The in between of things

Veiled Beggar Woman (Mercy), 1919
Wood (oak) 38 x 30.4 x 33.7 cm
Signed and dated on left of plinth: E Barlach 1919
Source: http://

The figure of Ernst Barlach’s “Veiled Beggar Woman (Mercy)”, is unidentifiable. We can see some garments and arms firmly outstretched, patient, dignified and expectant. The beggar is further dignified through the use of the oak wood that is carved economically in blocky forms. But a cloth covering the head hides the identity, seemingly, of a woman. Being an artwork rather than a real person, we are unlikely to feel the need to rummage through our pockets for a coin or respond by walking on resolutely, rather, if we spend enough time with the sculpture, we may move from reaction to reflection.

Although appearing still, the beggar’s posture demands something of us. There is a clear material need that the figure is expressing, but not as an inferior being. An absence of identity inhibits our ability to judge and therefore to distance ourselves on the basis of identity. The cloth over the head is not due to shame, rather the anonymity draws attention to the figure being just like us. This is an equal who remains dignified, on the basis of its inherent sameness to us, on the basis of its right to ask and receive a response, because in a way, it is us.

Ernst Barlach: The Refugee, 1920
Bronze (cast 1937) 35.4 x 38.4 x 14.1 cm
Ernst Barlach Haus Hamburg, acquired 1994

“Refugee” also by Barlach, describes a figure thrusting forward in diagonal movement, cloaked heavily and protecting a loaf of bread. The face which is visible seems to push forward in hope with quiet determination, summing all available resources and human energy to move to a point where living is feasible. It is consumed by a lunge for life with all the life it has within it.

Neither the beggar nor the refugee use sentimentality. Neither try to draw pity from us. Key to both works is how the lines of the sculptures relate movement. For the beggar it is the motionlessness solidity seeking our response. The only movement is that of the extended arms, reaching out to us. The only thing this figure has, is us, the viewer and our response. The question then, is how do we respond? Any one of us could be beneath that cloth. A call is issued as we encounter ourselves in an other’s need, in what Emmanual Levinas called the ‘face to face’. We are really face to face with ourselves and we get to decide through our response, what is important and what we abandon. By comparison, the refugee is itself, all movement, caught mid step. Strong diagonal lines of the cloak show a driven figure as it escapes past us. There is no security or certainty in this moment and we watch as bystanders. The refugee unlike the beggar asks us not to break the movement, not to get in the way and interfere with its lunge to freedom. The call is upon us again, this time, not to needlessly hinder this lunge for life.

Words are approximate in their meaning. With language, some things fall through the gaps. However, this does not indicate that there is no reality beyond language, rather, our greatest values are established there. Powerful art gives access to that which lies beyond the limits of language, also beyond our political arguments and divisive maneuvering which are often based on language. Powerful art, even at its most figurative, never points to something. It points past it. That which is being represented is not, in almost all cases, meant to be taken on face value. Powerful art points to the in between of things, as with these works of a beggar and of a refugee where what is being described is the space between ourselves and self in the other. These works point us to where human vulnerability requires a response from us and our response establishes the value we place on human life.

Written by Marco Corsini.

Lucio Fontana’s “Infinite Dimension”

Concetto spaziale, Attese by Lucio Fontana, ca. 1965 (Fair Use)

A modern artist whom I find very intriguing for philosophical reasons is the Argentine-Italian painter, sculptor and theorist Lucio Fontana (1899-1968). Fontana was the founder of “spatialism”, a movement that he began in Milan in 1947, by way of which he ambitiously sought to synthesise colour, sound, space, movement and time into an innovative variety of art. The ideas of the project were based on his Manifiesto blanco (White Manifesto), a text that he had published a year earlier in Buenos Aires. He intended to abandon traditional forms—like the easel painting—and adopt techniques such as neon lighting and the television. Of late, there has been a great interest in his work on the auction circuit, with one piece of his, Concetto spaziale, La fine di Dio (1964), being sold for  $29,173,000 at Christie’s New York in November of 2015.

