Australian working-class art field

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This chapter examines a tradition of working-class visual arts practices in Australia and its decline since the ascendancy of neo-liberalism the 1990s. From the 1880s to 1980s, artists sought to represent and contribute to the making of a working-class oppositional culture across visual art forms and genres, that included black and white graphic artists and cartoonists publishing in the radical, labour and commercial press; mid-20th century modernist painters such as the Socialist Realists and Expressionists who waged culture wars against ‘conservative’ art, drawing support from the Communist Party or fellow travelling patrons; filmmakers who captured working-class life and exposed injustices, such as the Waterside Workers’ Federation Film Unit of the 1950s; cinema and television dramatists and comedians since the 1970s who subverted older tropes, types and genres to interrogate working-class life in flux; and a revival of vivid political and protest graphic art in the wake of counter-cultural movements such as punk, including Red Back Graphics and its work with the Australia Council’s Art in Working Life initiative. These visual art practices were part of a dynamic and distinctive culture in which the agency of working-class people as a progressive force was self-evident. Yet working-class participation in remunerated visual arts has declined at the same time that the technological means to produce and distribute art have never been more accessible and dialogue between creators and audiences offers new opportunities for a participatory cultural common. The causes for marginalisation of working-class art practices are varied but include the greater valuing of bourgeois habitus and cultural capital by those who employ, fund or commission art at the same time that working-class communities are conceptualised as ‘disadvantaged’, robbing them of agency.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Australian Art Field
Subtitle of host publicationPractices, Policies, Institutions
EditorsTony Bnnett, Deborah Stevenson, Fred Myers, Tamara Winikoff
Place of PublicationAbingdon Oxon UK
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9780429061479
ISBN (Print)9780367184414
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Publication series

NameRoutledge Research in Art History

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