorks makes digtal media. "Males, from our experience, don't see art as something they can engage with," said Narrandera-based artist Vic McEwan. "Sometimes we hide the word" he added, acknowledging that sometimes they felt they had overstated art on their posters.

Earlier this year I found myself relieved to be described as a “culture-maker” as Griffith Regional Art Gallery promoted my exhibition.

Sure it sounded like I made yoghurt, but it still seemed like I had something to offer!

The label art seems past its use-by date and I wonder if it’s the connotation with the artefacts created by people now deceased that often appear in galleries, rather than describing a process of creating.

As a result art has become something kinda out of reach, either because one can’t afford to own it or your own creations aren’t sought by cultural institutions.

Artist and commentator Grayson Perry has observed that art has alienated itself:
"There’s a section [of the art world] that has somehow over the years equated performative seriousness with worth. Gradually they’ve upped the obscurity of the language [used to describe art] and the difficulty of the art."

However, there are a few reasons why I think art should be embraced.

For a start, it’s difficult to think of another term than can encompass a wide variety of activities and products and still function as a superlative.

Then, when you think about it, art promotes nuance, particularly through the use of metaphor.

As former Commonwealth Bank director Harrison Young observed:
…metaphor is where one thing means another, it is saying two things at once. And this to my mind is like reality, there are often two aspects. Or more.

Art audiences also gain skills in developing empathy, as they must learn to see artwork through the eyes of the artist if they hope to understand its meaning.

And, finally, art can be what you want it to be.

The line "I don't know much about art, but I know what I like" captures a sense of the individual relationship an audience creates when they consider an artwork.

That speaks to the stimulation we find in the diverse activities recognised as art.

This goes some way to explain why, as journalist Michaela Boland has reported, 98% of Australians engage with the arts, through ”regularly going to gigs, seeing plays, reading novels, attending festivals and listening to music.”

Or, to quote Andy Warhol, “Art is what you can get away with.”