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Attacks on the arts miss their value



Recently, The Daily Telegraph published a front-page article criticising public funding for the arts during a pandemic. One of five female artists named and ridiculed as self-indulgent in the article was Claire Bridge who received a $10,000 grant for a collaborative multi-channel video work with Chelle Destefano. Their project, What I wish I’d told you brings together Deaf voices and centres Deaf perspectives, language, culture and agency. This year, distancing and isolation has created a number of barriers to connection, especially for people living with disabilities who depend on face-to-face interaction and for whom community is vital. The artists were thrilled to receive financial support for this project and to promote it this week as part of Reaffirming Deaf People’s Human Rights, the theme of this year’s National Week of Deaf People and International Week of the Deaf. The disheartening comments made in the newspaper reiterate the value of this type of artwork.

White night installation (Pramuk Perera/Unsplash)

Attacks on the arts sector from the media repeatedly target what authors deem invaluable and unnecessary recipients of Australian taxpayer dollars. Artworks produced by public funding recipients (and notably in this case only women artists) are often highlighted as ‘objectionable’ due to controversial content — whether it be a critique of coal mining’s contribution to climate change, or an exploration of feminist and LGBTQIA+ issues — to incite public debate over social values.

A major flaw in The Daily Telegraph article is that it is laden with sensationalised untruths about what the arts grants are being used for, taking words from the artists’ bios or statements from their other works out of context. By simplifying and altering artists’ intentions, the article opened them up to public ridicule, as evidenced by the readers’ comments. The funds allocated to many of the named artists were in fact COVID-19 emergency-relief grants in the context of financial hardship, largely due the loss of billions of dollars in expected self-generated income across the industry. The situation for the sector is all the more alarming now, given a great deal of the arts sector were not eligible for the various government subsidies. One of the grants brought to question provided funding of $2,000, which is equal to 3 weeks on JobKeeper, a program that roughly 6.6 million Australians have benefited from since April 2020.

A common argument from conservatives is that publicly-funded artists take unnecessarily from the ‘average Australian’. In the current international crisis, this argument fails to recognise that artists and arts workers are just as deeply impacted financially by COVID-19 as the ‘average Australian’ in other industries. Data released from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) in April showed that the Arts and Recreation sector has been the hardest hit by the Coronavirus pandemic with more than half (53 per cent) of businesses ceasing to operate.

Art can offer us a deep perspective on the past, a vital perspective on today, and a compelling perspective on the future. The contemporary arts offer rigorous, ethical and valuable approaches to rethinking our priorities. Art can also make us happy. Particularly in times of crisis, people turn to the arts for support, community, entertainment, comfort and inspiration. During the pandemic, 73 per cent of Australians have said that the arts have improved their mood and quality of life. Since the pandemic, the number of Australians who believe that arts and culture should receive more public funding has only increased. These figures all suggest that comprehensive public investment in arts and culture is in the public’s interest.

The Coalition Government’s 2020-2021 Budget reinforced its disdain for Australia’s arts and culture workers. Despite Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s promise in the budget announcement last week to prioritise jobs, his speech made no mention of the job-rich arts sector. Despite it being the first and worst hit sector, the peak government funding body, the Australia Council for the Arts, received a funding increase so small as to barely even cover basic administration costs once adjusted for inflation. The $250 million support package committed in June 2020, which will do little to restore confidence in the arts sector, is yet to come to fruition for any arts organisation. This comes off the back of disproportionate exclusions from existing income support measures, cuts to local content quotas for Australian TV, and the increase of arts and humanities degree fees.


'Urgent and ambitious funding for the arts will be welcomed by audiences all over Australia. Yet in spite of the demonstrated preferences of "average Australians", commentators insist that arts funding is not of value to Australians.'


The false, but nonetheless popular, argument that arts and culture contributes nothing to the economy is made repeatedly in public discourse. In Australia there are 48,000 practising professional artists, 57,477 people employed in the arts, and 600,000 people employed in the broader $111.7bn cultural and creative activity sector. The arts and cultural sector is a bigger industry than agriculture, and employs more people than the oil and gas, and mining industries. For every million dollars in turnover, the arts and entertainment sector creates 9 jobs, as opposed to just 1 in mining or 0.36 in oil and gas extraction.

The central importance of the arts industry to the national economy is stressed further when you consider its intrinsic relationship with tourism, accommodation and hospitality. These industries rely on arts and culture for their own success, especially in regional areas. What’s more, arts tourists are high value tourists: they travel further, stay longer and spend more than domestic tourists overall.

And the sector is not without an engaged audience. New research from the Australia Council for the Arts has shown that prior to the pandemic, almost every Australian (98 per cent of us) is engaging in the arts in some way, and 63 per cent of Australians believe that arts and culture should be financially supported.

