Education in print.
Education in print.
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Education in print.
by Margaret Brandl
Yes, I must be creating something of a record this afternoon because I think I’m the first person to stand up here who is not a printmaker. I’m not here because of that. I’m here because of education. I’m also going to show you some pictures. It’s not because I’m going to talk about them particularly. I just thought you might like something to look at while I was talking.
And, also, if you get bored with looking at them I thought maybe you can play a game with yourself. You can try to see how many of them you recognise. It’s not a difficult test.
Well, I speak from a base, then, of running education and public programs at this gallery here, the Australian National Gallery, and as such my interest is in access to art, to art of all kinds. James Mollison has already made it plain that we display prints here as we display art in all other media.
I want to make it easier for the visitor to look at art and understand it, particularly the great art of the national collection and I’ve tried to choose images here that belong to us, so that you can familiarise yourself too with what you also share. Most of them are from overseas except some aren’t, near the end.
We believe here that art should be accessible to all and that education is a life–long activity. Like printmaking, that all sounds very democratic and education and printmaking are great bed mates, I think. Prints and education both make art accessible to the many. Our aim here at the Gallery is not only to help people of all ages to understand art and how it’s made. We’re also interested in perceptions, both the artists’ and the viewers’ and therefore knowledge.
Laurel [McKenzie] alluded a little to that, to those two aspects that we’re very interested in here. These perceptions enhance all areas of life’s activities, not just art, and the lives of all people, not just artists or teachers of art or others whose business is art. We believe that exercising visual skills is essential to enhancing the quality of our lives.
The flexibility of thinking that looking at art encourages is necessary to all human activities. We believe that with the work we do here at the Gallery we are encouraging people of all ages to exercise that flexibility of thinking through their visual skills.
For your interest, just to see how far this message gets and again, thinking of the things Laurel [McKenzie] says, one realises how vast that task is, of educating people about art. Well, last year 107,380 visitors to this gallery received an educational program and that was more than a third of Gallery visitors.
Over 62,000 of those were students of all ages, and of those students 73% of them came from interstate. That’s a figure that we’re very proud of, because we do take the ‘National’ part of our title very seriously.
Our programs are conducted by lecturers and our voluntary guides. These programs cater for the people who can come to the Australian National Gallery but our responsibility is Australia–wide, and our travelling exhibitions program goes some way to meeting that. You know, we’ve got a bit of a contradiction. We’ve got a place here, firmly fixed in Canberra, to which people must come and yet our responsibility is to reach people all around Australia.
And this is where prints come in, as I see it. One of the present travelling shows is indeed a print show, The prints of Margaret Preston, but I see the challenge as wider than that; the things yet to be done.
Original great works of art are fragile and often one–off. The ones we own like that require, as I say, people to come here across vast distances. Prints provide us and them with an alternative. With them we can reach even the most distant population centres, even beyond Broken Hill, Kate [Lohse].
With original works of art we can overcome two great tyrannies of our Australian present and past; those of distance and reproduction. It’s extraordinary that youngsters can still grow up in Australia, to my mind, and never see original great works of art outside major centres of population. So, that contradiction that Ken Orchard spoke about, the multiplicity of prints, plus the originality of the sort of prints we’re talking about here, comes to play here. I find it a very creative and productive contradiction.
The multiplicity of prints [is] useful for educating a lot of people about art; reaching a lot of people and, of course, so is the originality of them.
June Wayne today, Bea Maddock during the week and all of you, I’m sure, support the view of a print being an original work of art. So, we use prints in ANG education, and delight in their ability to respond to and reflect the interests of our visitors. Our Department of International Prints and Illustrated Books, headed by Pat Gilmour, has an ongoing program of print exhibitions in this gallery.
Our print collection, some of the gems of which I’m showing you, which covers the last 200 years, enables us to present the work of the greatest European and Australian artists of that time to our visitors. Additionally, our holdings of Japanese and Chinese prints make the art of other cultures available too.
Print exhibitions we have found particularly adaptable to our wide purposes, ones that some of you here will remember, like The artist as social critic, like The artist and the printer, Lasting impressions and, of course, currently The word as image. Our lithographic collection is very strong indeed, and is certainly more comprehensive than lots of our collections in other media will be in my lifetime, or perhaps yours.
Teachers of history and literature, of politics and language are able, with our assistance, to cover whole areas of their curricula. The concise images summarise days and weeks of reading as students. These exhibitions I’ve spoken about reflect the wider, international modern culture to which we all belong but there’s the other one too, isn’t there? There’s our own, the Australian one.
The Department of Australian Prints at the moment, as I’m sure many of you have taken the advantage of being here to find out, has a huge exhibition upstairs [Prints and Australia: pre-settlement to present] and at the Drill Hall venue on the ANU campus [Australian prints now] . This fulfils similar purposes to those that I’ve already mentioned, and this time for Australians. Australians that walk through it see what it means to be Australian, and how that concept is becoming.
The process occurs in their own minds, as well as on the walls. Teachers find it invaluable. It’s essential viewing for all Australians. There’s something for everybody in it. About a week ago the Chinese Minister for Culture himself, quite a notable writer, was able to find there the socialist revolution, before it occurred in China. A five–year old, on the other hand, can also find a chook in the back yard.
Now, finally, I find it particularly interesting that Australians, there in that exhibition, can discover the lineaments of contemporary Aboriginality. The use of the print medium by artists such as Fiona Foley and Byron Picket brings home to all that it’s not bark, or wood, or paper or pigment that makes an object of Australian art, but rather the intention of the artist and the values that he or she asserts in the work. That very simple perception comes like a revelation to many visitors.
To summarise what I have said, then, to my mind prints and education go together. We find them indispensable, prints, in helping people to understand the art of the national collection and in the ANG many people are not only having their first encounters with art but with prints, and coming to understand prints and printmaking, and the particular joys of that medium.
For my part, I see prints helping the ‘Gallery’ part of our title, Australian National Gallery, become truly a gallery for the nation.
© Margaret Brandl, 1989.
Transcript of paper presented at The First Australian Print Symposium, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 1989.