This paper was written in 1994, while an ECU undergraduate, and while a Board member at WAAPA, and a committee member on a number of art and craft organisations.
It was circulated among the arts and crafts communities for comment in 1994 and 1995.
It was circulated among the arts and crafts communities for comment in 1994 and 1995.
The slogan of Hell:
Eat or be eaten.
The slogan of Heaven:
Eat and be eaten.
Eat or be eaten.
The slogan of Heaven:
Eat and be eaten.
W. H. Auden in Booth(1979)
Note that the model has a rather disconcerting feature. Plainly, it is either valid or invalid. If invalid, it may be dismissed, if valid it will be dismissed.
Chomsky (1989) p.11
There appears a conflict between institutions created to serve the Crafts and the philosophical basis of the Crafts. Failure by Craft leaders to differentiate between institutional, industry and individual objectives have limited the usefulness and appeal of organisations set up to protect and promote the concerns of practising crafts people. Organisational objectives are unlikely to be correctly adapted to the changing economic and political climate, unless the structural inertia built into these organisations are addressed.
To understand why this is occurring, a structural examination of the reality rather than rhetoric of contemporary Craft needs to be undertaken. As a perspective shared by many emerging crafts people the conclusions reached in this paper may be at odds with more established people in the Crafts.
This paper will use historical and contemporary theories of democracy and social control to critically examine the current institutional organisation of the Crafts. It also takes a non conventional form, ie. no section headings, to ensure a full reading and prevent any misrepresentation.
For the purposes of this paper "the state" refers to both the Western Australian and Commonwealth governments, both administrative and elected. This major simplification enables a deeper exploration of the nature of the relationship between the state, interest groups and their members within this short paper.
According to Ioannu (1989)
During the 1960s the high level of spontaneous craft activity was seen as another facet of the counter-culture movement, and was generally left to itself. By 1971, however, the level of activity was such that it could no longer be ignored by the governments, and, within a year, a Committee of Enquires into the Crafts in Australia had been established. In addition, the South Australian government initiated its own enquiry resulting, in 1973, with the establishment of the South Australian Craft Authority ... designed to promote and encourage the development of craft in the state. The Jam Factory Workshops, as it came to be known, together with the Craft Council of South Australia (CCSA), are funded by both the state and the Australian Council.(p. 12)
Why did the State became involved in the Crafts, "to promote and encourage" when they appeared to be very widespread and persistent? Ioannou (1989), again, perhaps accidentally provides the key to unravelling an answer;
I think a lot of what underlies the motivation of the crafts is philosophy about individualism, which tends to see itself as very different from the concept of large institutional structures, large bureaucracies, which perceive the value system of the "organisation" as being the antithesis of the crafts value system.(p.18)
These views are difficult to reconcile with the current facts that craft groups receive substantial funding from large bureaucracies such as the State, that prospective professional Craft practitioners must undergo a substantial conditioning process in large Tertiary Education institutions, and that most of its perceived leaders are currently full or part time employees (or students) in these or other state institutions.
We now turn to political theory in an endeavour to understand the processes and influences which resulted in these circumstances.
With the development of the parliamentary system in England came a parallel development of the rational for this new authority that did not come from God or the barrel of a gun. Hobbes (1651) developed the idea of social order, that conflicting individual interests could be resolved by the voluntary transfer of some individual power to the State to contain the conflict and ensure the continued integration and stability of society.
In France, Rousseaus (1712-78) developed similar democratic ideas of the corporate body of society, in which the individual
puts his [her] person and all of his[her] power in common under the supreme direction of the general will, and, in our corporate capacity, we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole. (Rousseaus in Solomon 1988, p. 19)
These ideas of democracy have come to dominate popular belief structure and underpin much of our political and social structures and interactions. Central to these ideas is the relationship between the individual and society and the role the state plays in mediating between them.
It was much later that the actual structure of our "democratic and capitalist" society and state was critically examined by Marx. But it was not until Mosca (1858-1941) developed his elite theory did we have "a framework for studying social stratification and political power in terms other than those of the prevailing democratic theory or of Marxist thought."(Albertoni (1985) p. x.) A pragmatic Italian politician and academic, Mosca developed the twin ideas of the political class and the political formula.
The political class is an organised minority of rulers which dominates society. This cohesive class or group is formed around shared social values such as military valour, wealth, education, birth and merit. There is also a degree of dynamism "resulting from the conflict between this class cohesion and the striving for inclusion by individuals from the ruled mass"(Albertoni (1985) p. 25). Moreover political classes do decline and are replaced by others, when the qualities which enabled them to rise to power are no longer required due to changes in the social environment.