This is one of Australia’s most employment-intensive industries, with strong industry interdependencies with tourism, accommodation and hospitality. The Australia Institute argues that ‘in addition to the short-term welfare, cash flow and wage subsidy measures that have already been announced, the government also needs to provide ongoing support to the structure of the economy.’ They propose evaluating the efficacy of several potential stimulus projects according to 8 principles including targeting domestic production and those most impacted by the crisis. The creative industries align with every one of these principles. The Australia Institute goes on to reason that comprehensive investment in the creative industries will be an ‘effective form of short-term stimulus and potentially provide a source of creative assets of benefit for decades to come.’ 

Urgent and ambitious funding for the arts will be welcomed by audiences all over Australia. Yet in spite of the demonstrated preferences of ‘average Australians’, commentators insist that arts funding is not of value to Australians.

Yet the fatigue felt by artists and arts workers in response to public discourse on the arts cannot be constrained to issues of money and funding alone. In between the mockery from media personalities, and the increasingly results-oriented, quantitative approach that characterises public policy evaluation, the value of art is more often than not discussed only in consideration of its financial potential. 

Public debates on the contribution of the arts to the economy — or even public health — distract us from the possibilities of what art can offer: connection, understanding, political engagement, ways to hold things to account, to unpack and confront the social meanings and changes in our times, and imagine and welcome ideas and voices that are new, strange and exciting.

The true value of art cannot be measured in dollars and cents. Artistic creations engage passionately with the issues of the contemporary world and challenge our ways of life. An artwork can mean many different things to many different people and nearly always elicits a response. As Andrew Brooks reminded us in February 2020: 

‘An artwork is not a riot or a strike or a blockade or a commune. And we must be careful not to forget that the future we desire will not be won in the gallery but in the streets and through collective struggle. But art is one of the primary means in which the structural conditions and inequalities that are produced by the infrastructures of the settler state can be revealed, analysed, and critiqued.’

Because expertise in the arts is not valued in the Australian media landscape, most people don’t hear about the arts from specialist journalists and news sites. Rather, the arts are routinely associated with deceptive and harmful stereotypes (such as the elitist taxpayer-funded bludger) and shrouded in misleading inaccuracy. The media’s antagonism towards the arts — when discussed at all — is one of the biggest hurdles preventing the arts from attracting larger audiences. The media could do with more people committed to meaningful conversations with the arts and culture sector — ones that challenge artists and arts workers to imagine new territories.



Leya ReidLeya Reid is the Communications and Advocacy Manager at the National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA). A writer and researcher, Leya has been published in The Guardian Australia, ArtsHub, Screen Education, and Vertigo. She holds a Bachelor of Communications (Social and Political Sciences) from UTS.

Image credit: (Pramuk Perera/Unsplash)

Topic tags: Leya Reid, arts, arts funding, Australia Council, 2020 Budget



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Existing comments

The Arts sector is prone to the perception of many as highbrow and largely funded by arty philanthropists and thus exists in another realm. There also may be a perception of artists enjoying the struggle to produce quality work rather than live a life of mediocrity which significant sections of the population must endure. All this is far from reality but may help explain why Arts funding is such a contentious issue. The truth is obvious: the more we invest in the creative and the imaginative the greater (and sublime) improvement in everyone's quality of life.

Pam | 12 October 2020  

Critical comments about how money should be invested can reflect a perspective that there has to be a FINANCIAL return to the investor. Google 'art in public places australia' and read what has been happening in Australia for more than the past decade. State arts programs have been providing a range of opportunities for artists to enhance construction in ways that once would have been thought unimaginable. People with creative talents are needed almost as much as our 'frontline workers' to help us through the current pandemic. Sometimes when I hear various comments from certain people I'm reminded of a joking question that my husband Peter used to ask: 'What did you say your degree was in?'

Paddy Byers | 12 October 2020  

"A common argument from conservatives is that publicly-funded artists take unnecessarily from the ‘average Australian’." So, artists are not average Australians?? Clearly people who peddle that thoughtless comment don't know any artists. Artists are not only everyday Australians like you and me who are not creative enough to try to make a living from our art, but they are also among those most disadvantaged by the current Covid-19 lockdown and resultant recession. Meanwhile, 'elite' sportspeople, mostly men, have all the support they could want from the Federal and State Governments who make special allowance, special permits, to ensure they can continue their lucrative careers despite the pandemic and the recession. Does 'The Daily Telegraph' consider them 'average Australians', or does their particular career path entitle special allowance? They are a much smaller number than performing artists struggling with loss of audiences and venues. Do the elite sportspeople need part-time employment just to keep bread on the table? The artists I know certainly do; and their part time work has also evaporated in the lockdown. Australia should support all Australian artists, as entertainers, and as contributors to what it means to be Australian.

Ian Fraser | 12 October 2020  

While this country is run by the Neanderthals, don't expect any better outcomes in the future as what has happened in the last six months. Arts was the last cab in the rank to get a small amount of money from the Australian Government, and its inept minister has been slow to get it out of Treasury coffers to artists. What more could you expect when this government is more focused on sport and games at this time of year?

john willis | 12 October 2020  

The 'arts' is not one solid block and requires discernment and even criticism to sort out the better parts and practitioners from the escapist and ugly.

