Duncan McKay

Edith Cowan University , WA

Duncan McKayDuncan McKay is currently a PhD scholarship student at Edith Cowan University in Perth Western Australia. He has completed studies in visual arts practice at the University of Western Australia (BFA Hons.) and Curtin (MCA) and has experience as an exhibiting, emerging artist in WA. His doctoral research project, “The Poet’s Work” is a unique study of the labour of visual arts practices in Western Australia, employing some new methodological approaches to social research in the arts.

Cultural Performance Indicators? Adding Value in Australian Social Research on Visual Artists

There have been some very significant and valuable efforts to conduct research concerning the working lives of artists in Australia. These research projects, and the published reports that result from them, are vital signs of a healthy interest in the contribution of artists to contemporary Australian society. Studies have collected and presented unique empirical data and provided some important insights regarding the ways in which artists work in their contemporary Australian contexts. Consistently, however, this research has remained within certain paradigms of inquiry, the economic and the quantitative. In this paper I offer a critique of the prevalent treatment of cultural values associated with the working lives of artists within these studies. By contrast, this paper seeks to query the concept that it is possible to approach cultural production in unproblematic ways through the deployment of what might be understood as cultural performance indicators, to adapt an evaluative concept from other industrial applications.

The critique will be developed from two directions; from a theoretical engagement, and from the consideration of empirical data collected for my PhD research concerning the working lives of visual artists in Western Australia. In particular, the paper critically considers the position that it is possible to meaningfully consider economic values in isolation from cultural values. Subsequently I will closely examine the kinds of indicators that have been employed in recent research as a means of differentiating between and evaluating cultural agents and their products and actions. Finally, I will introduce empirical data from my own study to question some of the key assumptions about the workings of cultural value that underpin the measurements and evaluations in much Australian social research concerning artists.

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