Celebrating the Arts

At Senior School Assembly this week we celebrated the Arts. I’d like to share my message in that Assembly with you:

We know from our history lessons that strong commitment to the Arts goes hand-in-hand with a civilised community. Conversely, some of the most barbaric human acts have occurred at times and in countries where freedom of speech and movement is denied, let alone celebrated or encouraged. The rights of the individual’s freedom to express him or herself are also denied. We think of the book burning in Hitler’s early reign in Germany. A gross act, but one which was a sign of the things that were to come. All of the impressionist art movement was damned by Hitler’s Germany. Hitler decided it was better to gather the work from impressionist modern artists like van Gogh, Monet and Manet and provide exhibits of ‘degenerative art’ where citizens could see for themselves what this style was about and compare it to classical art. Impressionist art was labelled ‘degenerative art’ because it suggested negativity and incomprehensibility of the world and, as such, was at odds with the positivism, determined progress, noble ideals, desire for solutions, and generally hopeful outlook that Hitler’s National Socialist movement stood for. Hitler’s stance against impressionist art failed badly.

Hitler was not alone. We also think of, Pol Pot in Cambodia, the Taliban in Afghanistan, ISIS across the Middle East and, in 2018, the many countries that censor art and artists. Contrast that with the vibrancy of art in our own Aboriginal art movement stretching back 80 000 years, the Roman Times, The Renaissance, the Impressionist and Cubist movements. Through Art we develop a love of nature. Through Art we celebrate the unique capacity of humans to be creative.

Many Carey students will pursue careers in the Arts, and we celebrate this. We recognise that some artists do not make a decent living from art. But many do. We know that for every Picasso, there are many who never make it, but I encourage every student to follow your passion. Even if you do not end up having a career in the Arts, find time for art in your lives.

I am pleased that many Carey students have travel plans. These will include a visit to the great and famous cities of the world. Think of your favourite great city. I am sure it will have a strong connection to art: Florence, Venice, Paris, New York, London, Barcelona, Los Angeles, Shanghai, Cairo, Rio, Rome, Sydney and Melbourne. In these great cities, where do people congregate? Art galleries, museums, public squares, monuments and gardens. The great gardens, public spaces, and buildings have all been built and designed with great artistic merit coming before anything else – especially budget.

Look at the great household objects that are now classics. This might be an Alessi kettle, Stephen Datner dining table, the VW Beetle, or a Chanel handbag.

To be a great artist requires you to be brave. You cannot just regurgitate in an exam what your teacher tells you. You cannot replicate what others are doing. You know art cannot and should not be mass produced. Ironically though, one of the great 20th Century artists, Andy Warhol became famous for challenging the notion of mass produced art. You have to dare to be different. You will be under scrutiny. You will be criticised.

Henry Ford is famous as the inventor of the first factory production line car: the T-Model Ford. Henry is rumoured to have said, ‘If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said “faster horses”.’ In a current age of focus group driven politics, I wish our politicians were more like Henry Ford. I wish they were braver. I wish they could act like artists. I wish they could dream more and lead with far more conviction and with far less poll-driven politics.

So, be brave. Sometimes your bravery will not be repaid for many years to come. Jan Utzon was the great designer of the Sydney Opera House. He was brave, but he was also sacked. He left Australia before the Sydney Opera House as completed. He never returned to Australia to see his work before he died. One of Australia’s greatest pianists, Geoffrey Tozer, died nine years ago. His spirit was broken and he died lonely and penniless. Despite the sadness in the personal lives of Utzon and Tozer, they have left the world in a better place for their great works of art.

Designers of great works of public art have to be brave. For they receive their fair share of criticism. For example the modern cubes in front of the Louvre in Paris, and the Tate Modern Art Gallery in London which is in a former power station. Closer to home we have Federation Square, Southern Cross Railway Station, the matchsticks, egg and rib cage on CityLink and, even closer to home, the Phil De Young Performing Arts Centre at Carey!

Sadly, many of our great artists have had to leave Australia to seek recognition and reward for their work. For example, the opera singer Joan Sutherland, the actor and comedian Barrie Humphreys, the writer and art critic Robert Hughes, writers such as the Noble Laureate Patrick White or Geraldine Brookes, and numerous painters including the likes of Sydney Nolan and Fred Williams and, of course, so many modern actors and musicians. Whilst we feel disappointed that these great Australians have to leave, when they leave, we feel proud that just like our sporting stars, business people, and entrepreneurs, Australia can mix it amongst the world’s best in the field of the Arts.

I hope you will all continue to appreciate the beauty of the Arts. I hope you will bring an artist’s perspective in your lives as parents, partners and in your careers and community work. I hope your personal budget, and the ones you are paid to manage, will find room for the Arts.

Philip Grutzner