Charles Rue | 13 October 2020  

Unfortunately, today everything is “art” if it expresses some feeling, no matter how vulgar or ugly. The German philosopher Deitrich von Hilderbrand rejected the notion that beauty is unimportant in nurturing a civilization. The Catholic poet, Dana Gioia, notes that the postmodern position implies “the complete rejection of beauty in any positive sense.” Asked by Sean Salai S.J. what he would like to say to Pope Francis about Catholics and the arts, Gioia replied, “Pope Francis understands the purpose of art…So I would say to the pope: Don’t forget that beauty is one of the ways God speaks to us, a way that leads people to things of the spirit.” Dostoevsky too knew: “Beauty will save the world.” But Andrew Brooks’s quote suggesting using art to attack “the infrastructures of the settler state” to enable winning “in the streets” with a “collective struggle” implies a raw political agenda. Theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar knew that abandoning beauty also meant abandoning truth and goodness: “she [beauty] will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking them along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance.” Not all “art” is deserving of taxpayer funding.

Ross Howard | 13 October 2020  

The adage "they know the price of everything and the value of nothing" says nearly all that needs to be said about the philistines who criticise arts funding in Australia. Not a lot has changed, though, since my youth; when nearly every artist and performer I knew went overseas (usually to Europe, the USA wasn't a lot better than here in those days) if they wanted to be any more than a part-timer.

BJ | 13 October 2020  

What a fantastic summary of the crucial importance not the arts, both economically and for the human spirit. This should be compulsory reading for politicians.

john bartlett | 13 October 2020  

What political agenda is more raw and blatantly biased than one that will not fund the arts unless they subscribe to a turgid and reproductive norm, Ross Howard? Surely the essence of originality is to create an art piece that says something new.

Michael Leonard FURTADO | 14 October 2020  

The Australian psychological, spiritual and cultural landscape without the Arts? Look no further than the disturbing book: Wake in Fright (1961) by Kenneth Cook: John Grant is a young, bonded schoolteacher who has been assigned to work a gruelling two-year post as the schoolmaster of Tiboonda, an isolated, three-building township in the outback of western New South Wales. Upon finishing school in time for the six-week Christmas holiday season, Grant catches a train to the mining town of Bundanyabba – known by the locals as "The Yabba" – to await a flight home to Sydney, where he hopes to spend his vacation swimming at the nearby beach.. ...Were the Arts absent, desolate hedonistic and vacuous living would be rampant.

AO | 15 October 2020  

How true, Charles Rue.

John RD | 15 October 2020  

Although they had significant differences of opinion on the subject of aesthetics, both Dietrich von Hildebrand and Jacques Maritain were agreed that beauty is no simply subjective thing and that art is recognisable and definable by objective criteria. It is debased when used merely as a political tool, and measured exclusively by its utility as such. GM Hopkins SJ conceives God in some of his best-known poems as the supreme Artist (e.g., "The Windhover", "Pied Beauty").

John RD | 15 October 2020  

Congratulations on a serious and convincing case for government support for the arts. The Morrison government has shown a stubborn disdain for the arts in all their forms, apparently unaware of their value in mental health and social cohesion, let alone the pleasure they bring. We all knew of Prime Minister Paul Keating’s enthusiasm for music. One wonders what members of the present parliament do for recreation, apart from yelling at football matches.

Juliet | 15 October 2020  

Yes, AO, at their best the Arts are a civilising influence, but I think we should be wary of making them a substitute for faith in God as is fashionable in the contemporary Australian and American art scene. Oscar Wilde recognises the inadequacy, indeed futility, of aesthetic pursuit dissociated from moral and religious truth in works such as "The Picture of Dorian Gray" and perhaps his best work, "De Profundis" - there's nothing, as he once quipped like the thought of death for concentrating the mind (advice reminiscent of the long-standing spiritual counsel given by various saints that, when faced with an important choice, we would benefit by imagining what to decide if we were facing imminent death - a far from macabre or morbid thought as our choice radically affects both how we will live in the here-and-now and our eternal destination.

John RD | 16 October 2020  

John RD should pause to take stock before he posts his other-worldly fervorini on this topic. After all it was Hitler and Stalin who emerged in the last century as the ultimate champions of those committed to cleaning up the arts and divesting them of unclean and debauched influences.

Michael Leonard FURTADO | 16 October 2020  

Yes, John RD. I am in agreement with all you have said. Though, I see the Arts as stepping stones to the Faith, not a substitute for the Faith, and for very many including believers: a medium, a deeper appreciation magnifying their Faith. For unbelievers, Faith may be a too much of an abstract, intangible, reality for 'them' to 'grasp' to experience directly, if not 'initially' via the senses and the intellect. Funny thing I have noticed very many times, the Last work of Art (before the artist's, his/her death) is always the 'most complete'. Like Beethoven's Last Symphony: Ode to Joy. Mozart's Requiem in D Minor, K 626, requiem mass by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, left incomplete at his death on December 5, 1791. About Death itself? And how we are to live it? The nightingale's Last Song in Oscar Wilde's, The Nightingale and the Rose. Had a pretty good idea. As did all the Saints. Turning his/her death into a love song. A work of Art. Captivating the whole spirit of his/her life.

