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Cultural Performance Indicators? Adding value in Australian social research on visual arts Duncan McKay PhD Candidate, Edith Cowan University

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Presentation on theme: "Cultural Performance Indicators? Adding value in Australian social research on visual arts Duncan McKay PhD Candidate, Edith Cowan University"— Presentation transcript:

1 Cultural Performance Indicators? Adding value in Australian social research on visual arts Duncan McKay PhD Candidate, Edith Cowan University dmckay0@our.ecu.edu.au

2 Abstract There have been some very significant and valuable efforts to conduct research concerning the working lives of artists in Australia. These research projects, and the published reports that result from them, are vital signs of a healthy interest in the contribution of artists to contemporary Australian society. Studies have collected and presented unique empirical data and provided some important insights regarding the ways in which artists work in their contemporary Australian contexts. Consistently, however, this research has remained within certain paradigms of inquiry, the economic and the quantitative. In this paper I offer a critique of the prevalent treatment of cultural values associated with the working lives of artists within these studies. This paper seeks to examine some recent approaches to cultural production through the deployment of what might be understood as cultural performance indicators, to adapt an evaluative concept from other industrial applications. The critique will be developed from two directions; from a theoretical engagement, and from the brief consideration of empirical data and research methods associated with my PhD research concerning the working lives of visual artists in Western Australia. I will examine the kinds of indicators that have been employed in recent research as a means of differentiating between and evaluating cultural agents and their products and actions. Finally, I will reflect on my own research methods in order to suggest some possible opportunities to develop a better understanding of the workings of cultural value, with implications for the measurements and evaluations in much Australian social research concerning artists. Key Words: Australian Arts and Cultural Research, Cultural Values, Indicators, Visual Artists

3 Cultural Policy Indicators “They are expected to be utilised not only to measure the realisation of policy objectives but also when defining those objectives in terms of particular achievement targets. The indicators are intended to help in increasing both economic efficiency and political accountability. The model is based on the assumption that indicators build up confidence in public institutions and enhance democracy by making public policy inputs, outputs and outcomes visible to everybody and open to debate.” (Karttunen, 2012,4)

4 Cultural Performance Indicators? Distinctive observable attributes, products or performances of individual artists that researchers have taken to be markers of certain less visible cultural values. “Variables that stand as proxies may always be seen as imperfect substitutes for the real but unknown quantity being measured; a given quantity may be proxied by more than one indicator, and a given indicator may serve to represent more than one quantity.” (Throsby, 2006,6-7)

5 Cultural Performance Indicators Sometimes indicators are identified prior to the collection of data, eg for the purpose of defining a research sample. Sometimes indicators are identified within already collected data as providing evidence of values not specifically sought in the design of the research instrument. Indicators can be used as a means to create dichotomous categories, such as distinguishing between an artist and a non-artist Indicators can also be used to index various cultural values along a single dimension, such as providing a measure of relative artistic excellence.

6 Illustrative Examples Anderson, P. (2001). Working Paper No. 8: Professional accreditation for visual arts and craft practitioners Visual Arts Industry Guidelines Research Project: National Association for the Visual Arts. Throsby, D. (2006). An artistic production function: Theory and an application to Australian visual artists. Journal of Cultural Economics, 30(1), 1-14. doi: 10.1007/s10824-005-9001-4

7 Culture: Two Different Views from the Sociology of Art Structural Model of the Field of Cultural Production – Pierre Bourdieu (1996) An hierarchical space (field) in which individual artists (and their works) compete for more or less dominant positions, conceived in terms of the distribution of various forms of capital. Art as Collective Action, Art Worlds – Howard S. Becker (1982) Art as the practical outcome of the combined social interactions of all the individuals who must work together in an art world in order to get things done to the optimal satisfaction of all.

8 “Habitus”, “Convention” and the Cultural “Situation” of Individuals Three parts to a social actor’s engagement in society/culture: Systems of Perception Systems of Social Practice These interrelated systems given by previous social experience and cultural background Cultural agency: Cultural perception and cultural production are intrinsically linked within specific contexts and situations. (Becker, 1982,1995: Bourdieu, 1996: Znaniecki, 1969)

9 On Cultural Measurement… Cultural values are derived from nested, layered, contextual and multiple systems of value (Znaniecki, 1965, 53). We should actively interrogate the things we measure and the means by which they are measured. We should consider that the issue may be with the “equation” rather than the measure.

10 Cultural Performance Indicators: Creating Dichotomous Categories Indicators based on Artists’ Activities in Four Areas (Anderson, 2001,23) Education, Training and Qualifications Professional Practice Employment, Occupation and Business Peer Recognition

11 Cultural Performance Indicators: Indexes/scales of Cultural Value Measuring Quality of Artistic Output Using “independent evidence on the the level of an artists’ professional standing as a means of assessing the quality of that artists’ work.” (Throsby,2006,4) Surveyed artists “nominating one [of the following] as their most important achievement could be seen as having achieved particular recognition by their profession”. (Throsby,2006,5) Had a one person show at a major gallery (public or commercial); Had a work or works selected for exhibition at a major gallery; Had a work purchased or commissioned by a public gallery or institution.

12 Some problems with these approaches… Assumption of a model of human social behaviour and interaction drawn from neo-classical economics, in which the universally conceived social entity depicted is not culturally situated. Definitions and classifications are not established through criteria that respond to necessary and sufficient conditions based on research, thus compromising the “representation” achieved by survey research. Other sources and kinds of social data could be considered, in which social and cultural values are accessible and social actors and their cultural products are culturally situated.

