School of Historical and Philosophical Studies - Theses

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    A critical history of writing on Australian contemporary art, 1960-1988
    Barker, Heather Isabel ( 2005)
    This thesis examines art critical writing on contemporary Australian art published between 1960 and 1988 through the lens of its engagement with its location, looking at how it directly or indirectly engaged with the issues arising from Australia's so-called peripheral position in relation to the would-be hegemonic centre. I propose that Australian art criticism is marked by writers' acceptances of the apparent explanatory necessity of constructing appropriate nationalist discourses, evident in different and succeeding types of nationalist agendas, each with links to external, non-artistic agendas of nation and politics. I will argue that the nationalist parameters and trajectory of Australian art writing were set by Australian art historian, Bernard Smith, and his book Australian Painting, 1788-1960 (1962) and that the history of Australian art writing from the 1960s onwards was marked by a succession of nationalist rather than artistic agendas formed, in turn, by changing experiences of the Cold War. Through this, I will begin to provide a critical framework that has not effectively existed so far, due to the binary terror of regionalism versus internationalism. Chapter One focuses on Bernard Smith and the late 1950s and early 1960s Australian intellectual context in which Australian Painting 1788-1960 was published. I will argue that, although it can be claimed that Australia was a postcolonial society, the most powerful political and social influence during the 1950s and 1960s was the Cold War and that this can be identified in Australian art criticism and Australian art. Chapter Two discusses art theorist, Donald Brook. Brook is of particular interest because he kept his art writing separate from his theories of social and political issues, focussing on contemporary art and artists. I argue that Brook's failure to engage with questions of nation and Australian identity directly ensured that he remained a respected but marginal figure in the history of Australian art writing. Chapter Three returns to the centre/periphery issue and examines the art writing of Patrick McCaughey and Terry Smith. Each of these writers dealt with the issue of the marginality of Australian art but neither writer questioned the validity of the centre/periphery model. Chapter Four examines six Australian art magazines that came into existence in the 1970s, a decade of high hopes and deep disillusionment. The chapter maps two shifts of emphasis in Australian art writing. First, the change from the previous preoccupation with provincialism to pluralist social issues such as feminism, and second, the resulting gravitation of individual writers into ideological alliances and/or administrative collectives that founded, ran and supported magazines that printed material that focused on (usually Australian) art in relation to specific social, cultural or political issues. Chapter Five concentrates on the Australian art magazine, Art & Text, and Paul Taylor, its founder and editor. Taylor and his magazine were at the centre of a new Australian attempt to solve the provincialism problem and thus break free of the centre/periphery model.