So what can you do to save us all from a world without art? In this podcast episode of What Happens Next?, our experts share all their best tips for finding art in new places, adding it into your own life. And why now, more than ever, art matters.
My view is that art is all around us. We can't escape it. We live in an instant visual world, if you like, and so I think art is there if we're just willing to open our eyes to see where that might occur. And it occurs through everything we do, it's advertising, it's walking down the street, it's nature, it's everything that's around us.
Susan Carland (SC): So what can you do to save us all from a world without art? On this episode our experts share all their best tips for finding art in new places, adding it into your own life and why now, more than ever, art matters.
Let's hear from Jon McCormack (JM).
JM: I'm Jon McCormack, I'm the Director of SensiLab, a Research Lab at Monash University, and I'm a practicing artist and computer scientist.
SC: We're throwing forward now. What can the average person do, someone like me, who, I don't feel particularly creative, what can the average person do? What would you encourage an individual to do so that they could either themselves engage with art or that they could do to help enable artists in society? Particularly now. We're living in a time when so many artists have just watched six months worth of paid work vanish in front of their eyes. How can we help that industry?
JM: Well, obviously, in monetary terms is the simplest thing. But obviously, if you're a musician at the moment, touring is gonna be very difficult. And because of the structural changes in the way that musicians make their money which used to be through album sales or CD sales, streaming sales - well, except unless you're Taylor Swift, nobody earns money from streaming, so they largely earn it through touring and if touring stops, it makes it difficult. So I guess, buying things like merchandise or even just supporting the artist directly through platforms that allow things like Patreon. You know, there's online forms that allow that, at a monetary level that just allows people to keep doing what they’re doing.
You asked a question about what can anyone do in terms of being an artist or making art. My take on art is that it should be democratising, it shouldn't be elitist and that means everyone can do it and they don't have to do it within the formal structures of the art world, they can just do it as a way of finding meaning in their lives or actually just exploring the world around them. So, I mean, if you've never drawn anything, even if you're bad at drawing, actually drawing is a really, really powerful way of understanding something very, very different than taking a photograph of something So these days people walk around with their phone taking photographs and you scroll through your phone thinking, you know, you've got thousands and thousands of these photos. If you have to draw something, it forces you to look at how something actually is and also how you interpret that onto a piece of paper. So drawing is an incredibly, I find, very liberating and very empowering way of understanding the world that's very different than any other way. I think also just getting out and experiencing art is great, even if you think ‘that's not for me’, I think a lot of art is very accessible and even so, these days more and more accessible.
And also you don't necessarily have to understand everything about something to still find some kind of meaning, enjoyment or even puzzlement from it. And to think more deeply about those things is really interesting. I mean, at the moment, there's a lot of art that is highly politicised, that draws our attention to things that perhaps we wouldn't otherwise know about, and I think that's fantastic. A lot of art is about building communities as well. So being part of those communities is really important and art plays a role in doing that. Also making it fun rather than making it kind of legislated or done by peer force or any of those reasons why, for other reasons, that you might do art.
SC: So I get the feeling you don't really see a distinction between the importance of high art and low art.
JM: I think it's important that art is democratic and that anyone feels that they can do it. It's not something that you have to have years and years of training. I mean, if you are a professional artist, if you're in the art world, yes, you do need training. To do that, you need to understand about the history of art, its context and so on. But the idea that it's only for those people, I think, is not correct. It can be very democratising. That's where working with computers, we can really help that, because often you think, well, I'm not creative, I can’t draw, I can’t paint, I can't do anything. A computer can help you with that in a way that can give you the sort of support that might be hard to get from another person because they don't judge. At the earliest stages of developing any kind of creative practices, that sort of puts you or takes you off is the idea someone's judging you, that you’re no good, that you can't do it. And computers don't judge and I think that's why people are more willing to share things with them because they know they're not gonna get judged that way that humans would.
SC: They are very patient teachers. Do you think that there are any policy changes or interventions from government that could be helpful in making art more accessible, more important in society? Apart from buckets of cash!