AO | 16 October 2020  

Wake in Fright (1961) by Kenneth Cook. As a stepping stone to the Faith? This work of Art gives us an idea of Hell. Well it did to me, anyway.

AO | 16 October 2020  

I wonder, from his former trenchant ES-declared opposition to the Ramsay course since taken up by the Australian Catholic University, when Michael Furtado refers to a "turgid and reproductive norm", whether he has in mind Western civilisation's tradition of the arts and humanities, so extensively and appreciatively valued and promoted by Jesuit education since the Society of Jesus' founding years? I also wonder what makes "originality" the defining characteristic of the arts and humanities - I'd have thought aesthetics and the pursuit of the good and the true in a wide range of disciplines would be significant elements of any appropriate definition.

John RD | 17 October 2020  

JohnRD's assertions about the Society of Jesus and its defense of Western civilisation are sadly stuck within a Chester-Belloc time-warp in which it can safely also be observed that his theological and philosophical views are mired. Since their foundation the Jesuits have generally demonstrated a canny uniqueness and independence of mind and spirit as well as an openness to inquiry that runs counter to much of the pinched and crippling cultural straight-jacket that John would seek to enforce upon the rest of us - a metaphor that I have heard used to describe a company of men who have taught many thousands of us globally how to dance our way out of the atrophied view of culture that John seeks to impose on so much that he writes about. As for the ACU and the Ramsay course, this was accepted attendant upon the payment of a very large bribe, turned down by the most eminent universities in the land, which include in their profile of scholars a great many academics and other 'eminenti', prized both for their Jesuitical connections (which ACU does not, regrettably, have) as well as their breadth of vision to recognise that Christ transcends all cultural boundaries.

Michael Leonard FURTADO | 17 October 2020  

There is art as expression of humanity and art as a money earning con job. Taxpayers who have to work for their livelihoods shouldn't have to fund the latter. Examples of the latter, to be expected , come from the USA most commonly where everything is measured in dollars not talent, Examples? Christo, Pollock, Warhol and the bloke who takes photos of naked people in public places and whose name escapes me.

john frawley | 18 October 2020  

I wouldn't have thought admiring Chesterton and Belloc (the reading of whom has led many into the Catholic faith) automatically lock one's tardis into their time zone; much of what they wrote transcends their own era. If "time-warps" are to be the order of the day, the views of my perennial critic here, MLF, so demonstrably proficient himself at labelling (e.g, "Hobbesian", "Jansenist") seem to me a combination of 1960-70s' undergraduate unreceptivity to legitimate authority overlaid with a facade of French and Germanic postmodernism (e.g., Foucault, the Frankfurt School) whose writings are not renowned for encouraging a favourable disposition to things Catholic, and the former of whom received a classical Jesuit education. My same long-time critic has also expressed surprise in ES at my reading and appreciation of authors like Camus and Ionesco, who don't quite fit this latest mould into which I've most recently been cast. (Little did I realise I'm such a complex person - perhaps one who should take postmodernists who like to think of persons as onions, more seriously).

John RD | 18 October 2020  

Even the fundamental characteristic of Warhol’s art can be viewed as connected to his faith. As the novelist Jeannette Winterson observed: “Repetition has a religious element too. Warhol was a devout Catholic, though eccentrically so. The rosary is repetition, the liturgy is repetition, the visual iconography of the Catholic Church depends on repetition.” Indeed, is any artist more fitting for a Vatican retrospective?https://myartguides.com/exhibitions/milan/andy-warhol-sixty-last-suppers/

AO | 19 October 2020  

John Frawley contests a long tradition in nude art performance/production that predates modernism by many millennia and not just in times of recency. The temple bronzes of my native India are but some examples of these: graeeful, feminised, exquisite, as opposed to the macho 'sinewcism' of Greco-Roman ('Western canon') 'butch-art', much of it preserved in time-warped galleries at the Vatican and replicated in the mindless neo-classicism that both he and John RD implicitly admire. These tastes, in informed arts-appreciation circles - some of them Jesuit and highly educated in aesthetics - are also to be found in the population in general and, without stereotyping, in particular quarters that know what they like but express their tastes with an exclusiveness worthy only of the Philistines, e.g. the neoclassical appetite of some Australian immigrants and others, such as perhaps Dr Frawley himself, with a medico's appreciation of human anatomy but no qualified insight into Bill Henson's beautiful work, which was the item, I suspect, that he struggled to recall but recklessly committed himself to condemning before checking. Each one, surely, to his own without making art appreciation the prerogative of reactionary critics of the Edna Everage/Les Patterson Arts & Cultural Appreciation School.

