Aboriginal art can help to dissolve prejudices about different types of art and bridge social gaps.
There is a sharp divide among Australians as to whether they prefer traditional visual genres such as landscapes or contemporary abstract forms. These divisions are based on differences in class, age, and education. Aboriginal art, however, bucks this trend as it is seen to “tell a story.”
The research has been discussed in a book called Australian Culture, Social Divisions, and Inequalities.
We all have our favorites.
Researchers surveyed the cultural preferences of Australians. They administered surveys to 1,202 Australians. The total number of samples was increased to 1,461 to include extra pieces for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as well as Italian, Lebanese, and Chinese Australians.
Researchers then partnered with ABC in order to conduct online surveys about cultural preferences. The results of the research were then compared to those from the online survey.
The research revealed that those who preferred traditional and figurative art styles disliked abstract and contemporary genres. In fact, the reverse was true as well: those who chose contemporary and conceptual art had a strong dislike for traditional and symbolic artwork.
Aboriginal art is often a hybrid of these two genres.
It is not surprising. Aboriginal art has evolved beyond its traditional forms. It now includes acrylic dot art and contemporary urban Aboriginal art practices.
Tony Albert says that “Aboriginalia,” as a concept, changes dramatically depending on the context.
What is surprising, however, is the frequency with which our survey respondents, in their follow-up interviews about their art preferences, referred to Aboriginal art as a special art form.
Most people viewed it simply as an abstract form, but it had a deeper meaning, and it crossed the line between the figurative and the abstract.
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It was on these grounds that Aboriginal art was let off the hook by those who usually disliked non-figurative art. This was briefly summarised by one respondent who, dismissing modern and abstract art as “equivalent to what my daughters would do in kindergarten,” praised the “uniqueness of Aboriginal art and the dots” because “there’s stories behind it – there is the story they are trying to tell.”
There was a preference for Indigenous artists and art across class lines but with some caveats. AAP/Mick Tsikas
Namatjira’s work was often praised for its “realism” and depiction of the beauty of the bush and country. One survey respondent, a professional with a high-level management role, said that Namatjira’s work was not “too abstract” in its portrayal of “the beauty” of the bush and country.
Namatjira, who is a part-time laborer and accountant, was a counter for his dislike of abstract and modern art because his paintings were “real” and felt like they told a story.
A third woman, who is Sri Lankan and in her 30s, also expressed similar feelings about Namatjira. She praised “Tracey’s storytelling” for its “strong voice” and “strong style”, highlighting its appeal to Indigenous and non-Indigenous women. Namatjira’s work was also lauded for its “cultural connections.”