More creativity, less industry required
Griffith Review: Essentially Creative Edited by Julianne Schultz ABC Books, 251pp, $ 19.95
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