In the far north of New South Wales, as fans swung wildly in the heat and sweat beaded on our upper lips in the high summer, my year 11 English teacher sweepingly declared at the front of the classroom that a piece of art is only what we make of it. Our vision, how we see, determines the meaning of the work. Why is the sky grey? Well, that depends on who you ask. Postmodernism had infected the high school teaching syllabi of regional Australia. Subjectivity reigned. The author, was, of course, dead. The art was in what we saw. I was, as was often the case then, the only person of colour in the room. But I couldn’t imagine how this would frame the borders of my imagination, how significantly it could shape my vision.
The reality of life in a post-truth world is difficult to swallow when it comes to politics and current affairs. But the truth has never been immovable when we talk about art. An appreciation of all art forms—be it theatre, music, sea-garbage sculpture—ferments in our minds in response to the stuff of our lives: our families, our lovers, the tea our mothers drink, the trees that line the street we grew up on. But if art is only what we make of it, then what about the people telling us what to make of it? Their lines of sight will inevitably direct ours. It’s crucial, then, that we interrogate whose visions we allow to guide us. As it stands, the majority of arts, theatre and music criticism in Australia is relayed through one perspective: mostly white, often male, and overwhelmingly moving in the spheres of the urban elite.
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