The current Craft political class are those who hold positions within art institutions, are active in other organisations or their affiliated voluntary organisations, and are recognised as expert crafts people. This class have similar educations and thus share similar general aesthetic and social values.
This political class exercises control via ownership of major retail outlets, opinion forming publications, employment (teaching) opportunities, entry to the profession (via TAFE and university courses) and professional recognition (judging and organising competitions). This group directly influences the aesthetics of the 400 Craft Council of Western Australia (CCWA) members and indirectly the 248,481 Western Australians participating in handcrafts [ABS Cat 4111.5, p.14].
The Craft political class can be easily identified as the 34 Hon. Fellows, Fellows and Life Members of the CCWA, plus a few others. (see Craftwest Autumn 1994, pp. 20-1).
This group have consistently placed emphasis on the need for Craft in the education system. This self serving objective has resulted in the widely held perception that the most important initial requirement for professional Craft practice is tertiary training. While Weston (1992) saw tertiary training in the Arts as a long "socialisation process" into a system (p.75) it also becomes a device to carefully filter potential ("from the ruled masses") crafts people. Within these schools, novel ideas and work is encouraged, but only within "aesthetically pleasing" boundaries, defined by staff members personal aesthetics and the "politically correct" agenda of funding bodies. Upon successfully internalising the political class's aesthetic, this small, carefully screened and conditioned, potential elite group are provided with preferential access to craft dedicated exhibition spaces and media, employment and subcategories in major competitions.
The result is that the Crafts political class appears to be evolving into a small and self limiting group.
The second part of Mosca's theory is the political formula and this is a body of beliefs that legitimates the elites' domination of society. It is a principal which guides the political class and perhaps most importantly is a group of ideas and values acceptable by the masses (Albertonia 1985 p.25). The political ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity, expressed in the term democracy, is such a political formula. Democracy, therefore, is an ideal which justifies a minority's control, while pacifying the masses.
Because the Craft political class controls the "prestigious" competitions, publications and acts as judges, selectors or advisers for many other Craft events they are able, by their very actions, to convey the political formula. As Donald Brook put it, at an Art Educators seminar at PICA in 1992, "the winners always get to make the rules".
The central political formula within the Crafts is "excellence in craft work", the nature of which is never overly stated, but rather implied by what is allowed for exhibition, what is judged best, what is(and is not) worthy of comment and the nature of this published commentary. This reference to some abstract and "objective" quality hides the fact that these are inherently subjective decisions made by a small group of people.
The media is critical for the political class in order to promote the political formula. Dye and Zeiglers' (1978) research into public opinion and the mass media came to the conclusion that opinions and values flow downward from elites to the masses via the media, since the masses do not have strong or stable opinions on most political issues. Moreover the elite are not responsive to concerns of the masses, rather they "often mistake intra-elite communication for expressions of "public opinion""(p.156).
Chomsky (1989) explored the process by which advertisers and corporate sponsors effectively control the media, with warnings only needing to be implicit to prevent or stop projects contrary to "the most delicate sympathies of corporations." Consequently reporters "entering the system [are] unlikely to make their way unless they conform to ... ideological pressures, generally by internalising the values"(p.8). Much like these reporters, contemporary Craft writers, are agents of the existing political class promoting the political formula of an "objective" aesthetic, a specific standard of taste and the limits of "good taste" (Foster, 1983, p.58). Such aesthetic standards are usually justified with reference to overseas standards, conveniently ignore the fact that the major guide to overseas work is other elite control publications selectively available through local elite outlets.
Rotstein (1983) stressed the importance of these pressures in limiting the marketplace of competing ideas, expressing concern that inequalities in wealth and power create an "unequal ability to propagate ideas"; the result is that "expression is no longer free, and competition in ideas means largely fiction. In short, without freedom of expression, freedom of thought means little" (p154-55).
The result is, according to Chomsky (1989), that the upper - middle classes dominate the ideas market place, giving them the power to "shape the entire society's perception of political reality and the range of realistic political and social possibilities" (p.8).
Craft publications with price advantages arising from state sponsorship and a virtual monopoly on local Craft comment and criticism, are in a powerful position to shape public opinion and determine the boundaries within which debate can occur.
For example, by providing valuable exposure to marginalised groups, "politically correct" publications such as Craftwest seek to further the aims of the state. This process encourages these groups' leaders to aspire to the political class, provides them with a public platform (a legitimating process) and sets the conditions of entry. That is, they encourage their group, upon their entry to the political class, to support the political class itself. This process prepares the public for concessions made, limits the nature of the groups' claims and reduces the potential threat to the position of the political. These ideas will be explored further in the discussion on corporatism.
