Artists shouldn’t have to endlessly demonstrate their value. Coalition leaders used to know it

Bell Shakespeare’s recent Hamlet tour was cut short by COVID-19.
Photo: Brett Boardman

Julian Meyrick, Griffith University

For more than 190,000 Australians employed in the cultural sector, the last month brought a quadrella of horror.

First, having spent decades promoting flexible labour markets, the federal government is now using those same conditions to exclude thousands of casual cultural workers from its JobKeeper assistance scheme.

Second, though it is pumping $189 billion into the economy it is offering a “rescue” package for the arts of just $27 million, the latter being 0.14% of the former, and 13.5% of what the Queensland government alone is offering Virgin Australia.

Third, the results of the last Australia Council funding round for key organisations show a reduction in its client base of 34% over the last five years. The kicker came when the arts minister announced the scrapping of Australian content broadcasting requirements and launched an Options Paper on their future.

For a sector where 53% of business have recently closed their doors, this is catastrophic. The olive in the dog-wee martini is that when the debt for supporting the country through COVID-19 arrives, cultural workers will be expected to pay it off just the same. Some governments subsidise their cultural sectors, and others do not. Only the Coalition, it seems, has found a way of getting its cultural sector to subsidise them.

Ibrahim Mahama’s No Friend but the Mountains (2020) during the Sydney Biennale. Installation view at Cockatoo Island.
Photograph: Zan Wimberley

Stop telling the arts to do better

The response so far to this right-royal example of policy ineptitude has been a predictably economic one. The Australia Institute has put out a report on the economics of the creative arts and called for the sector to be more “confident” in dealing with government on the basis of that data.

Arguments for Australian culture often focus on what it should say to demonstrate its worth. Rarely considered is the government’s capacity to listen, or the extent to which it is able to meaningfully interpret the truckloads of evidence put to it. The sector can present all the data it likes. In the end, the government has to choose which to accept and act on. For this, it needs its own cogent idea of culture.

A genuine cultural policy vision has certainly existed on the conservative side of Australian politics in the past. It was Prime Minister Alfred Deakin who established the Commonwealth Literary Fund in 1908, Sir Robert Menzies who started the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust in 1954, and Harold Holt – son of a Tivoli theatre manager and husband of a fashion designer – who signed the charter for the Australia Council in 1967.




Read more:
Coronavirus: Australian arts need a stimulus package. Here is what it should look like


Conservative leaders used to get the arts

After Holt was presumed drowned, the contest to replace him lay between Paul Hasluck, a publisher and poet, and John Gorton, founder of the Australian Film School and the Australian Film Development Corporation. If it was Gough Whitlam who brought culture into the Cabinet, it was the Liberal Senator Tony Staley, one of the better arts ministers we have had, who took it to the next level of policy consideration and kept it there.

Of the state premiers, Sir Thomas Playford oversaw the first Adelaide Festival of the Arts in 1960, Sir Rupert Hamer wrote the Historic Buildings Act into law in 1974 (and saved the Regent Theatre), Joh Bjelke-Petersen founded the Queensland Performing Arts Complex and Jeff Kennett made Melbourne a cultural powerhouse in the early 1990s. Steven Marshall’s Arts Plan is a good example of conservative cultural policy-making today.

Culture wars

It is absolutely not true, therefore, that a proper appreciation of arts and culture is to be found only on the Australian political Left. But it begs the question what on earth has happened to create this perception? Why has a deep-rooted and persuasive cultural policy vision by and large vanished from Coalition beliefs and values?

Its absence is good neither for the government, the sector, nor the country. Bipartisan cooperation on matters of national interest – and the fate of Australian culture is surely one of these – is not a matter of pat verbal agreement.

Politics is not a game of ideological Snap. It arises when different parties advance their own interpretations of particular domains, and these are then incorporated into what the sociologist Norbert Elias calls “the social fund of knowledge”. When no such interpretations are advanced, the process of arriving at beneficial policy outcomes breaks down.

Sydney Chamber Opera will host an online season of Breaking Glass this weekend.
Photo: Daniel Boud

It’s not only the hole in the emotional heart of Coalition politicians the cultural sector should be concerned with right now, it is the hole in their corporate memory. However confidently the sector puts forward its numbers to government, the context for turning them into coherent industrial strategy is missing in (in)action.

It doesn’t have be that way. The right way to interpret abstract economic data is via a meaningful connection to history. Looking at the list of MPs who voted against extending the JobKeeper legislation to the arts there are many who would know exactly how disastrously the sector will fare as a result, not least Paul Fletcher, the minister in charge of it.