JM: Well, it is well known that people - census data and things people put people with artists in their title amongst the lowest paid professions - and I think the last figure I heard is the average is about $13,000 which is below the poverty line. I mean, of course, artists will always want more money. There's a great quote by a Canadian musician, and he said, “You know, you give a person $5000 to be on the dole and they’re miserable but you give an artist $5000 to make a piece of artwork, and they're ecstatic about it”. So I think there are ways that I mean yes, obviously something that is not driven necessarily by economies, can't sustain itself economically, so it does need assistance from government. So it does come down to, as a society, how much we value art. And of course, we value a lot of things. We value sport, we value technology, we value medicine, we value lots of things, and they're all competing for funding. But I think the arts are, in particular, fairly poorly funded in Australia compared to other countries of similar socioeconomic wealth. But also, I think that is partially cultural too. Australia doesn't have the same culture as, for example, Europe has in terms of appreciating art and understanding art and also, if you look at other cultures or other other countries where they have a thriving culture, it's not necessarily because a lot of money was put into it, it’s because at base level, society recognizes the importance for it. So I think I would argue that yes, money is essential, but also a kind of understanding at a societal level that art plays a role and it is important and makes for a better life, is fundamental to getting that change.
SC: So how do we do that? Leaving the money aside, How do we get an attitudinal change?
JM: I think it starts in school. You know, when you have kids in school, the thing that parents are usually most proud of is if your child comes home with a painting - that's creating. Kids were taught creativity at school, and then you fast forward to most of the jobs that people end up in and they’re completely uncreative jobs. So where do we lose that point where we valued so much our children to be as creative, you know, creative thinkers, to be experimenting with their creativity as much as possible to the kinds of jobs that most people end up in, and somewhere in that transition it's lost. So I think addressing it at that level is one way. I think, just having more physical places that support art. So it is quite well known that countries or cities that are more open about the possibilities for art events to occur without having so many rules around them generally tend to be the ones where the cultural aspects thrive. There are some good examples in Europe of where people actually went against government decrees, and they said, we're gonna put this in the park or we're gonna put this in the streets. And at first local governments were really against it - you can't have people doing this, this is wrong. But then when they understood that, actually, people were really enjoying it, it was bringing economic wealth into that city because more people were coming from outside when they learned about it, it suddenly turned around and then it was encouraged. This great example is the thing in Austria called the clang vocal , which is this one guy and he encouraged everyone to put their radios out of their apartments on the roof and tune in to the same broadcast that he was, there was a music conference. So people walking down the street suddenly all the streets were filled with music cause everyone just put their radios out onto the street. It is that whole kind of community engagement aspect that makes it possible. So yeah, it’s making the space in the place.
SC: I love that. And, I guess, probably the antithesis of creativity is bureaucratic red tape.
JM: Yes, yeah, in a way, although it can get very creative, I think in my experience at least!
SC: John, this has been so interesting. Thank you so much.
JM: You're welcome. Thanks for having me
SC: Let’s hear from Callum Morton.
Unfortunately, due to Covid, we've had to adapt and do a number of these interviews by phone. So while occasionally the audio isn't as great as always, we promise you the content is.
Callum Morton (CM): Hello. My name is Callum Morton. I'm professor of Fine Art at Monash Art, Design and Architecture. I'm an artist, and I'm also the Director of Monash Art Projects.
SC: Callum Morton, thank you for joining us today. For the average person who's sitting at home who's not an artist - like me - who wants to protect and cultivate the value of art in society. What would be some simple steps that you could recommend for the non-artist out there that sees the value of art and wants to facilitate or help it, or maybe even create some themselves? What should we do?
CM: Well, I think the first thing to recognise is that there’s potential for art practice everywhere. There are no rules. And if you're sitting at home and you want to start making work, you don't have to start drawing or painting in oils or something like that. Art practice can happen online. You can manipulate something on photoshop and put it on Instagram and I would say that that constitutes a piece of art. So I think, for me, the most obvious way or the easiest access I had to producing art was when I understood that it was very open, what it could be, and that there weren’t necessarily these rules of engagement. And the rules of engagement block a lot of people from doing it, in all things, not just art, but if someone is around you telling you how simple it is, or how simple, potentially it could be - from little things, big things grow too, but, I think that is something that is a way in. And so I would say that everyone, everyone could be an artist. I think to continue to be an artist over many years, because there's not money in that and you wouldn't be doing it for that, and to continue to persist, you have to have something inside you that drives you. I mean, I went to art school with a lot of kids who are so much more talented with me in a lot of ways, but didn't keep going for one reason or another. And the attrition rate is very high and that’s largely because there is another fire that you need in you to continue. So there's that. But to begin the process and to find out whether you want to, or to begin the process to just to kind of make something is quite simple. And if you say that, that it's quite simple and that everyone's kind of engaging in some way, or can engage in it in some way, then that kind of increases, theoretically, or could increase, the value one has for it. Because we can talk about value in other ways. Because art, of course, has this ridiculous economy attached to it as well. Which is about, and kind of mythology attached to it, which does give people a kind of sense of value in a whole other way.
