December Reading: Chapter from Howard Morphy’s “Becoming Art”

Tonight, Monday, December 14 at 5:30, Room G38, Elisabeth Murdoch Building, the University of Melbourne, is the inaugural meeting of the Aboriginal Art Reading Group!

We are discussing Howard Morphy’s, ‘Art Theory and Art Discourse Across Cultures’, in Becoming Art: Exploring Cross-Cultural Categories, Sydney: UNSW Press, 2008, pp: 140-167.

Copies of this chapter, available for photocopying, are in an envelope on the notice board outside Dr Susan Lowish’s office, room G27, ground floor Elisabeth Murdoch Building, as well as inside the post-graduate resource room, also on the ground floor.

To learn more about Professor Howard Morphy, see his profile on the Australian National University.

The University of Melbourne’s own Dr Susan Lowish recently published a review of Morphy’s book in History Australia, here is an excerpt from Susan Lowish, “Review of Howard Morphy’s Becoming Art: Exploring Cross-Cultural Categories,” History Australia, Volume 6, No. 2, August 2009:

Expressed with some of the lucidity that characterised his previous monograph Aboriginal Art (1998) and a degree of complexity that echoes his first major publication, Ancestral Connections: Art and an Aboriginal System of Knowledge (1991), Becoming Art draws on Morphy’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the history of Yolngu art production and combines it with a discussion of the issues surrounding the way this art has been and currently is received in the Western world. A seasoned reader of Morphy’s prose will find in this book a confluence of ideas drawn from previously published essays, new thoughts and little known work from the late 1970s, when Morphy facilitated a visit by Narritjin and Banapana Maymuru to the Australian National University (ANU): the first residency awarded to Indigenous artists by any Australian university.

Comprising three sections: ‘A short history of Yolngu art’, ‘Engaging with Art History’, and ‘Yolngu art and the chimera of fine art’, Becoming Art moves from a discussion of the ways in which Yolngu art was used in different contexts for different purposes by both Yolngu and non-Yolngu people to a more conceptual discourse on the role of art and the shifting values ascribed to it by various groups and individuals. The book marries histories of the ceremonial, commercial, social and political roles of art and craft production in the north-easternmost part of Arnhem Land with histories of the collection of art and artifacts and of exhibition and museum display. These histories are put together with debates about the nature of aesthetic experience, creating a polygamous union that challenges the ideals and norms of many disciplines.


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