It’s time to challenge “long-held and cherished views about what it is to be an artist and what art is”, Brad Haseman [of Queensland University of Technology] says, but that does not mean it is no longer worth pursuing art for art’s sake.

“There’s still the expectation that you have to be poor and struggling to be an artist,” Haseman says, “and then there are many young people who want to pursue art for the celebrity very often, so this is all very vexed.

“What we do in the arts is so important and significant that we shouldn’t get too anxious about the diversity of applications in which we work. If we think of art practice as an ecology, there’s a place for people who want to pursue art for art’s sake and those who want to broker their skills for commercial and national benefit…”

“The latest thinking is that innovation isn’t linear,” Haseman says. “It operates in a complex system, and that’s where artists live and work. Innovation is what they do with the symbolic forms they create, and artists also have greater understanding about risk taking, about analysis and interpretation, approaching it quite differently from the way science approaches risk, for example. It’s the way artists engage with curiosity that make them innovative.”

Haseman has traced the shifts in arts and cultural policies back to the “first national cultural policy in our nation’s history”, Creative Nation. Written in 1994, Creative Nation explicitly stated that a cultural policy was also an economic policy, but while it said “Culture adds value, it makes an essential contribution to innovation, marketing and design,” it underplayed the link between the arts and innovation.

“The idea has been there from the beginning (when Creative Nation was written),” Haseman says, “but over the past 14 years innovation has been linked to science, technology and engineering.

“It has been seen only as an economic benefit, but there is the idea now that benefit is a quadruple bottom line, not just economic. It must also capture social equity, social justice and sustainability.”

Across 17 policy documents, reports and reviews, Haseman traces the tentative rapprochement of arts and culture on one side, and research and innovation on the other.

“They have been allowed to grow together (a little) and apart (a lot),” he says. Now that the Government is focusing on innovation, the arts must nurture the relationship and prove that it is a symbiotic one, rather than marginal or optional.

“I’m working on a fabric metaphor to present at the workshop,” Haseman says. “If you look at the arts and culture policies over the years, it’s brocade, while technology is white-coated, sober. There has been the odd stitch between the two fabrics, but we, the humanities and social sciences, remain on the margins of the innovation agenda, and the arts are on the margins of that marginal group…”

Haseman says that one of the reasons the idea of art as innovation has not secured traction at a policy level is that people have tended to “bundle up” the arts within the wider definition of “creative industries”, where they are subsumed.

“We need research and attention to what’s specific in the arts,” Haseman says. “We need to find out how we can set up training schemes to commercialise arts practice, which leads to entrepreneurship and creative enterprise which compliments skills in the art form.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a sellout or a dumbing down. The arts are too durable to be hijacked by anyone.”

Rosemary Sorensen
The Australian