Artists only thanks

Art Life , Op-ed Apr 08, 2011 6 Comments

While debate rages in the media over the practice of people choosing to identify with a participial ethnic group and/or oppressed culture, Carrie Miller uncovers another trend – unqualified individuals claiming to be artists…

The Australia Council is rumored to be preparing a comprehensive review of its eligibility criteria for grants to artists after receiving a formal complaint by a group of influential artists, curators and arts academics who claim that people other than artists are receiving support from the organisation.

Sources within OzCo claim that the organisation is taking the allegations outlined in the complaint “very seriously indeed” and is in the process of establishing a committee to review its current policies for awarding grants to visual artists.

In a move that is likely to have a far reaching impact on the Australian art market, the review has already prompted mixed reaction. A leading Sydney dealer who did not wish to be named says the Australia Council is giving into to pressure from the “’avant-garde’ part of the art world who believe they are the only legitimate players in it”.

“These are the same people who accuse me of only showing ‘decorative’ painters”, the gallerist claims. “They hijacked the ‘what is art?’ debate and now they think they can decide who’s considered an artist.”

But those welcoming the move claim that the government grants system is grossly unfair on real artists.

Currently, the criteria for an Australian Council grant for visual artists states that: “Individual applicants must be practicing artists or arts workers. While they may not regularly earn income from their practice, they must be identified and recognised by their peers as practicing artists.”

Supporters of a tightening of the current criteria argue that it is both vague and outmoded in an era of digital media. The Art Life has obtained a copy of the formal complaint which acknowledges that – while there has always been people “masquerading as artists” – social networking sites have enabled a “proliferation of pseudo-artists” who have systematically rorted the grants system.

As one complainant who spoke to TAL off the record explains: “Once you actually had to show up to openings at crappy artist-run spaces and engage in the same pretentious debates with other practitioners. Now, all you have to do is ‘friend’ Andrew Frost or Daniel Mudie Cunningham on Facebook and within a matter of weeks you will be connected with the art world. There are some faux-artists who are receiving up to twenty invitations to exhibitions and performances a day. All they have to do is click ‘accept’ and it appears to everyone that they are actually turning up to these events.”

In addition to having attended at least three hundred ARI openings, the complaint outlines a number of other criterion the signatories believe constitute a “minimum” standard for defining oneself as a bone-fide artist. They include: living in Sydney or Melbourne; having a genuinely-held belief that painting is dead (it’s expected painters will be exempted from this requirement); being in possession of a copy of a catalogue essay written about them by a university friend which includes a quote from Georges Bataille, Slavoj Zizek or both; a previous drug addiction; having been forced to apply psychoanalytic theory to the films of Alfred Hitchcock at university; a long-standing resentment against at least one commercial dealer; an ironic relationship to popular culture; and crushing self-doubt.

“Grants have been awarded to frauds for too long”, says the complainant, citing the example of an individual who received one of the prestigious awards but, when questioned, couldn’t name a single French post-structuralist. “As one of the most oppressed minorities in this country, it’s vital that only real artists are given the support of the Australian taxpayer.”

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Carrie Miller


  1. And another one (said to me a few years ago):

    “You must be successful overseas first before your work can be sold in Australia”.

  2. HAM

    I always do a wee if there is a toilet available at openings, will I be eligible?

    What a bunch of hoo-ha.

  3. Leon

    I’ve been complaining that Ken Done is a faux-artist for a very long time, but nobody seems to be listening. People keep buying his umbrellas and beach towels while calling him an artist.

  4. Yeah because Sydney and Melbourne are the only places where things happen!??!

  5. Renz

    I know a very inspiring couple artists in Australia and I think they both deserve recognition. They are at The Art Of Happiness Art Gallery and specializes on inspirational art and spiritual art.

  6. Kate

    I’m interested to learn more details of these ‘misdirected’ grants. Who/what sorts of people/organisations are receiving these ‘undeservedly?’

    I’m not sure I see the connection between Facebook friending/RSVPing to events and being eligible for a grant!

    Furthermore, the “off the record” quote doesn’t make a lot of sense. Is “off the record” advocating that we should engage in more pretentious debating at crappy ARIs or should we just friend people on Facebook? Stance is unclear. Or are both inappropriate?

    This is an interesting issue and I’d be really interested in clearer insight/reporting.

    “An individual who received one of the prestigious awards but, when questioned, couldn’t name a single French post-structuralist.”


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