And I think that's kind of an obstacle, in many ways, for governments, for all sorts of people. So you kind of have to ignore that because that's a kind of fabrication, that economy. It's like trading in the stock market, buying bank shares or whatever it is - I don't do it - but blue chip shares. People trade art in the stock market - and I’m talking about visual art here. So you just have to kind of ignore those sort of economies and those sense of values and just look at the kind of fundamental values about connectivity, spirituality, mental health and well -being and so on.
SC: Callum Morton. Thank you so much for your time.
CM: My pleasure. Nice talking to you.
Ali Alizadeh (AA): I am Ali Alizadeh, a senior lecturer at Monash. I teach literary studies and creative writing. I'm also a creative writer.
SC: Ali Alizadeh suggests this.
AA: Oh, to me, that’s a political decision - stimulate, stimulate, bankroll, bankroll, bankroll. Government now has to kick in huge amounts of money to save all of this sort of work, not just precarious artists, we’re in it together, I mean, this idea that the better off people can online support artists, that would be an extremely small group, and that kind of investment would dry up so quickly. It's not even worth depending on. Pressure is on governments to spend big and forget GDP and go into debt, at least that’s my view.
SC: And I guess that's such a hard thing to imagine happening when, even in times of prosperity, we saw the arts be gutted by government funding. So how willing do we think they'll be to do it now?
AA: Absolutely. And you know, even in times of prosperity again, we see a very small elite of artists do well. Majority of artists, in fact, do worse in times of prosperity because most of the money gets attracted to the more shining examples, you know. So I'm not sure if prosperity of society and a growth in GDP and productivity translates for better conditions for artists, it may not. I frankly think social spending and and recognising that there are people now, some of them artists. are depending on casual work to to pay the rent and they're gonna be deprived of that ad government has to kick in or else they may be facing some kind of a social uprising.
SC: Ali Alizadeh, thank you.
AA: Thank you.
SC: Nick McGuigan is an accountant who urges people to look for art where it may not obviously be.
Nick McGuigan (NM): Hi everyone. I'm Nick McGuigan and I work as an Associate Professor of Accounting at the Monash Business School as well as their new Director of Equity, Diversity and Social Inclusion.
SC: Nick McGuigan, thanks for coming in.
NM: Thanks for having me.
SC: What are some take away messages for the average person at home, many of whom will not be artists? What can they do to increase their access to practice of art in their everyday life? Or even their way of thinking about art?
NM: My view is that art is all around us. We can't escape it. We live in an instant visual world, if you like, and so I think art is there if we're just willing to open our eyes to see where that might occur. And it occurs through everything we do, it's advertising, it's walking down the street, it's nature, it's everything that's around us. And I think the biggest thing we can do to open ourselves to this is really open our awareness to really look and experience things, and where it has presence.
SC: So just being more aware, you think, more present to the art around us?
NM: I think being open and being aware to it and having presence is absolutely critical.
SC: How can art save the world?
NM: Art enables us to imagine, to reimagine, to really rethink, unlearn some of the processes we might be used to as a human way of organising i.e. our global economy and really reimagine what that might look like in the future and how we could get there. So art, I guess, brings humanity together. It shifts our perceptions and opens our minds and awareness to things we might not have considered before. So if I think about how we're going to save the world - and I'm very mindful here of things like climate change - we need more holistic ways of thinking and art enables us to move in that direction.
SC: Nick McGuigan, thank you so much for coming in.
NM: Thank you so much, Susan, for having me, much appreciated.
SC: That's a wrap for this topic on What Happens Next. Thanks to all our experts who shared their perspectives and practical tips, we’ll be back with a brand new set of futures to explore. If you like the podcast, please write us a review. Thanks for listening today. We'll see you on the next episode of What Happens Next.
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