Works Walter Withers “A Fallen Monarch, 1890”
Works of this time were biased toward a masculine discourse and very few woman are depicted in the scenes from this period and if they are, they are only viewed in a passive sense, as an onlooker to the hard work that is being completed. (Adams, 2004) Tom Robert’s (1856-1931) works are predominantly of outback New South Wales and Tasmania. In nearly all of his works, he had a sense of grandeur, using size and placement to instil a sense of conquering, of hard work, one of pride and nationalism, a harsh landscape conquered.
In his work “Farm, Mount Roland, Tasmania” (Annexure K) we see the paddocks cleared as a vast expanse of farming land with the formidable presence of Mount Roland overlooking the proceedings. The sky is clear and all is well. Paddocks are still to be cleared in the distance. Tom Robert’s “Threshing, Coolmoe, Tasmania” (Annexure L) is a painting of the determination and strength of the Australian farmer. Against overwhelming odds, the men work hard to bale the hay on a warm summer’s day. We see the depiction of seemingly advanced machinery to aid them in their day’s work, a sign of economic and technological advancement in the colony.
Defining a new identity by the use of overwhelming size, adding to the fortitude and strength of spirit the men have in undertaking their day’s work. Hans Heysen’s work “Summer” (Annexure M) shows the strength of the Australian spirit to pastoralise the land, amongst partially cleared ground on a very hot summer’s day, the sheep walk through an alien landscape, displaced and yet surviving due to the dexterity and determination of the Australian farmer. The colours are muted, depicting the heat and stillness of the day.
Walter Withers “A Fallen Monarch, 1890” (Annexure N) depicts the Australian woodsman conquering a large gum in isolation – he will not fail. The title of the painting would suggest that Withers was very interested in rebuilding the Australian landscape without interference from a British monarchy. In nearly all of these paintings, the image of woman is missing. She does not have a place in a land that is still be fully conquered – that is the responsibility of the men and as such the men take on roles of heroism and strength against seemingly insurmountable odds.
The women’s role is diminished as being unimportant and of no consequence to the taming of the land or the building of a nation – her place is in the home looking after the children. Contemporary Artists and Public Discourse In today’s post-modern society, the artist has taken on the role of shifting and challenging preconceived notions of traditional narratives and themes. What we are faced with is an individual response to widely accepted social signifiers and cultural norms within society.
It is however, my personal belief that whilst the artist may have licence in today’s society to construct their own narrative on society or personal viewpoints, the acceptance of these thoughts and views by the general public is only marginal. This is in part due to the impact of mass advertising and popular television on the public. In these forums, the general foundation stones of Western discourse, whilst dramatically changed on the surface, is grounded in the same fears and prejudices that has encumbered Western civilisation for hundreds of years. Conclusion.
In researching this essay, it was very hard to move away from the treatment of the Aboriginal people under British colonisation. Whilst there was also a heavy emphasis placed on the portrayal of landscape albeit in a quasi British fashion, for me personally, it was upsetting to view the portrayal of the displaced Aboriginal people. In the majority of instances, they had been robbed of their culture, dignity, individuality and birth right to be depicted and portrayed against those cultural codes and signifiers of Western discourse that the public could understand and associate themselves with.
A very narrow and limited view of an enlightened period of Western history. Modern Australian art, in particular Australian landscape, totally ignored the placement of Aboriginal people (along with other marginalised groups) within it. Even though the artists of the time tried exceptionally hard to instil a new sense of Australian identity, it was very definitely a white male identity. Prevailing politics of the time had a strong and vested interest in totally obliterating the Aboriginal equation from the history books.
In actuality, when viewed against colonial art, even though Aboriginals were placed into the marginalised category of the “other”, there was still representation of their presence, albeit manipulated. In fact, when researching early documentation on the first settlers to Australia, some spoke quite fondly and kindly of a race of people that were not aggressive and as formidable as some other “natives” from other countries. When we look at the Australian artists of the late 1800s and early 1900s, there was an absolute preoccupation with the strength of white Australia and its accomplishments.
Its ability to build and inspire a nation from nothing. History tells us that the Government of the time, proceeded to move onto policies such as the “White Australia Policy”. It is no surprise then, that the placement of women within this discourse would also be limited (if depicted at all). A harsh landscape, ready to be cultivated and pastoralised was no place for a lady, this was a man’s job and only a real man could undertake same – one of strong character and steely determination not to fail to the task at hand. If asked whether Australian culture is still biased by a gendered perspective, I would have to say yes.
We only need to refer to the statistics to see that more women go through art school than men and yet, male art is still a dominating factor on current art markets. The Australian Bureau of Statistics still apportions the majority of wealth to men, women make up only a small percentage of higher paid labour undertaken in this country. Indeed, even higher education placements are biased towards men, with the majority of University lecturers male. To summarise, I believe marginalised groups in Western society have been paid “lip service” to elicit a quiet sense of contentment and peace within society.
However, the real impact of this lip service is a culture that is inherently unmoving and unchanging, deeply rooted in notions of masculine and white superiority.
References Adams J, 2004, “The Australian Landscape, 29. 8. 04” Lecture, Australian Art Craft and Design, University of South Australia Art Gallery of South Australia “The Encounter 1802: Art of the Flinders and Baudin Voyages” Thames and Hudson, Melbourne Australian Art Library 1973 “Great Australian Landscape Paintings” Lansdowne Press Pty Ltd, Melbourne Dutton G 1974 “White on Black” Macmillan Publishers, Sydney.
Eagle M, Jones J 1994 “A Story of Australian Painting” Pan Macmillan Publishers, Australia Elshtain J 1981 “Public Man, Private Woman – Women in Social and Political Thought” Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ Grosz, Elizabeth 1995 “Space, Time and Perversion” Routledge Publishing, New York Grosz, Elizabeth, 1988 “Desire, Bodies and Representation” Artlink Vol8 No1, Pgs 34-39 Malik K 2002 “Against Multi-culturalism” http://www. kenanmalik. com/top/papers. html National Gallery of Australia 1998 “New Worlds from Old – 19th Century Australian and American Landscapes” Thames Hudson, Melbourne.
Weedon, Chris 1987 “Feminist Practice and Postructuralist Theory” Basil Blackwell, Oxford Bibliography Adams J, 2004, “The Australian Landscape, 29. 8. 04” Lecture, Australian Art Craft and Design, University of South Australia Art Gallery of South Australia “The Encounter 1802: Art of the Flinders and Baudin Voyages” Thames and Hudson, Melbourne Australian Art Library 1973 “Great Australian Landscape Paintings” Lansdowne Press Pty Ltd, Melbourne Dutton G 1974 “White on Black” Macmillan Publishers, Sydney Eagle M, Jones J 1994 “A Story of Australian Painting” Pan Macmillan Publishers, Australia.
Elshtain J 1981 “Public Man, Private Woman – Women in Social and Political Thought” Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ Grosz, Elizabeth 1995 “Space, Time and Perversion” Routledge Publishing, New York Grosz, Elizabeth, 1988 “Desire, Bodies and Representation” Artlink Vol8 No1, Pgs 34-39 Malik K 2002 “Against Multi-culturalism” http://www. kenanmalik. com/top/papers. html National Gallery of Australia 1998 “New Worlds from Old – 19th Century Australian and American Landscapes” Thames Hudson, Melbourne Weedon, Chris 1987 “Feminist Practice and Postructuralist Theory” Basil Blackwell, Oxford Australian Art Craft and Design Melinda Vincent.