It's Art if I say it is! - Archibald Prize 2017

The First Archibald Prize - by William Beckwith McInnes. Photo Credit

The First Archibald Prize - by William Beckwith McInnes. Photo Credit

I love Paris. My greatest pleasure (apart from shopping and Bertillon ice cream) is walking through the St Germain district and inspecting its many art galleries. Every kind of art is on display and there is a surprise around every corner.

My favourite memory is from a 2002 exhibition of graffiti art. The exhibition opened with a large piece reading – ‘It’s ART if I say it is!!!’ I took it as a sign and I returned to Australia ready to come out as an artist. It gave me the burst of confidence I needed to hold out my work as art without the crushing fear of what some waspish critic might say. I’ll never win an art prize (although I live in hope), but I am proud to say my work is interesting and engaging – and now graces a few small collections.

I was reminded of my Parisian experience as I visited the Archibald prize today – the portrait by Mitch Cairns of his partner, the artist Agathe Goethe-Snape. The weekend Sydney Morning Herald reported :

The Archibald Prize has once again sparked controversy with veteran artist John Olsen calling this year's winner, Mitch Cairns' colourful portrait of artist Agatha Gothe-Snape, "just so bad"… "I think it's the worst decision I've ever seen," the 89-year-old former winner and three-time judge of the country's best-known portrait prize said.

"It's entirely surface, the drawing is just not there, and the structure, which is a summation of what makes a thing good, isn't there," he said. But he disputed comparisons of Cairns' painting - cited by Art Gallery of NSW director Michael Brand - to the modernist master Henri Matisse

"For Christ's sake, it's not Matisse," he said. "Matisse is to do with hugely sophisticated space. To even compare it to Matisse is totally absurd."

Having viewed Olsen’s Archibald winning portrait in 2005 I was reminded of the crowd’s reaction to it also reported by the SMH:

As crowds filed into the Art Gallery of NSW for the first day of the Archibald exhibition, debate raged and admirers of Olsen's Self-Portrait Janus-Faced were hard to find.

Many gallerygoers said outright that the judges had got it wrong and more realistic works, such as portraits of actors Alex Dimitriades and Bill Hunter, should have taken out Australia's most prestigious art prize.

"This is a portrait of people [prize] and that doesn't look like a person to me, like him or anybody else," Anne Chalkers, of Balmain, said of Olsen's two-faced, myth-inspired image.

"I think it's an artistic/political decision because the gentleman's a wonderful painter and he's old . . . and he's never won an Archibald."

We are used to the Archibald creating controversy and lively conversations, sometimes even litigation. The controversy probably has a positive marketing effect, encouraging us to come and see what the fuss is all about.

But watching this play out as an interested bystander I am disturbed to read such a vitriolic and personal attack by one applauded artist against another. I am far from the only one. Artist-judge Ben Quilty stepped in to express admiration for the work and defend Cairns, calling Olsen’s attack ‘untimely and ungracious’. John McDonald, the SMH’s art critic had already, in the weekend paper, named the work as a likely winner noting:

‘As for a winner, the indications this year point to Mitch Cairns, for a flat, hyper-decorative portrait of his artist partner, Agatha Gothe-Snape. All bright colours and sharp edges, the portrait pays homage, not just to Gothe-Snape, but to a long list of modernist painters, from Matisse and Leger, through to the Hard-Edge abstractionists of the 1960s. There’s no attempt at a realistic likeness, but the work retains a sense of intimacy. Gothe-Snape’s yoga pose gently spoofs the artful twists and turns of the stylised room in which she sits.

So what does all this tell us? Art appreciation is a highly qualitative affair. The ability of a work to stir us or make some kind of connection is different for us all. Praise or criticism from some apparent expert does not affect whether or not I feel a ‘spark’, however much I may want to appear to have a superior grasp of the technique and approach of the artist.

Whatever calling we follow, there is always value in being gracious – and this includes the community of artists. Anytime we are encouraged to hold the work of an artist to be rubbish or unworthy by another artist, there is grave danger that our respect for the endeavours and accomplishments of all artists will diminish. Bad behaviour is catching and it is not something useful for us bystanders to observe. There is enough destructive behaviour in the world without it trespassing into the quiet oases of our wonderful galleries and exhibition spaces.

Read my lips – ‘It’s Art if I say it is!!!’

