Robert McLean’s Column

By Spencer Fowler Steen

An artist friend was asked a few years ago to give a talk to his local Rotary Club about what it is that he does.

Concerned about the prospect of trying to portray the subtleties of art to a disparate group, many of whom worked the land, my friend set out to illustrate how art was at the root of everything around which their lives revolved.

Was he successful?

Yes, he felt he was able to show to them, through some practical illustrations, that art was integral to everything they did each day.

He pointed to the country pub in which the club members meet each month, saying it was the product of an idea; an idea first sketched out on a piece of paper — and so the look of building was, right from the start, a piece of art.

My friend said he got an occasional nod of agreement, suggesting his argument was bearing some fruit, and then he was able to point to what people were wearing, what they were eating with (the utensils), the cars they arrived in and, for the farmers, the tractors, headers and other farm instruments they used, had all begun their life as lines on paper; they were once simply art.

He was also able explain that almost every family had someone who was either an artist — often beyond the popular conception of an artist — or they had one who worked in an arts-related field.

The arts fraternity was largely ignored from the outset of the present COVID-19 crisis and it was not until lots of drum beating and complaints by many that the Federal Government reluctantly handed the industry a tiny amount of financial aid.

The economic injuries were fatal for some arts organisations, and others limped about receiving what was just a few cents compared to the billions the art-industry contributes to the nation’s economy each year, according to the government’s own Bureau of Communications and Arts Research (BCAR).

Yes, you can see where this is going, it’s about defending Shepparton’s new arts museum (SAM) presently being built at Victoria Park Lake.

However, when the new SAM was little more than an idea, not even lines on paper, it was through this column that my disapproval was articulated.

My concern was about the embedded energy involved in the construction of a massive new building; a build that was unnecessary if existing technology was used to put various council departments in disparate existing buildings around the town, freeing up Eastbank, the present council office in the city’s Welsford St, to become the arts and entertainment hub.

A thousand reasons were given (I’m exaggerating) why that was impossible, all of which I thought were unfounded, and so the project went ahead and now the city’s new arts museum is well advanced.

All that said, it is clearly wrong to disparage art as it is integral to our lives and as an example, what is happening at Shepparton’s new Museum of Vehicle Evolution (MOVE) is of itself art and the exhibits where all, in the first instance, just lines on paper; yes, art.