Date of Award

2013

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Communications and Arts

Faculty

Faculty of Education and Arts

First Advisor

Prolessor Lelra Green

Second Advisor

Professor Christopher Crouch

Third Advisor

Dr Danielle Brady

Abstract

This thesis presents the findings of empirical research on the working lives of visual artists living and working in Western Australia. No detailed studies of this kind have previously been undertaken in a Western Australian context, though a series of national, economically framed studies have surveyed Australian artists working in a variety of art forms about their working lives on five occasions since the early 1980s. Collectively the reports published from these five studies make up the most comprehensive picture of artists’ economic activity that has been available to policymakers and others involved in arts and culture in this country (Australia Council, 1983; Throsby & Hollister, 2003; Throsby & Mills, 1989; Throsby & Thompson, 1994; Throsby & Zednik, 2010). Seldom, however, has other suitable empirical data been collected from Australian artists facilitating the evaluation of the findings, methods and assumptions underlying economic research in this area. The detailed qualitative data collected for this research both augments and interrogates the findings of national quantitative studies, assessing their applicability to the particular circumstances of professional visual artists working in this state.

Artists’ working lives were examined using data in two forms: Curriculum Vitaes (CVs) of 322 Western Australian visual artists, published on commercial gallery websites; and in-depth interviews with a diverse sample of 20 Western Australian visual artists. This data has provided access to what Florian Znaniecki (1934) has called the humanistic coefficient: the understandings that social actors have of the situations within which they are acting. Without this understanding it is not possible to properly account for social activity, such as professional art practice. CVs have rarely been used as a data source for research, so this study has taken an innovative methodological approach and has demonstrated the potential for further development of these methods and this form of social data. CVs of visual artists were used to examine the Western Australian field of cultural production, and to produce a network-map of the social values and the complex relationships between artists, commercial galleries and other entities in the field.

In-depth interviews with 20 visual artists, practising in different media, at different stages of their career and earning their living in diverse ways, have provided detailed accounts of how visual artists construct their professional artistic identities and sustain their creative practice in Western Australia. Through qualitative analysis of these accounts, a new conceptual model of the labour of visual art has emerged, in which artists’ work is considered across four interrelated kinds of cultural production. 1) Artists define their practice, making it real for themselves. 2) Artists create the conditions in which they can define and maintain their practice. 3) Artists attract validation of their practice, seeking to make it real for other people. Throughout their work to establish the cultural reality of their practice, 4) artists also strive to maintain the integrity of their practice, to ensure that they continue to recognise themselves within it. The development of this conceptual model, the CV study and the rich contextual material obtained through interviews have informed the multi-dimensional understanding of the work of professional artists presented in this thesis, challenging and building upon previous research.

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