In 1949-50, Fontana began to punch holes (buchi) and cut slashes with razors (tagli) through his canvases. Although they looked spontaneous, they were well-planned, and resembled the “zips” in the abstract expressionist paintings of Barnett Newman (1905-1970).

Spatial Concept ‘Waiting’ by Lucio Fontana, 1960 (Fair Use)

Multiple interpretations are available of this bold and somewhat baffling artistic act. In an essay for Tate, Philip Shaw, a professor at the University of Leicester, applies a Freudian approach and sees the cuts as representative of female sexuality, the obscure object of desire. The lens of the Second World War is particularly common. In a book titled Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void, 1949-1962, Los Angeles-based curator Paul Schimmel situates Fontana’s work within the context of the social and political climate of the postwar period—especially the crisis of humanity resulting from the atomic bomb. As a response, several “international artists,” he points out, “ripped, cut, burned, or affixed objects to the traditionally two-dimensional canvas.” Fontana’s enterprise had been significantly influenced by a Milan that bore the scars of Allied bombings, in which many buildings and monuments had been destroyed.

Concetto Spaziale by Lucio Fontana, 1964-65 (Fair Use)

But in Fontana’s own words, he was alluding to something far greater than just sexuality or war. Through his holes and slashes, he evoked the sublime—that quality in aesthetics felt at encounter with grand things, that is suggestive of awe and terror, both pain and pleasure. He is known to have announced, “I have created an infinite dimension”. He maintained that his experiments were constructive rather than destructive and that his aim was to rupture the surface and enable the viewer to perceive the stuff that lay behind.

Fontana mysteriously said, “I do not want to make a painting; I want to open up space, create a new dimension, tie in the cosmos, as it endlessly expands beyond the confining plane of the picture.” The region behind the picture was an entire plane of being. The artist was playing with the viewer’s understanding of the universe itself. The holes and slashes would either project inwards or outwards, which meant that this new space would either creep in forcefully to an existing domain or it would be reached out to from an existing domain. I cannot help but connect Fontana’s experiments to the wider modern/post-modern worldview of materialism—the position that produces these basic ideas in different guises—matter is the ultimate reality, the spiritual or the supernatural is non-existent, the immaterial mind is an illusion, what you cannot see or hold or measure cannot be true.

Fontana’s ruptured canvases, read within the framework of materialism, suggest a certain suffocation and urgency, a yearning to break free from the prison of a closed, lonely, dreary and insufficiently meaningful universe. They powerfully give expression to the human desire for a taste of transcendence, for “the unknown”, that might still persist after all the calculations have been made, the research papers have been published, experiments have been conducted and surveys have been taken in an arrogantly “scientistic” society.

Written by Tulika Bahadur.

Subjectivity and World Maps

There is an old Indian parable revolving around six blind men and an elephant (part of many religious traditions) that powerfully illustrates the perennial tension between subjectivity and objectivity. The narrative is simple—the blind men (or “men in the dark”) try to touch an elephant to learn what it is like. Each touches only a part (side or tusk or ear or something else) and hastily concludes that it must be the elephant’s real and only form. They quarrel long and loud upon discovering the incompatibility of their accounts. The story has been used to encourage intellectual humility and respect for the views of one’s opponents. It is also a reflection on the tricky nature of truth and highlights the need for dialogue in human society.

The tale holds a special place in Jainism, where is it used to explain the fundamental doctrine of Anekāntavāda (literally “the school of many-sidedness”). According to Anekāntavāda, reality is perceived differently by different individuals leading to a multiplicity of vantage points. No single human being can claim to have a monopoly on absolute truth but the sum of various vantage points may give us access to greater fact. Anekāntavāda is closely related to two other doctrines: syādvāda (the theory of conditioned viewpoints) and nayavāda (the theory of partial viewpoints). The tale was popularised in the English-speaking world through a version written by the American poet John Godrey Saxe (1816-1887). It begins this way: It was six men of Indostan, / To learning much inclined, / Who went to see the Elephant / (Though all of them were blind), / That each by observation / Might satisfy his mind.