The previous theories do not fully explain the nature of the behaviour or relationship between the state and organised interest groups, such as the CCWA. Eventually, after much reading, it was the political theories of corporatism and pluralism, that provided the structure for research and the resulting answers.
According to Williams (1989) these two groups of theorists examined the institutional structures, focusing not on what the special interest groups did but rather on their "basis of organisation". For structure often gives a better indication of purpose than rhetoric.
Schmitter (1979) defined the corporatism model as:
a system of interest representation in which the constituent units are organised into a limited number of singular compulsory, non competitive, hierarchically ordered and functionally differentiated categories, recognised or licensed (if not created) by the state and granted a deliberate representational monopoly within their respective categories in exchange for observing certain controls on their selection of leaders and articulation of demands and supports. (p.13)
The Western Australian Department for the Arts (DFTA) and the Australia Council appear to have organised their funding into such "functionally differentiated categories" across the different art forms; suggesting that, the model is promising if used to direct further research into the organisation of the arts. More over, as examined above, membership based Arts Agencies, like the CCWA, exercise a high degree of control over entry to their elite.
The state is the major source of funds for most Arts Agencies, such as the CCWA (74 percent in 1993), thus exercising a strong influence over them, in much the way the political class control the media (as discussed above). Anecdotal evidence suggests that a substantial proportion of Arts Agency administrators' time is taken up with attending meetings or other tasks likely to ensure continuing state funding. Moreover these Agencies initiate or seek funding for projects in line with state policy or interests. For example, the CCWA is marketing crafts into Asia and redefining itself as representing an industry in order to justify continued funding within an increasingly pragmatic economic and political environment (Craftwest, Winter 1993, p.20)(Reark Research 1993 p.126).
Many of these agencies define themselves as membership organisations but because the membership contribute so little to the total income (4 percent for CCWA in 1993) there is little incentive to actively seek out and respond to non elite concerns. Generally the organisation would only be sensitive to the concerns of members who can assist it in furthering state policy.
But because funding is often conditional on membership (to define as "non-government" and escape the Auditor General) this creates an organisational dilemma between having members in order to satisfy the funding requirements and the demands and costs resulting from servicing a large membership. The teacher dominated CCWA may have resolved this dilemma by targeting students via exhibitions, student categories in competitions and on-campus recruitment drives. Likewise the CCWA and other Agencies may become financial members of each other in a cost neutral way, increasing both membership totals. The more demanding professional craft practitioner membership (excluding student/pensioner/organisations) has declined 8 percent 1991-93 (Annual Reports) suggesting that, despite the rhetoric, the organisation is not looking after practitioners. Excuses based upon the economic cycle are invalid in light of the 50 percent increase in Artist Foundation of WA membership (Annual Reports).
Therefore, based upon the Corporatism theory and the resulting research, it appears that Arts Agencies can develop into devices for State control, by attracting and influencing (via a structure) the emerging elite in the culture industry.
Social and political theorists have been particularly concerned with the relationship between unity and diversity in society, ever since Aristotle argued that "a degree of unity is necessary in a state, [and that] total unity would undermine its very nature"(Foster, 1983, p.1). While providing initial support for interest representation groups, it appears that state funding undermines their autonomy and increases the power of the state over the group.
The alternative to the corporatism theoretical model is pluralism. However given the space constraints of this paper, this often misunderstood model can not be discussed here.
In concluding, given all the above it is not surprising the state's interest in the crafts movement. This was a widespread movement that was apparently antagonistic towards elite controlled institutions and the "state - corporate nexus".
Political theories of elites, based on the ideas of a ruling political class and its legitimising political formula, provided the basis for an alternative perspective to that traditionally provided by Craft writers. This was, that a small group of art educators and administrators have gained control of the Crafts, legitimising their position on the basis of the idea of "excellence".
Corporatism political theory implied that state funding of interest representation organisations provided the means for the emerging political class to further their careers by promoting their aesthetic across the industry, in return for exercising self control and serving the state's interests.
Recent attempts by the Craft political class to reassess the CCWA's direction, suggests that the current group lack the necessary motivation, skills or experience to develop a viable alternative model, despite a favourable political and economic climate. Moreover it is unlikely that the political class would wish to change a corporatism system which, according to this paper, benefits its members. What is likely is further rhetoric and the development of an even more subserval role, relative to the state, for the CCWA and the Crafts.
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This paper was written in 1994, while an ECU undergraduate, and while a Board member at WAAPA, and a committee member on a number of art and craft organisations. It was circulated among the arts and crafts communities for comment in 1994 and 1995.