Michael Leonard FURTADO | 19 October 2020  

Michael Furtado. Couldn't agree more with your appreciation of the great art works depicting the unclad human body that have survived the great Greco-Roman and Subcontinental cultures. While I am familiar with Leonardo da Vinci's 799 human anatomical drawings, valid in their accurate depiction to the present day, and those of Titian's disciple van Calcar in the first textbook of human anatomy, I do not consider them great art but rather excellent realist depictions without the soul that brings great art to life. I find no soul in the mass nudity photographer's work which you have identified. It is to me nothing other than banal, meaningless pictorial, deliberately countercultural and promoted as art to the benefit of the promoter. The sad thing is that some have allowed themselves to be conned by the word art.

john frawley | 20 October 2020  

Art is important although how it becomes important can be mysterious. Somewhat along the lines of Matthew 11:25, Waiting for Godot flew over the heads of the learned, but set some prisoners free, at least from the bars of their own minds. One might almost say it served as an epiphany to some “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ddsl5nPfAc for about the first five minutes.

roy chen yee | 20 October 2020  

Questions of taste and the objectivity of artistic appreciation aside for now, the dismissal of Greco-Roman art as "butch" and "'sinewcism'" ignores completely the context of its origins and impetus in the intellectual awakening of 5th century Athens and the affirmation of human potentiality its sculptures convey, and indeed celebrate. The best of Renaissance art also does this, though our 'cancel-culture' street art performers, were they aware of it at all, would be less than receptive to this view; (in fact, let loose in those "time- warped galleries at the Vatican", I imagine they'd have a Philistines Picnic before proceeding to other fields of self-expression in Rome and elsewhere). What's more, it's not as if the Vatican fails to recognise the limitations of triumphalism: on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, Michelangelo's Adam is close to, but not quite on the same level as his Maker (reflecting the Psalmist's words); and in St Peter's Basilica itself stands a statue of a Renaissance pope in the form of a Roman emperor, supported on a skeletal pedestal under which is inscribed the memento mori theme: "Tempus fugit". There's more that meets the eye to the Greco-Roman style, I'd suggest, than its heroic excesses.

John RD | 21 October 2020  

Great art has a soul but when support is denied to struggling artists and instead siphoned-off to invest in moribund cultural modalities, as evidenced when a Winifred Atwell recital was scheduled to opened the Sydney Opera House, it is surely time to critically question all cultural narratives that constrict and conserve so that true creativity and originality are unleashed. It helps to remember that Van Gogh died a pauper but is feted today as one of the greatest artists of his time. The question must then follow as to whose art today is missing out in the rush to assert that all authentic art died after reaching the zenith of religious depiction on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel. The Belgian Jesuit, Richard de Smet, was an Indologist whose influence has not only shaped the course of vibrant Indian Catholicism but also those aspects of Hinduism that help contain it from the onslaught of the cultural chauvinism that locks our entelechy and understanding of God's influence into an otherwise static and atrophied culturalist blind-alley. Among de Smet's influences was an Indianisation of Christian art. True artists lift our vision beyond the occidentocentric prejudices that consistently seep their way in here.

Michael Leonard FURTADO | 21 October 2020  

MLF's points might be more plausible were he to refrain from hyperbolic excesses such as descriptions of great art like that of Renaissance masters as "moribund cultural modalities", and breath-taking allegations that eminent appreciators, historians and critics of art like Gombrich, Clark, Kimball, Sr Wendy Beckett, Hughes "assert that all authentic art died after reaching the zenith of religious depiction on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. " I very much doubt, too, that Fr Richard De Smet SJ, for all his ecumenical zeal and dedication, would have so deprecated the remarkable artistic tradition of his native land and countrymen.

John RD | 22 October 2020  

Michelangelo wrote to his nephew Leonardo, “I work out of love for God and put all my hope in him.” Michelangelo often confided in his friends and family that he had stopped eating during a project, that his exhaustion had reached insuperable heights, sentiments that manifested themselves in Michelangelo's sudden outbursts at both his apprentices and his unfinished works. He would begin flogging and slamming his hands against the marble as if he expected to elicit a response from the rock. A quick scan of his biography will reveal that Michelangelo contracted several grave illnesses during his life, almost all during periods of extreme focus on his work, as he would stop eating unless necessary and sleep in his clothes to avoid wasting time. Take one oft-cited example: he was commissioned to sculpt a statue for Pope Julius II. During the entire undertaking, Michelangelo, who suffered from gout, slept in the same clothes and boots until his legs became so swollen that a surgeon had to cut the boots off his legs, taking some of the flesh that had stuck to the boots along with them. Indeed, in The School of Athens Raphael depicts Michelangelo's habit of sleeping in his boots. “Perhaps it's good for one to suffer? Can an artist do anything if he's happy? Would he ever want to do anything? What is art, after all, but a protest against the horrible inclemency of life?” (Aldous Huxley). Michelangelo was just 25 years old at the time when he created the 'Pieta' statue.

