David Jones, artist and poet (1895-1974) begins his PREFACE TO THE ANATHEMATA :

'I have made a heap of all that I could find.' (1) So wrote Nennius, or whoever composed the introductory matter to Historia Brittonum. He speaks of an 'inward wound' which was caused by the fear that certain things dear to him 'should be like smoke dissipated'. Further, he says, 'not trusting my own learning, which is none at all, but partly from writings and monuments of the ancient inhabitants of Britain, partly from the annals of the Romans and the chronicles of the sacred fathers, Isidore, Hieronymous, Prosper, Eusebius and from the histories of the Scots and Saxons although our enemies . . . I have lispingly put together this . . . about past transactions, that [this material] might not be trodden under foot'. (2)

(1) The actual words are coacervavi omne quod inveni, and occur in Prologue 2 to the Historia.
(2) Quoted from the translation of Prologue 1. See The Works of Gildas and Nennius, J.A.Giles, London 1841.

15 May 2015

George Brandis : The Australian Academy for Excellent Art

Looking through their archive of Le Charivari, our Paris Bureau reckoned the Australian Edition might appreciate this July 1876 illustration by CHAM. We do.

After his disastrous first Budget last year, Treasurer Joe Hockey presented his second effort in Canberra a few days ago. Much of it was a Save-Own-Skin mea culpa back-down. But one Minister obviously couldn't restrain himself.

George Henry Brandis QC is the Attorney-General of Australia and Minister for the Arts. In the latter role, he has been conspicuously at odds with with the Australia Council for the Arts
Brandis argued for amendments to the Australia Council Bill that reinstated the right to artistic freedom as a principle to be upheld and promoted. He had also put foward amendments, not passed, that would have given the arts minister authority to override the Australia Council board, but not to intervene in individual funding decisions. Burke has described that move as "the most direct level of political interference in arts funding that you can imagine". 
Brandis says that the government and the responsible arts minister should be the "final arbiter" of arts policy because they represent the taxpayers who pay for it. "I was concerned about aspects of the Australia Council Bill which would have imposed new limitations on the capacity of the minister to give directions to the Australia Council, in areas other than particular programs or particular funding," he says. 
He remains sceptical of the new council structure and regards the manner of Tony Burke's appointment last month of the 12-member board as lacking bipartisan spirit. He says he should have been consulted on the appointments.
George Brandis details Coalition's arts manifesto
Matthew Westwood, Arts Correspondent / The Australian
20 August
 and with certain politico-uppity (Sydney Biennale) artists :
FEDERAL Arts Minister George Brandis has signalled a significant shake-up of arts funding to avoid political "blackballing", in the wake of what he describes as the "shameful" decision by the Biennale of Sydney to reject private sponsorship from Transfield.

Sydney Biennale 'shame' risks funding, says George Brandis
- Chris Kenny, Associate Ed./ The Australian
13 March 2014
In 2013, George Brandis spelled out his vision :
Our approach to arts policy will be based on six core principles: excellence, integrity, artistic freedom, self-confidence, sustainability and accessibility.
Taking arts to the next level
George Brandis / The Australian
5, September 2013 
Clearly, we had been warned. Even so, most were still surprised by the Brandis budget direction
At the centre of the measures to support the arts sector is the investment of $104.8 million over four years to establish a National Programme for Excellence in the Arts to support endowments, international touring and strategic projects, with an emphasis on attracting private sector support. 
The National Programme for Excellence in the Arts will allow for a truly national approach to arts funding and will deliver on a number of Government priorities including national access to high quality arts and cultural experiences. 
Arts funding has until now been limited almost exclusively to projects favoured by the Australia Council. The National Programme for Excellence in the Arts will make funding available to a wider range of arts companies and arts practitioners, while at the same time respecting the preferences and tastes of Australia’s audiences.  
Here is a telling portrait of Senator Brandis with his controversial library ($13,000) and special bookshelves ($7,000 and $15,000) posing with a biography of Robert Menzies (Robert Menzies: A Life 1894-1943 by A.W.Martin)

Back to the future : but we've been through this before, when the then Attorney-General Robert Menzies pitched himself against the forces of Australia modernism and set up his reactionary Australian Academy of Art. That was 78 years ago.
Australian Academy of Art (1937 - 1946)

The Australian Academy of Art was established in Canberra in 1937 with Robert Menzies (then Attorney-General) as its inaugural chair. Its aims, modelled on those of the British Academy, included organising annual exhibitions and acting as an 'expert body' on artistic matters. Efforts to obtain a royal charter were opposed by the Contemporary Art Society and other avant-garde groups. The Academy held its last annual exhibition in 1947.
Your correspondent's first exhibition was at the Victorian Artists' Society (Melbourne) in 1972. He is aware of some of the art history struggles around that place. This is the Trove NLA record of a Menzies moment there. The Argus (Melbourne), 28 April 1937 :

Victorian Artists' Society Exhibition Opened

One large bowl of vivid leaves and autumn flowers on the grand piano made a brilliant splash of colour in the main gallery of the Victorian Artists Society buildings Albert street last night, when the Federal Attorney-General (Mr Menzies) officially declared the society's exhibition open. The only other decorations were the interesting collection of paintings against the cream walls.

There was a large attendance of artists and friends. The president of the council (Mr James Quinn) and council members greeted the guests. Mrs Menzies, who wore a black velvet gown beneath a mink cloak was presented with a bouquet of deep red roses and other flowers by the seccretary of the society (Miss Edith M H Thompson). Council members present included Mr W B McInnes and Mrs McInnes, Mr E Buckmaster and Mrs Buckmaster, Mr Alfrcd Coleman and Mrs Coleman, Mr Charles Hills and Mrs Hill, Mr Percival Serle and Mrs Serle, Dr F B Heffernan and Mrs Heffernan.

Mr Menzies was introduced by Mr Quinn. "You all know," Mr Menzies said of the proposal to form an Academy of Art In Australia. I must admit that I was the prime mover in this idea. I feel definitely that some authority and body should be formed here as in other countries. Every great country has its art academy. They have set certain standards of art and have served a great purpose in raising the standard of public taste by directing attention to good work."

"This exhibition indicates that the Victoian Artists' Soclety is encouraging people in every type of painting," Mr Menzies said. "Experiment is necessary in establishing an academy, but certain principles must apply to this business of art as to any other business which affects the artistic sense of the community. Great art speaks a language which every intelligent person can understand. The people who call themselves modernists today talk a different language. "

The Prime Minister of Australia, the Right Hon. R.G. Menzies opening 'Antipodean Vision' in the New Wing of the Art Gallery of South Australia, 17 March 1962

The Attorney General of Australia and Minister for the Arts, Senator the Hon. G.H. Brandis (with red tie) opening the New Pavilion 'AUSTRALIA' at the Venice Biennale, 5 May 2015.

A Person Looks At A Work Of Art/
someone looks at something...

Post Script :


... the Australia Council is an imperfect body. Since it was founded, it has been the plaything of its various ministers. But its politicisation under Brandis is unprecedented.
It is hard not to see his contempt for its peer-reviewed grants program as a contempt for artists more generally. The money here has not been saved, it has simply been placed in a purse from which he will please his preferred companies and art forms. It is a purse that says one thing, something he was beginning to say when he wrote to the council more than a year ago: If I do not like you, I will destroy you. This is what Brandis is doing to the arts.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 16, 2015 as "Dark arts". Subscribe here.