Issues in the Arts: when curatorial practice isn't respected and the uphill battle of the emerging professional.

In 2017, I began a Master of Arts Curatorship. The course boasted industry access, networking opportunities with Arts professionals and a solid grounding for establishing a career in the arts. Having completed an honours degree with a focus on the role of art and visual language in social and political history, I have always been strongly interested in how we use art, creativity and visual media to communicate ideas and to distinguish social parameters. Our interactions with space and place are key factors in our identity and relationships and I have always felt that communicating visually can develop ideas and form relationships between people.  

We had numerous guest lecturer come and talk about their work in the industry, both in Australia and overseas. Out teachers talked of their successful careers, although rarely mentioned anything from within the last 5 years. I started becoming increasingly skeptical.

Guest lecturers only discussed out-dated ideas of job-hunting, acknowledged that there would be no way to recreate their professional journey and promoted ideas of who-you-know not what-you-know. At a graduate level, I felt students should have been capable of discussing critical ideas, working within the industry and developing a curatorial practice to set up for a productive career. Lectures spoke about the process of writing an exhibition proposal, but we were not given many opportunities to do so, not did we have sufficient opportunities to communicate with galleries, other curators or have an practical experience in how to hang a piece of an art on the wall. It’s easy to lament that students should be doing these things on their on time to support their studies. The challenge was that we were, but even our lecturers acknowledged that it would not lead anywhere.

The linchpin came when we were discussing memes in a "Curating Contemporary Art" subject. Like any millennial, I love a good meme. I think that are an under-rated way of discussing pop culture and social ideas. This is what were discussing:

 

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The first image got my defenses up very quickly. I refuse to be categorised as a "millenial snowflake" who can't take a joke, but this joke was costing me $25,000 in university fees. To the amusement of my classmates and the dismay of my lecturer, I pulled my pen out and drew the University’s logo above the third vending machine.

Sadly, i wasn't able to keep my original work because my lecturer quickly confiscated it.

It was when the second image made its circulation to my table that during this class, that I opened my laptop and immediately emailed student services to withdraw from the course.

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For an institution that claims to promote learning, critical thinking and the environment to create global graduates capable of succeeding, this was a little insulting. This class was making a complete mockery of the degree it sells to hundreds of students a year, while simultaneously demoralising those students with jokes about mental health.

With so much social commentary about millennials being unable to contribute to society, unemployment and low rates of employment, and the changing nature of tertiary education, institutions should be adapting their courses to encourage students with practical skills, critical thinking and creativity. 

My dissatisfaction with the curatorship degree drove me to find something that would enable me to develop my skills as a writer, foster my interested in the arts and enable me to establish a career.

Few understood my decision to drop out. I could have been out of there in another three months with a masters degree under my belt. But I knew that I wasn’t learning anything that would me get a job or establish a career. I chose to go against the advice of my lecturers and my family because where I was felt wrong. I aspired for more and I knew that I was capable of more. It was the best decision I could have made.

John Olsen: You Beauty Country

JOHN OLSEN: THE YOU BEAUT COUNTRY

Despite being one of Australia's most celebrated living artists, my main motivation in going to the latest exhibition of his work at the NGV: Ian Potter Centre was a sense of obligation. I don't visit the Australian Centre very often, with my interests leaning towards the exhibits held at the International Centre on St Kilda Road. I am a colourful person, and Olsen's work shows an expressive and energetic explosion of colour that I feel obligated to like, but I felt a distinct barrier to his work. 

I took my mother with me, and while she has an appreciation for art, she sometimes finds going to exhibitions with me intimidating. Her friends tell her that she should be intimidated by going to a gallery with me and this is largely because I have acquired quite the reputation for being 'arty'. But one of the reasons I love going to galleries with my mother is that she isn't 'arty'. She can view a piece or work, an entire exhibition, and confidently state "I don't get it." She then has the amazing resilience to simply move on. I wish more people in the arts had this confidence and resilience. This doesn't stop her from ever going to another exhibition, or enjoying art, but she has a innate appreciation for something that I also love. 

A lot of my own recent art practice has been largely abstract and colourful, so some of the Olsen works I thoroughly enjoyed. But I hesitated in front of others because despite being so central to the Australian landscape and a major Australian art figure, I didn't feel like they communicated with me. I'm not saying his work is easy, and I'm not saying that it's wrong. But I wanted more from them. I loved his watercolours and his recent studies of Lake Eyre. I could identify the imagery, the landscapes and his playful and loving attitude in expressing his artistic frogs. But I didn't like many of his larger scale, more major works in the first half of the exhibition.  The curatorial descriptions encouraged me to view his study of Sydney Harbour, but only if I tried really hard, could I find something in it that enabled me to picture Sydney.  
I feel like Olsen's work is an example of how people think art is easy. 
But it's not.

His large scale pieces incorporate layers of images that cannot be discerned immediately. They take contemplation. Punters might think that they could easily replicate, or even better this work, but they say that because they haven't tried.

I don't always see the value in Olsen’s work but I see his message. In the days and weeks since this exhibit I have found my self sketching and drawing more, without worrying what it is I'm drawing or what it even looks like. I've been exploring with colour differently and I feel more in tune with the reason behind art. All from an exhibit that I didn't initially like.