13 Education, Training and Qualifications Professional Practising Artist – Completed Degree, Diploma, Certificate IV, Certificate III, Completion of 4 year Honours Degree, Masters Degree or PhD. (plus practice experience) (Anderson, 2001,24)

14 Education, Training and Qualifications… Cultural Values Access to the “professional” art world may have at least as much to do with relationships (with staff, other students and the industry) established during education, as it has to do with the course of study undertaken. This situation also implies that the indication of “professional attainment” of a degree or other qualification, as a cultural value, from one institution is not necessarily equivalent to that from another.

15 Major Galleries… Cultural Values The term “Major Gallery” is “… well understood in the Australian visual arts and craft sector to denote a high standard of professional quality” (Throsby,2006,13) Exhibiting work at a “Major Gallery” is indicative of a “distinctive degree of excellence in the artists’ work”.(Throsby, 2006,4) Is the concept of a “Major Gallery,” when “understood” by Western Australian artists, indicating the same set of cultural values as artists in other Australian states “understand” it to be referring to?

16 Two “Major Galleries” in WA, Measures from a study of CVs for 354 WA Artists No. Artists in Gallery Cohort: 101428154272321151115442122132132354 Art Gallery LK Contemporary Gallery Gallows Gallery Boranup Gallery Linton & Kay Gallery Gadfly Gallery Greenhill Galleries Gallery 360 Emerge ART SPACE Elements Gallery Stafford Studios Gomboc Gallery Jahroc Gallery Gallery East Perth Galleries Goddard de Fiddes Turner Galleries Galerie Dusseldorf Total Activities in Data for venue Moores Building, Fremantle2511710191124161021331218144057310 Perth Institute of Contemporary Art 1222244681320316597257 Distribution of total exhibition activities between two WA Art Galleries in the Combined CV Data for 17 WA Commercial Gallery Cohorts

17 Two “Major Galleries” in WA… Each of these galleries may arguably be considered a “Major Gallery” by some Western Australian visual artists if they were asked to respond to a survey question. Patterns of distribution of exhibition activity in artists’ CVs for these two galleries suggests the differing significance that these venues seem to have for different groups of Western Australian artists. A further level of distinction relating to artistic “excellence” is derived from the very different ways that these venues are programmed.

18 Cultural Performance Indicators: Culturally Situated Data “…many, perhaps most, verbal statements combine the character of social instruments with that of symbolic expression of the subject’s experiences and observations. On the one hand, we have seen that statements of fact often involve valuations which are manifestations of practical attitudes, and as such constitute observable sociological data… On the other hand, speech or writing openly intended as verbal social activity usually contains theoretic information which can be used as reliable second-hand material…” (Znaniecki,1934,187)

19 Cultural Performance Indicators: Approaches to Meaningful Measurement… “The quantitative data on [film] credits by freelancers uncovered a deeply etched pattern of inequality, but the meaning to freelancers remained unclear. The “hollow curve” indicated that something was going on, but not what that something was as experienced as freelancers. The obvious implication was to work from both kinds of data, blending methodologies so as to compensate for the weakness of each and thereby extend the insights of each”. (Faulkner,1982,89)

20 Cultural Performance Indicators: Conclusions… Cultural Performance Indicators should be the subject of rigorous inquiry before they are deployed as markers of cultural values in the context of large scale quantitative research informing the development of Cultural Policy Indicators. There are sources of data available that are potentially able to offer the researcher some level of access to contextual and cultural values, that can aid in developing an understanding of artists’ work that is culturally situated. There is demonstrable scope for qualitative and quantitative approaches to cultural research and measurement to work together effectively, each “compensat[ing] for the weaknesses of the other.” (Faulkner,1982,89)

21 References Anderson, P. (2001). Working Paper No. 8: Professional accreditation for visual arts and craft practitioners Visual Arts Industry Guidelines Research Project: National Association for the Visual Arts. Becker, H. S. (1995). The power of inertia. Qualitative Sociology, 18(3). Becker, H. S. (2008). Art worlds: 25th anniversary edition, updated and expanded. Berkeley: University of California Press. Bourdieu, P. (1996). The rules of art: Genesis and structure of the literary field (S. Emmanuel, Trans.). Cambridge: Polity Press. Faulkner, R. R. (1982). Improvising on a Triad. In J. Van Maanen, J. M. Dabbs Jnr & R. R. Faulkner (Eds.), Varieties of Qualitative Research (pp. 65-101). Beverley Hills: Sage Publications. Karttunen, S. (2012). Cultural policy indicators: Reflections on the role of official statisticians in the politics of data collection. Cultural Trends, 1-15. doi: 10.1080/09548963.2012.674753 Throsby, D. (2006). An artistic production function: Theory and an application to Australian visual artists. Journal of Cultural Economics, 30(1), 1-14. doi: 10.1007/s10824-005- 9001-4 Znaniecki, F. (1934). The method of sociology. New York: Farrar & Rinehart. Znaniecki, F. (1965). Social relations and social roles: The unfinished systematic sociology. San Francisco: Chandler Publishing Company. Znaniecki, F. (1969). Methodological note. In R. Bierstedt (Ed.), On humanistic sociology: Selected papers (pp. 53-124). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.


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