The way forward for Australian cultural policy lies in the minds of our politicians, not the attitudes of the sector. This does not mean Coalition ministers and their advisers should accept ideas and arguments they do not like or agree with. It means they must come up with ones of their own.The Conversation

Julian Meyrick, Professor of Creative Arts, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

 

Great time to try: learning to draw

Ari Chand, University of Newcastle

The article was originally published on The Conversation.

Being in isolation might be a great time to try something new. In this series, we get the basics on hobbies and activities to start while you’re spending more time at home.


What can take you somewhere untouched by the clanging outside world? What can help you synthesise your thoughts right now?

Drawing, and our fascination with it, can stimulate your imagination, mindfulness, focus and introspection. Drawing can allow you to enter the flow state: that is, the optimal experience of being so invested in an activity, time passes you by. Drawing can make you feel good.

Draw your attention to familiar objects.
Emm & Enn/Unsplash, CC BY

An act of looking outward and inward simultaneously, drawing can capture thought and insight in a moment.

Since time immemorial, drawing has been a way for humans to process their world – even just a room – and the times they live in (hello COVID-19). It’s our first language.

Renowned artist David Hockney has called for everyone to find something to draw in lockdown: “Question everything and do not think about photography”. Here are your first lessons in learning to draw at home:

1. Stop worrying about mastery

He never finished any of the works he began because, so sublime was his idea of art, he saw faults even in the things that to others seemed miracles.

You don’t have to be an expert, just realise you’ll always see flaws in your drawing. Anyone, of any age can draw, whether you are aged 3 at home with crayons visuo-spatialising objects around them, or 96 in an aged care facility.

It’s an activity we can do together. If you remove the fear of the blank white page and the internal voice screaming, “But, I can’t draw!”

Dobell Drawing Judge: Drawing Basics with Ben and Livvy Quilty.

Sketch inhibition can be debilitating. But hey, no one has to even see it! Your drawing is yours, unless you post it. Even the most accomplished and beautiful drawings we see today started out with someone doing some rough sketches while they learnt what works.

2. Honour the importance of drawing

Drawing is ancient, yet remains a key 21st century skill, helping to improve visual reasoning, memory, idea generation, lateral thinking and inference. Spontaneous drawing – or doodling – may relieve feelings of stress.

Drawing can be incorporated into education in many ways, including visual mapping, reflective thinking, or presenting ideas. Drawing an effective tool in developing an aesthetic navigation of the world. Remote learning might be a way to explore and enhance visual communication skills.




Read more:
Why is teaching kids to draw not a more important part of the curriculum?


Young children step through skill attainment naturally and predictably, from scribbling to shapes to realism and beyond, but this drive is generally discouraged as we grow older.

Perhaps our obsession with photography has stopped us drawing, as it did in its inception.

3. Practice makes perfect … or progress

Vincent van Gogh trained hard to develop his skills:

Now hardly a day passes that I do not make something. As practice makes perfect, I cannot but make progress; each drawing one makes, each study one paints, is a step forward.

You can’t become a good athlete without practice. Nor can I become a good drawer without the 10,000 hours of practice that Malcolm Gladwell notes as critical to performance in his book Outliers: The Story of Success.

Though Gladwell’s 10,000 figure has its critics, there is no doubt learning takes time and practice done without the pressure to make everything look photo-realistic.

4. Observe and allow infinite possibilities

Drawing is the perfect way to challenge yourself at a time where you only have objects and family members around you.

Observation is key. We often overlook the objects we see daily. The power of the familiar means even an old Luxo lamp can become the symbol of PIXAR – originally drawn with pastel on paper as an idea, then used for the opening sequence of Luxo Jr (1986).

There are things you haven’t discovered in your home – or that you could see anew from a different angle or viewpoint.

Drawing asks you to focus on the minutiae.

Drawing as Thinking.

5. Handy resources

The arts community has rallied, providing a huge selection of resources for aspiring sketch artists in isolation: The Conversation

Penguin
Inktober prompts from last year.
Inktober.com

Ari Chand, Lecturer in Visual Communication Design and Creative Industries, University of Newcastle

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

 

How to read Shakespeare for pleasure

Martin’s Droeshout portrait of William Shakespeare (1623)
Bodleian Library, Oxford.

Emma Smith, University of Oxford

In recent years the orthodoxy that Shakespeare can only be truly appreciated on stage has become widespread. But, as with many of our habits and assumptions, lockdown gives us a chance to think differently. Now could be the time to dust off the old collected works, and read some Shakespeare, just as people have been doing for more than 400 years.