A big pair of shoes has been filled

Rachael Field and Laurence Boulle celebrate the launch with Hilary Astor, Members of Resolution Institute and the ADR Research Network   

Rachael Field and Laurence Boulle celebrate the launch with Hilary Astor, Members of Resolution Institute and the ADR Research Network


In late May, Resolution Institute was the venue for the launch of a significant new text on Dispute Resolution – Australian Dispute Resolution – Law and Practice (LexisNexis, Sydney, 2017) authored by Resolution Institute members, Laurence Boulle and Rachael Field.

The launch was significant for academics and practitioners alike for several reasons.

The first was the acknowledgement of the pioneering work of Hilary Astor and Christine Chinkin whose original text, Dispute Resolution in Australia, was the ‘go-to’ resource for academics and practitioners alike. It was outstanding in its coverage and depth. Academics like me drew on it heavily and valued its breadth and the conversations it provoked.

This new text picks up the themes of its predecessor and updates them for todays’ dispute resolution challenges. It was a masterstroke to invite Hilary Astor to make the introductory comments and formally launch the publication. Her presence and script were great reminders of the remarkable scholarship that has been available to us since Dispute Resolution in Australia was first published in 1992.

Respecting where we have come from, as we explore future directions, is an appealing symbol of how we have developed as a dispute resolution community.

At the launch, Rachael and Laurence shared the secrets of their successful collaboration which gave us a sense of how challenging they found the responsibility of filling Astor and Chinkin’s ‘big pair of shoes’.

Laurence chose an unexpectedly poetic approach to describe to us the joys of collaborating with Rachael and I reproduce it below with his permission.

“Fieldsy and Bill

A DR Fairly Trail

Three score and seven months ago this Odyssey began
Intrepid Fieldsy taking charge, with vision and elan,
To turn established text into a third, more sage, edition
ADR, law, identity, much theory in addition.
Too onerous proved this arduous task for authors, young and free,
They forged a brand new first edition – with cover girt by sea.
The text prolapses ADR, and DR comes to fore,
One letter less, efficiency, the modern troubadour
DR is law’s true business, and the future task of lawyers
Though other disciplines bring great skills as DR purveyors.

Rachael creates matrices with fierce analysis
And practice has its rightful place – or better still praxis,
She critiques Priestly’s saintly core with missionary fervour
Though herself is, reverently, a god-fearing verger.
In every field young Fieldsy brings a rigour to the joust
Her style so mellifluous recalls the prose of Proust
Judges are too recalcitrant and theorists far too thin
She trumps them one by one with acerbic verve, and gin,
Bill looks on half-dazed as her libretto forms apace
Just minor emendations to claim his cover place

Disputes twixt Bill and Fieldsy? There were a somewhat few
The comma matter not resolved, it caused a constant blue.
For Rachael, every, word, must, have, its, punctuation, own,

Now here’s a tale not told before, though every word is true,
Bill inveigled Fieldsy long to move to Bond uni
Abandon Brisbane’s creek and drudge and start again anew
Resistance was her sad retort, excuses thickly grew.
The strangest part: once Bill departs for Sydney waters twee
Then Rachael moves to Bondy’s place with stark alacrity
In truth she’s now resolved to move to Sydney Harbour Bridge
Once Bill has used his GPS to reclaim Bogun ridge.

One note of serious concern amidst the frippery
Concerning current happenings with lack of policy
How serious is the plight of those who flee from ravaged lands
Out-trumped by bigotry and fear, excuses weak and bland,
Asylum-seekers, refugees, minorities galore,
The flames are fanned by news corp hacks, the jocks and many more
Where is DR’s noble soul in contexts such as these?
That is a challenge we must face, so join a movement please.
To take on privilege and power, denial atmospheric,
Post-truth, untruth, and spin and sin, every sad heuristic.

But to end on sombre tones might seem a trifle crook
For cheerful lives and value add – you just should buy the book.
Thanks are due to Jocelyn Holmes and to Lexis Nex,
At RI Ellie, Brian and more provided superb flex
Hildegard of Bingham was a prophet most acute
Hilary of Astoralia from whom DR took root
Has graced us with her words and we extend our thanks
For legacy contributions and setting the early pace

I now must end abruptly too these rhymes sore terrible
Lest there be those who shout aloud ‘Enough, far too much bull.’

Congratulations Rachael and Laurence. I look forward to where this text will take our teaching and learning.

NOTE: This article was first published on The Australian Dispute Resolution Research Network Blog.