Congratulations to the 2015 graduates from the Bachelor of Arts (Fine Art) programme. After three or more years of study, and with the support of families and friends, students are now able to present themselves to the world as artists and craftspeople. This achievement comes of course with a responsibility – namely to continue the work of all those who have gone before them in engaging the world through art and craft with the hope of making a positive contribution to society and the community.
The contemporary role for studio-based practices is complex, but it is as it has always been, embedded in the lived experience of artists/craftspeople and the culture in which they participate. Art and craft are inherently social practices, based in a dialogue between artists and their social environment. The shift to a more ‘political turn’ in art and craft that appeared in the 1960s continues to motivate artists as they take up the challenges of constructing and contributing to debates about all aspects of our global life. From globalization itself to the role of the individual, from the use of aesthetics in everyday life to the status of nature, from medicine to the effects of pop culture – art and craft now roam across all fields of thought, pushing at the boundaries of speculative and critical thinking while reassessing ‘the way we do things’ and of course ‘the way we see things’. This expanded field of art and craft seems to be encroaching into all corners of what we do as people.
Creativity and innovation are now core tools in a global economy dependent on growth. Without them the necessary changes in ways of thinking that drive economic growth are limited. Over the past 20 years this has meant artists/craftspeople who practise creativity and innovation are now front-and-centre in a culture that is so dynamic and changeable that it is sometimes hard to have any sense of stability in the world. The world now looks to artists/craftspeople for new ideas and ways of thinking that can be used to re-stimulate economies. For decades artists/craftspeople and their cohort have been used to rejuvenate real estate – this group is usually the vanguard of gentrification, they move into a run down area where the rents and property are cheap and give the area a new lease of life that then attracts more conservative folk looking for a vibrant and interesting place to live. This process is tried and true and is going on around the world today from Brunswick in Melbourne to Bushwick in New York. In the same way artists and their cronies are now at the vanguard of business – pop-ups, start-ups and new-analogue are all innovations pioneered by artists and craftspeople. Micro economies such as that of Newcastle (NSW) and Detroit are now being rejuvenated by the plethora of art and craft small businesses and the experiences they generate.
Over the past 50 years authenticity and real experience have been marginalized as a result of the growth of a hyper-consumerism (anonymous and homogenized products) and digitalized culture (virtual reality, social media). Artists and craftspeople are now engaged in a critique of this condition, questioning a culture seemingly in a state of spin, dizziness and alienation. The return of authenticity, the slowing of experience and rejection of disinterested consumerism is being led by a revival in many forms of art and craft production. The scale of these enterprises is small and intimate and exudes authenticity and foregrounds relationalism as core to the business. This is a new paradigm for business – with a dispersed and more horizontal economy not dependent on a few massive multinational corporations to generate the growth needed for prosperity and well being. We are moving towards a new economical model – called the ‘experience economy’1 in which real experience (food, music, art, education) will surpass traditional industries as the generator of wealth.
The future for this year’s graduates looks exciting and full of opportunity. Tomorrow’s artists and craftspeople are going to reconstruct the economies of a future culture based in authenticity and real experience. Art and craft is fast becoming centrally important to the way we will engage the future and find not only prosperity but also meaningful value in contemporary culture. I wish this year’s graduates all the best in this exciting scenario.
Professor Julian Goddard Head of School RMIT University, School of Art
1Pine, J. and Gilmore, J. (1999) The Experience Economy, Harvard Business School Press, Boston, 1999.