AO | 23 October 2020  

The problem with JohnRD's post is twofold: firstly that he appears to read me as an upstart, which, despite my daring to take his opinions on, does not automatically follow, for while he is entitled to his view, so also should be accept that they aren't as yet ex cathedra. The second is that I would not have mentioned de Smet were it not for his immense contribution to the culturalist change that enabled subcontinental Catholicism to shake off the atrophied accoutrements of its European past and embrace authentic Indological inculturation. To claim epistemic privilege here, I cite Professor Julius Lipner, a Cambridge don who, were it not for Lipner being my cousin, would not have introduced me to de Smet's immense mark on Indological evangelisation. As for Ernst Gombrich & Lord Clark (of Civilisation, as Private Eye oft-parodied him) the former's work has been superseded, while the latter's is now laughed at. While Catholics ha

Michael Leonard FURTADO | 24 October 2020  

While JohnRD celebrates Sr Beckett's role in placing art appreciation on the agenda of the chatterati - commendable for her being Catholic - her contributions were more quaint than critical to art commentary, much of it modern and Catholic. A much-respected colleague, Sr Pauline Smoothy RSM, teacher, erudite writer and one of the best-read of the bastion of religious women who have graced the Australian Church, once remarked that Sr Beckett, from the way in which she presented herself in the subfusc of pre-Vatican habitus, including tunic, veil, scapular, wimple and lisp, was easily mistaken for an archaic Anglican divine with many of the quirks that sometimes embarrassingly hallmark that branch of our sister Church, and whom, it would appear, is JohnRD's particular conservative cultural project to impose on indigenous Australian Catholicism. To read of Sr Wendy's sweet, endearing and enduring contribution to both English Catholicism and English arts-discourse is to identify a missed opportunity to portray her as any more than a cultural warrior from the past. Incidentally Fr de Smet once tellingly said that not even Breughel had been able to prevent Utrecht Cathedral from being marketed as a night-club, a decision recently overturned by the Dutch Primate.

Michael Leonard FURTADO | 24 October 2020  

All things are intrinsically made to be sold. Sale is the reciprocal exchange of value. Reciprocity is how equal beings should lay claims upon the other. Charity suspends the rule as concession (hand-out) or to return a transactor to equality (hand-up). Unless commercially shared, an artwork, like a loaf, is a sale of sole title for the value of the effort. If the artist is to earn no less per unit of time than the modal rate of fairness in the community, the price of sole title will be a substantial financial sacrifice for the buyer because of the units of time employed. Sole title to a loaf costs a fraction of a unit of time. For film, play or music, fractionation occurs because sole title is either to a temporary right of sense-experience of the object or to an infinitely replicable copy of it. An artwork which isn’t fractionable will always be expensive. The question is who is to pay for sole title to the object and why.

roy chen yee | 25 October 2020  

MLF: Not "an upstart", Michael (25/10); rather, someone with whom I find myself in serious disagreement on matters that matter in this ES forum.

John RD | 25 October 2020  

MLF: If you expect I'll let pass by to the keeper anachronism and historical revisionism of the kind you produce in your (25/10) comments on Sr Beckett O. Carm. and Fr Richard de Smet SJ, I'm afraid you'll be disappointed. Sr Wendy was no "cultural warrior" in the contemporary sense of that word as you (mis)apply it to my estimation of her. Casting her as such would ignore the many testimonies and tributes of her friends and admirers the world over, from a wide spectrum of cultural, education and religious backgrounds - people whom you dismissively refer to as "chatterati"; these are people who expressed love, admiration and gratitude on Sr Wendy's death in 2018 for the life of this gifted and dedicated nun's integration of scholarship, teaching and prayer, as well as her wise pastoral counsel - not an achievement, it would seem, rated highly by or even comprehensible to those illuminati elites of the art world who determine value only on the criterion of political utility. With regard to Fr Richard de Smet SJ, who died in 1997, I have to wonder whether his remarkable talents extended to commenting on an issue that arose for consideration as a possibility for St Catherine's Cathedral, Utrecht, only a few years ago. And I'd imagine that Brueghel's "The Fall of Icarus" would have held a universal significance for him beyond the sale, important though the matter is, of the relocation outside the city of a cathedral.

John RD | 26 October 2020  

If Michael Furtado imagines I'll let pass by to the keeper his foray (25/10) into anachronism, stereotyping and historical revisionism in relation to Sr Wendy Beckett O. Carm. and Fr Richard de Smet SJ, I hope to disappoint him. On her death in 2018, people from a wide spectrum of educational, cultural and religious backgrounds - "chatterati" ! - paid tribute to this dedicated nun whom MLF would have me (mis)cast as a "cultural warrior", i.e., one given primarily to political ideology and activism. The many tributes to Sister Wendy expressed love and gratitude for her dedication to a remarkably integrated life of prayer, scholarship, teaching, and wise spiritual counsel - an achievement not rated highly by, if comprehensible at all, to illuminati elites of the art world who determine works' value by the sole criterion of mercenary and political utility, usually of the 'transgressive' genre. Regarding Fr de Smet, who died in 1997, even recognising his distinctive talents and abilities, I wonder just how he managed to extend them to commenting on the matter of St Catherine's Cathedral, the possibility of whose sale "as a night-club" became an issue only quite recently. I imagine, too, Fr de Smet's appreciation of the influence of Brueghel the Elder's "The Fall of Icarus"'s universal themes of indifference, striving, and hubris reached beyond its relevance to the relocation of the Utrecht's cathedral, important as the issue was and is.

