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Creating country : abstraction, economics and the social life of style in Balgo art

Carty, John Richard

Description

The translation of traditional Western Desert iconography, narrative conventions and ceremonial aesthetics into the medium of acrylic painting, and onto the emergent plane of 'Aboriginal Art', has been among the great artistic achievements of the modern era. Despite the wealth of scholarship dedicated to this phenomenon, key aspects of it remain obscured in anthropological and art historical analysis. Based on fieldwork in the Australian Western Desert community of Balgo, this thesis develops...[Show more]

dc.contributor.authorCarty, John Richard
dc.date.accessioned2016-10-23T23:21:15Z
dc.date.available2016-10-23T23:21:15Z
dc.date.copyright2011
dc.identifier.otherb2879989
dc.identifier.urihttp://hdl.handle.net/1885/109366
dc.description.abstractThe translation of traditional Western Desert iconography, narrative conventions and ceremonial aesthetics into the medium of acrylic painting, and onto the emergent plane of 'Aboriginal Art', has been among the great artistic achievements of the modern era. Despite the wealth of scholarship dedicated to this phenomenon, key aspects of it remain obscured in anthropological and art historical analysis. Based on fieldwork in the Australian Western Desert community of Balgo, this thesis develops an ethnographic account of how 'Country' is created through abstraction, kin-based processes of transmission, and the economics of art. Combining methodologies from anthropology and art history, this research seeks to develop an appreciation of Western Desert abstraction as a socio-cultural process. Abstraction is treated not merely as a particular kind of distilled formalism that resonates visually with 20th Century Western art historical and critical notions, but as a conceptual and creative process linked to a deconstruction of form and reconfiguration of meaning. In Balgo art these processes have resulted in the iconographic forms of the desert graphic system being superseded by other aesthetic features of that same system, particularly the practice of 'dotting'. This thesis analyses the development of dotting and other technical innovations into 'styles', and explores how these styles have in turn become an object of exchange and contestation within Balgo. The thesis also grapples with another significant, and related, gap in the anthropological literature: that of the economic contexts around acrylic painting. While Aboriginal art is widely acknowledged as part of an economic system, the forms on canvas or bark are rarely analysed as themselves implicated in, responsive to and expressive of fields of economic influence and motivation. In order to move beyond the dominant ritual-oriented interpretations of desert painting, this research frames painting as a form of Aboriginal labour. I treat art as work. Through quantitative and qualitative analysis of the work of art, the thesis affords new interpretations around the novel forms on canvas as crystallizations of human action, as objectifications of value and the social processes that create it. In uniting the aesthetic and economic aspects of my analysis, I build a portrait of the way style develops between people who share camps and other resources. I show how the innovations and abstractions pioneered by individuals become sedimented in culture as tradition through processes of intergenerational transmission. In this context, as objectifications of practices of sharing and co-residence, the forms of acrylic Country in Balgo art can be understood not as representational, but as Country itself. Country in the form of acrylic dots, styles, entire paintings, or the relationship between paintings, is an embodiment or objectification of Aboriginal value that can be exchanged both within Balgo (between kin) and without (through the market) in the creation of other kinds of value. Through localised kin-based transmission of painting style and redistribution of artistic income, Balgo artists have recalibrated acrylic 'Country' as the customary basis of their economic autonomy.
dc.format.extentxi, 370 leaves.
dc.language.isoen
dc.subject.lccN7401.C37 2011
dc.subject.lcshArt, Aboriginal Australian Australia Balgo Hills (W.A.)
dc.subject.lcshArt, Aboriginal Australian Economic aspects
dc.subject.lcshArt, Abstract
dc.subject.lcshArt and mythology
dc.subject.lcshAboriginal Australians Social life and customs
dc.titleCreating country : abstraction, economics and the social life of style in Balgo art
dc.typeThesis (PhD)
local.contributor.supervisorMorphy, Howard
local.contributor.supervisorcontactHoward.Morphy@anu.edu.au
dcterms.valid2011
local.description.notesThis thesis has been made available through exception 200AB to the Copyright Act.
local.type.degreeDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)
dc.date.issued2011-10
local.contributor.affiliationResearch School of Humanities and the Arts, College of Arts and Social Sciences, The Australian National University
local.request.nameDigital Theses
dc.date.updated2016-10-21T00:54:59Z
CollectionsOpen Access Theses

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