More cre­ativ­ity, less in­dus­try re­quired

Grif­fith Re­view: Es­sen­tially Creative Edited by Ju­lianne Schultz ABC Books, 251pp, $ 19.95

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Feature - Richard King

IN some ways the most sig­nif­i­cant sen­tence in the lat­est is­sue of the Grif­fith Re­view comes on the verso of the ti­tle page: ‘‘ This project has been as­sisted by the Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment through the Aus­tralia Coun­cil, its prin­ci­pal arts fund­ing and ad­vi­sory body.’’

Thus does the jour­nal an­nounce it­self as a ben­e­fi­ciary of the very sys­tem of gov­ern­ment grants and sub­si­dies that it pro­poses to sub­ject to ro­bust anal­y­sis un­der the head­ing of Es­sen­tially Creative . Need­less to say, it will have to tread lightly if it isn’t to rouse the sleep­ing army of oped writ­ers and talk­back blowhards dream­ing restively of the next big stoush be­tween the chat­ter­ing classes and the moral ma­jor­ity. A jour­nal funded out of tax­pay­ers’ dol­lars ded­i­cat­ing al­most an en­tire is­sue to calls for yet more tax­pay­ers’ dol­lars: how’s that for an ex­am­ple of the cul­tural whinge?

In fact, the great ma­jor­ity of con­trib­u­tors seem to be think­ing far more cre­atively about, well, cre­ativ­ity than has been the case in pre­vi­ous years, or might ap­pear to have been the case to some­one fol­low­ing the ar­gu­ments from a dis­tance. Com­bin­ing es­says, fic­tion, po­etry, au­to­bi­og­ra­phy and re­portage, and draw­ing largely on the in­sights and de­bates to have emerged from To­wards a Creative Aus­tralia — the arts and cre­ativ­ity stream at the 2020 Sum­mit in 2008 — this is­sue of the Grif­fith Re­view cov­ers not only ques­tions of fund­ing but also of cre­ativ­ity it­self, as well as the var­i­ous dif­fi­cul­ties, such as de­pres­sion, to which it can give rise.

Over­shad­ow­ing pro­ceed­ings, and en­liven­ing them, is the re­cent furore over Bill Hen­son’s pho­to­graphs. Here, in­deed, is the ghost at the feast who re­minds us that for all the first-rate art Aus­tralians have made in re­cent decades Aus­tralia re­mains in some re­spects a coun­try ‘‘ cul­tur­ally prej­u­diced against cul­ture’’.

That rather skil­ful jux­ta­po­si­tion of two com­pet­ing no­tions of cul­ture is made by screen­writer Ge­of­frey Ather­den who, in Art and Sport— Oh Yes, and Money puts what we might call the tra­di­tional case for in­creased gov­ern­ment fund­ing of the arts in terms that any red­blooded Aus­tralian can un­der­stand and ap­pre­ci­ate. ‘‘ If artists were treated like sports peo­ple,’’ he writes, ‘‘ there would be tal­ent spot­ters who would of­fer places to gifted in­di­vid­u­als at a ma­jor train­ing cen­tre.’’

What ‘‘ a ma­jor train­ing cen­tre’’ ded­i­cated to the arts would en­tail I don’t know, but Ather­den’s com­par­i­son is in­ter­est­ing. La Trobe Uni­ver­sity’s Ju­lian Meyrick makes a sim­i­lar point in The River and the Boat : ‘‘ Ath­letes can be elite. Artists, how­ever, are elit­ist. And in this abrupt and un­ex­plained change of con­ju­ga­tion lies the fun­da­men­tal ex­pres­sion of Aus­tralia’s bad ideas about art.’’

For He­len O’Neil, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Coun­cil for the Hu­man­i­ties, Arts and So­cial Sciences, art and sport came to­gether in style at the 2000 Olympic Games in Syd­ney. For her, in­deed, the open­ing cer­e­mony rep­re­sented the high point of what she calls the ‘‘ con­fla­tion of art-mak­ing and na­tional iden­tity’’.

O’Neil is rather less im­pressed by the present

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