John RD | 26 October 2020  

Neither John RD nor Michael Furtado’s competing versions of high art will bring in the tourists. We may have to go with a similar feature to that in the link below, in the centre of Riverbend Historic Park, of a recent resident of the area who was, for a short while, the most prominent woman in Australia https://www.123rf.com/photo_34723613_the-world-s-largest-sculpture-of-chairman-mao-in-changsha-hunan-province-china.html The project could be underwritten by something akin to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Federal Art Project (1935 – 1943).

roy chen yee | 26 October 2020  

Just testing...testing...JohnRD, to check if your art appreciation, like your theology, wasn't permanently mired in the C12th. The de Smedt I cited was a Dutchman, not a Fleming. I'll be forgiven, I'm sure, for 'smudging the borders', so to speak, with you being such a forgiving and availing soul. As for Sr Wendy, I never thought of her as any more than quaint. It was your unfortunate citation of her name, I'm afraid, that made a cultural warrior out of her. RIP. I'm happy to resile from my remarks if you don't co-opt her in support of your anti-modernist prejudices.

Michael Leonard FURTADO | 27 October 2020  

MLF: I can't really see why you'd need to "test" whether my art appreciation and theology are "permanently mired in C12th" - except, of course in order to resort to the sort verbal antics to which I've become accustomed over quite some time in your frequent Eureka Street postings. After all, it's not as if references I've regularly supplied in ES on this and other issues all reflect solely C12th thinking (BTW, Aquinas, whom I admire greatly, belongs to the 13th Century, and his developers to whom I've often referred, e.g., Etienne Gilson, Fr Aidan Nichols OP, Fr Thomas White OP, et al., to more modern, even contemporary times). In fact, I'd hope it would be more accurate to say my thinking goes back much further for its primary point of critique, to the fusion of Christian faith and Hellenic thought - "fides at ratio" - already evident in the New Testament (e.g., the prologue to the Fourth Gospel and parts of the Pauline epistles), and developed in direct contrast to the first classically Protestant writer on record - Tertullian's - sundering of "Athens and Jerusalem", by the thinking of pagan converts and Fathers of the Church like Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria in the tradition of the early Church: teachers who wedded the best of Hellenic metaphysics, including ethics, to the revelation of Christ received in faith and the catholicity of the Church evident in the event of Pentecost (cf, Acts: 2) - a marriage which prevailed over its competitors and one of far-reaching Catholic missionary consequence, that, remarkably, in many parts of academia today seems all but lost - even to some displaying theological and catechetical degrees - to the diminution, I'd say, of art, philosophy and theology and the efficacy of contemporary evangelisation in the West.

John RD | 27 October 2020  

What about Pevsner, dear John RD? In my pimply youth I recall him droning on at Schools about Art & Design, which gave some of his aesthetic appreciation a creepy bias, notably towards the uber-decorated pre-Raphaelite flourishes of Holman Hunt and, later, the pious excesses of William Morris at Keble, as well as the Nazi-era brutalism of Walter Gropius? How come you haven't incorporated them into your anti-modernist arts and theology crusade? And - setting your citation of Ionescu aside - do you perhaps show your Achilles' Heel in excluding the inscrutable Proust from the wide arc of your critical reach?

Michael Leonard FURTADO | 27 October 2020  

Sorry, MLF, your 28/10 comments suggest you still don' t get it, and I doubt that I can make it any plainer.

John RD | 28 October 2020  

Nikolaus Pevsner's early enthusiasm for the cultural revival of post-WW1 Germany in accord with the Third Reich's agenda is not one that I share or would care to be associated with, though this aspect of his career, like the recently much publicised Hitler Youth membership of Joseph Ratzinger, has, I imagine, been mischievously exaggerated and exploited for ideological purposes. Pevsner's removal in 1933, on racial grounds, from his post at the University of Gottingen and his immediate move to England - where eventually he received a knighthood - just don't cohere with the CV of a card-carrying Nazi. Further, Marcel Proust and James Joyce, both thorough moderns and pioneers in the 'stream of consciousness' technique -and literary exponents of the Kantian 'turn to the subject' shift in Western philosophy - were the recipients of a classical schooling. The subjectivist aspect of their style in "A a recherche du temps perdu" and "Ulysses" has roots in St Augustine's ground-breaking spiritual autobiography, his "Confessions"; and the narrative and thematic structure of Joyce's prodigious work is heavily derivative from Homer's epic, "The Odyssey". So both Proust and Joyce have claimed a place in "the great tradition" which some are calculatedly determined to jettison completely in the interests of 'woke' enlightenment and its far-from-literary expression in anarchic street performance. Even Marx, who valued classical literature, might, I suspect, be turning in his grave.