Many people have said they find reading Shakespeare a bit daunting, so here are five tips for how to make it simpler and more pleasurable.

1. Ignore the footnotes

If your edition has footnotes, pay no attention to them. They distract you from your reading and de-skill you, so that you begin to check everything even when you actually know what it means.

It’s useful to remember that nobody ever understood all this stuff – have a look at Macbeth’s knotty “If it were done when ‘tis done” speech in Act 1 Scene 7 for an example (and nobody ever spoke in these long, fancy speeches either – Macbeth’s speech is again a case in point). Footnotes are just the editor’s attempt to deny this.

Shakespeare plays hand bound by Virginia Woolf in her bedroom at Monk’s House, Rodmell, Sussex, UK.
Ian Alexanber/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-NC-SA

Try to keep going and get the gist – and remember, when Shakespeare uses very long or esoteric words, or highly involved sentences, it’s often a deliberate sign that the character is trying to deceive himself or others (the psychotic jealousy of Leontes in The Winter’s Tale, for instance, expresses itself in unusual vocabulary and contorted syntax).

2. Pay attention to the shape of the lines

The layout of speeches on the page is like a kind of musical notation or choreography. Long speeches slow things down – and, if all the speeches end at the end of a complete line, that gives proceedings a stately, hierarchical feel – as if the characters are all giving speeches rather than interacting.

Short speeches quicken the pace and enmesh characters in relationships, particularly when they start to share lines (you can see this when one line is indented so it completes the half line above), a sign of real intimacy in Shakespeare’s soundscape.

Blank verse, the unrhymed ten-beat iambic pentamenter structure of the Shakespearean line, varies across his career. Early plays – the histories and comedies – tend to end each line with a piece of punctuation, so that the shape of the verse is audible. John of Gaunt’s famous speech from Richard II is a good example.

This royal throne of kings, this sceptered isle,

This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars.

Later plays – the tragedies and the romances – tend towards a more flexible form of blank verse, with the sense of the phrase often running over the line break. What tends to be significant is contrast, between and within the speech rhythms of scenes or characters (have a look at Henry IV Part 1 and you’ll see what I mean).

3. Read small sections

Shakespeare’s plays aren’t novels and – let’s face it – we’re not usually in much doubt about how things will work out. Reading for the plot, or reading from start to finish, isn’t necessarily the way to get the most out of the experience. Theatre performances are linear and in real time, but reading allows you the freedom to pace yourself, to flick back and forwards, to give some passages more attention and some less.

Shakespeare’s first readers probably did exactly this, zeroing in on the bits they liked best, or reading selectively for the passages that caught their eye or that they remembered from performance, and we should do the same. Look up where a famous quotation comes: “All the world’s a stage”, “To be or not to be”, “I was adored once too” – and read either side of that. Read the ending, look at one long speech or at a piece of dialogue – cherry pick.

One great liberation of reading Shakespeare for fun is just that: skip the bits that don’t work, or move on to another play. Nobody is going to set you an exam.

4. Think like a director

On the other hand, thinking about how these plays might work on stage can be engaging and creative for some readers. Shakespeare’s plays tended to have minimal stage directions, so most indications of action in modern editions of the plays have been added in by editors.

Most directors begin work on the play by throwing all these instructions away and working them out afresh by asking questions about what’s happening and why. Stage directions – whether original or editorial – are rarely descriptive, so adding in your chosen adverbs or adjectives to flesh out what’s happening on your paper stage can help clarify your interpretations of character and action.

One good tip is to try to remember characters who are not speaking. What’s happening on the faces of the other characters while Katherine delivers her long, controversial speech of apparent wifely subjugation at the end of The Taming of the Shrew?

5. Don’t worry

The biggest obstacle to enjoying Shakespeare is that niggling sense that understanding the works is a kind of literary IQ test. But understanding Shakespeare means accepting his open-endedness and ambiguity. It’s not that there’s a right meaning hidden away as a reward for intelligence or tenacity – these plays prompt questions rather than supplying answers.

Would Macbeth have killed the king without the witches’ prophecy? Exactly – that’s the question the play wants us to debate, and it gives us evidence to argue on both sides. Was it right for the conspirators to assassinate Julius Caesar? Good question, the play says: I’ve been wondering that myself.

Returning to Shakespeare outside the dutiful contexts of the classroom and the theatre can liberate something you might not immediately associate with his works: pleasure.The Conversation

Emma Smith, Professor of Shakespeare Studies, University of Oxford

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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