I think I’ve mentioned The Conversation before. It’s a blog produced by a consortium of Australian academic institutions. The posts are written by writers who are academics, and each post has a disclosure statement regarding whether the writer has affiliations with/receives funding from organisations that could “benefit” from their article. It’s a good source of thoughtful commentary.
They have “sections” such as Politics + Policy, Business + Economy, and Education. Today they launched their newest section, Arts + Culture. That’s exciting because while there have been articles before on arts-related topics, they’ve been scattered. I was a bit disappointed, though, I must admit, to see that on this launch day there are no articles (as they call their posts) devoted to literature but I suppose that’s the luck of the draw. There are articles on Visual Arts, Music, Film, TV and Gaming. I’ll be watching out for Literature.
Julian Meyrick, Professor of Strategic Arts at Flinders University, wrote the new section’s foundation essay, “Does Australia get culture“. He suggests we don’t. He says:
We are a country not without culture but without a sense of culture. That distinction is crucial. Australia does not lack art, artists or audiences. But as a nation we find it hard to see culture in any but consumerist terms.
He suggests two reasons for this – the fact that our language is English makes it easy to “free-ride the cultural goods and services” of the UK and USA, and that our history is ‘peaceful’. ‘Our cultural consciousness’, he says, ‘has never been pushed into sharp awareness by invasion or forced colonisation … unless you are indigenous of course’. Funnily enough, I read a similar point in my current novel, Christina Stead‘s For love alone. In it, an American character keeps describing an Australian character as English, and in terms of her Englishness. I was starting to wonder about this when he says, “She’s not English but Australian of course, but it’s the English race unadulterated by any revolution”!
But, that’s a bit by the by. The article is interesting but a little odd. For example, the author suggests that Australia doesn’t have a written constitution? Huh? What about this? But, I guess my main question to Meyrick is what does he mean by “culture”? It’s a rather nebulous term that can range from something quite narrow to something that encompasses pretty well everything about how we live. It’s not clearly defined in the article. I assume he’s focussing on “the arts”. And I think by “sense of culture” he is concerned about something that seems to have been crossing my reading quite a bit lately, the “Australian identity” – or what he calls “the internal order of value that allows us to articulate who we are”. Since “the arts” are the prime means by which we explore and present who we are, Meyrick’s “culture”, as I read him, is the exploration and presentation of the who we are via “the arts”.
At least I think that’s at the bottom of what he is saying, but I could very well be putting my own spin on it. Regardless, his concern is that these arts are constantly being frustrated, by a
situation whereby commercial imperatives block artistic ones because the internal order of value that should keep them in productive tension is not present to the needed degree.
I’m not sure that Meyrick completely explains what he means by this but I think I get his point. He concludes that Australia is good, however, at strong and bold cultural policy, and that all we need is good leadership from the centre. What do you think?