John RD | 29 October 2020  

The motives of some who write in this column are undoubtedly mixed and best not judged. What's obvious, though, is that they are driven by duty. From evidence, John RD, your religiosity, like those who egg you on, is harsh, unpalatable and uncharitable, believing those who disagree with you to be enemies of the faith, in defense of which stance your arguments are subtle and unswerving but also replete with the kind of ambiguous sophistry and apologetics that do not serve contemporary approaches to understanding Catholicism well. Not that your position is immoral; indeed, it is the exact reverse! You resist temptation with a strength of purpose that is its precise weakness! Had you devoted your life, like me, to the ordinary pleasures of the senses, you might not have abandoned such everyday effete practices without a struggle! In this respect, and despite your protestations to the contrary, nothing you say resonates with the authenticity of a Paul, an Augustine or, indeed, of the enfleshed Christ, in whose footsteps, all humanity must stumble and fall by the wayside. For a virtuous man who spouts virtue at every turn, the only vice evident in your discourse, is your lack of humanity.

Michael Leonard FURTADO | 29 October 2020  

"The motives of some who write in this column are undoubtedly mixed and best not judged." As this is an observation with which I concur, perhaps the best response is to heed what it advises. Thank you, MLF.

John RD | 30 October 2020  

Michael Leonard Furtado: “….driven by duty.… indeed, it is the exact reverse!....For a virtuous man who spouts virtue….” The Exultet is ‘O Happy Fault of Adam’, not ‘O Happy Fault of Michael/John/Roy.’ The paean is mysterious enough as it is. Perhaps, to prove visibly to all of us that the principle of divine sacrifice exists, one fault was ‘necessary’ to be exhibited so God could suffer, rather than be hypothesised in a Socratic conversation about practical love between God and an Accuser, with no divine pain involved. Even God doesn’t get a free pass from walking his talk that he really does love us. Now that the principle is established, there is no need for any of us to contribute further empirical illustrations. If anything, the duty is to keep spouting the aspiration to be better than we allow ourselves to be. The idea is simple: stick to the plan. Simple doesn’t mean easy. The Agony in the Garden is the difficulty of staying simple. In this life. In the next, staying simple will become very easy.

roy chen yee | 31 October 2020  

The highest form of love is of its nature self-giving. This is the love God has in creating and redeeming. Because self-giving, it is sacrificial - a word, it appears, increasingly unpalatable to the postmodern ear. The death inflicted on Christ, the Son of God and Suffering Servant, reveals both agape's opposite - exclusive self-love - but also, in Christ, the fidelity of God to his very nature: "He loved us while we were yet sinners." (Romans 5: 8). Christ's agape comes at a cost; so does that of his follower: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny himself and take up my cross and follow me ( Matthew 16: 24).

John RD | 02 November 2020  

Your zealotry commends you, John RD; but its attempt to co-opt faith on its side also entraps you and packages the unfolding mystery that is Christ into a parcel that runs the risk of denying Him access to the world - in this instance, of human creativity and the funds that help bring them to fruition. That is where your prejudices seem to get the better of you: they prefer critique, tirades even, as well as unremitting judgment to vulnerability and exploration. You, like the Pharisees, seem to have set a time-limit on History. Doubtless your motives here are not for judgment, as I iterate, but they sure do feel as if they seek to quarantine you and your cosmology from the world of wonder, risk, pain even, and the still unfolding plan of the Creator for the Universe. What a waste of a talent such as your's! I wish it were different.

Michael Leonard FURTADO | 03 November 2020  

Zeal, MLF, rather, I'd hope, than "zealotry" - but I doubt after so many exchanges, I'm able to convince you of the distinction. As Eliot says, "For us there is only the trying."

John RD | 03 November 2020  

Be assured, too, MLF, I have more than sufficient for the day of wonder, risk and pain when I open ES! And with respect to time-wasting, the words of Marvell: "And at my back I always hear/Time's winged chariot hurrying near" with increasing frequency whisper metronomically in my ear - not to mention Richard II's: "I wasted time, and now does time waste me." Milton's "On his Blindness" also at times rings soberly. And while others, like yourself, will inevitably have their say and opinion on whether one's talents have been used or abused, it's finally down to one's sense of responsible stewardship for what God gives. That, I'd be surprised if you'd disagree, is finally a matter of conscience: always a contemporary consideration and condition for us humans.

John RD | 03 November 2020  

As an artist who has won several awards locally and overseas, I have not received one dollar from Arts funding despite multiple high-quality applications over decades. The Arts in Australia as it stands does not meaningfully support all Australians. It supports specifically anglo and indigenous perspectives. Don't be swayed by the one major show they finally gave the legendary Lindy Lee at age 66. That was long overdue. So, as a tax payer and as an artist, I can understand why the average Australian is baffled at the funding of the Australian arts world, that excludes CALD perspectives in a mostly immigrant nation, while many struggle on the poverty line. My family have paid taxes for decades. And yet arts funding is provided to a very specific and small group of Australians who all know each other. Yet, the taxes they are using come from All Australians. So, hey, I get it. And many established artists are still receiving government funds to support them a long time after early-stage support has been given over many times and many years, even though they are already commercially viable. I think it's reprehensible. On the other hand, it's important to support the arts. It just shouldn't be up to a small group of elite few who don't represent the Australian public to select who gets funded with their money.

Dragon | 17 December 2020  

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