Authoring our future

Posted on August 20, 2010 by

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In this past week the Australian Society of Authors (ASA) released a scathing media release about the lack of substantial policy announcements from Labor or the Coalition on supporting Australian artists and authors. Although welcoming Labor’s commitment to allocate an additional $10M over five years to performance, visual and other artists, the document points out that support for authors, specifically, is at an historic low, ‘proportionately not even where it was 25 years ago’.

It could be justifiably argued that funding budding authors should not be at the top of the Government’s priority list, particularly when issues such as climate change, asylum seekers and economics are at the forefront of national discussion (however much these are skewed by political posturing). But does the issue simply start and end with financially supporting the pursuits of emerging artists, or does it rather reflect a broader problem with the ways in which art and literature are appreciated in Australian culture, particularly in the realm of education?

The ASA’s media release outlines the National Curriculum as one of three areas requiring further attention, citing the emphasis placed on overseas novels, plays, histories and films as disproportionate to the widespread interest in Australian literature. The issue here lies not just in supporting homegrown products, but in engaging with and openly discussing crucial issues of national identity. The authorised mantra in Australia, propagated by our politicians since the 1970s, has revolved around multiculturalism, but the very reality of just what this means is entirely empty so long as we do not seek to engage with stories and accounts of living in Australian society, both throughout history and in the present day.

As a fourth-year student at the University of Melbourne, I have witnessed significant shift in the way in which artistic endeavours are supported and indeed encouraged in higher education. A while back I was speaking with a prominent Australian poet and lecturer about the potential effects the Melbourne Model – a systematic shift to professional, postgraduate degrees, which saw the end of the Bachelor of Creative Arts degree, amongst others – would have on university life. His disdain for the changes was summed up in his decision to accept part-time employment instead of succumbing to the push to complete a PhD, which would enable him to remain a full-time lecturer.

‘I’m a poet, I write poetry,’ he charged. To him, the thought of completing a stylised, formulaic piece of academic work as a ‘rite of passage’ to teach was simply irrelevant to the very nature of his occupation.

We should not of course assume that the National Curriculum, which is still being developed through extensive consultations and research, will entirely neglect the arts, but all indicators show that education is becoming increasingly professionalised and less open to more artistic, fluid approaches to learning. The lack of attention given to authors, and artists in general, in this election campaign is emblematic of a narrowing of what learning should entail, and how we, as a nation, should define ourselves as we ‘move forward’ to the future.

Words – Dylan Bird

Image – Discovery Car Hire

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Posted in: Dylan Bird, Opinion