Blind men (here, monks) examining an elephant by Japanese painter, poet and calligrapher Hanabusa Itchō (1652–1724), Wikipedia [Public Domain]

When I think of this fable, I am especially reminded of cartography. Map-making is one of the supreme pursuits of humankind whereby it has made its ingenuity and creativity manifest. People have been capturing, containing, measuring and making sense of space for centuries and there has been no map, from any place or any period, that can be considered fully “objective”. Our positioning of the continents, our sense of north-south-east-west, of centres and edges have been traditionally predicated upon our political and religious systems.

Consider two examples:

First, the Hereford Mappa Mundi ( dating back to 1300 displayed today at Hereford cathedral in the county of Herefordshire in western England. For Christian Europe of the 13th and 14th centuries, the spiritual centre of the world was the city of Jerusalem–it was also the geographical centre of their maps. Second, the 19th-century maps coming from Britain (built upon the Mercator Projection first introduced by the Flemish geographer and cartographer Gerardus Mercator in 1569) that were structured to emphasise the scale of the empire with Britain painted red and placed prominently in the middle, and embellishments all around that depicted the culture of the colonies.

Hereford Mappa Mundi (world map), Wikimedia Commons
Map of the British Empire from 1886, Wikimedia Commons

The map that we consult today is definitely stripped of adornments but it still cannot be called merely or thoroughly “scientific”. It remains coloured by early modern European imperialist ambitions. The phenomenon of the “northern hemisphere” (with Europe and the United States) at the top and places like Africa and South America at the bottom are, at their core, just arbitrary conventions. If there is no reason why the map shouldn’t look this way, there is no reason why the map should look this way either.

The big lesson that we learn from the parable of the blind men and the elephant is that all viewpoints are conditioned. So no matter what cartographic framework we adopt of our spherical earth, we shall continue to aid particular political perceptions of the world (that obviously have huge psychological consequences). We cannot aim to reach a position of absolute impartiality in this matter.

A way in which we may hope to attain a measure of fairness, if not complete neutrality, then, is by exposing ourselves to various kinds of maps from time to time, historical and contemporary. Oxford historian Peter Frankopan, in his acclaimed book The Silk Roads: A New History of the World (2015), writes about the experience of growing up with a (usual, normal) world map pinned on the wall by his bed, and how his subsequent encounters with the Hereford Mappa Mundi and an important medieval Turkish map (that had at its heart a city called Balasaghun) made him aware that the world could be seen and interpreted through dramatically different lenses. Frankopan’s engagement with these maps enabled him to get past the rigid and limited Eurocentric view of history that he had been hearing in the classroom.

Today there are many (less popular) cartographic proposals that challenge the Mercator Projection and encourage us to look at the earth in non-conventional ways: by placing the south up, by placing the Pacific at the centre, etc.

A South-Up Map
A Pacific-Centre Map

Brooklyn-based Northern Irish artist Oliver Jeffers (—for his current exhibition “Observations on Modern Life”—at Lazinc gallery ( in London has come up with maps that question our orientations—he turns the north down, dissolves nation states as we know them, shifts the borders that we are used to, and makes everything a matter of “land” and “sea” and not this country or that country.

In our hyperconnected world, for the sake of practicality, it is not possible to adhere to multiple systems of cartography but art is one arena wherein we may certainly explore and communicate these alternative proposals, like Jeffers, in new and exciting ways, expanding our horizons thereby.

Written by Tulika Bahadur.

The power of visualisation and drawing your desired future

Credit PixabayMid-2018, I underwent a massive “shift in consciousness”. It was like my mind expanded exponentially between May and August. I began perceiving both myself and the universe in an entirely different way. I was powerfully impacted by the realisations that I have just this one life and that the world, for all its ills, is fundamentally and ultimately a wondrous place (these facts may seem obvious but most of us simply take them for granted). And so I decided I’d make good use of every minute, be more proactive in reaching out to people and also squeeze every drop out of my own potential. Quite naturally, I found myself gravitating towards content on personal development and self-help. I wanted practical tools and tactics that could help me lead a genuinely meaningful and useful life.

I soon noticed that successful entrepreneurs across different industries would recommend certain common practices for peak performance—for instance, meditation, journalling, affirmations, cold showers, not checking the phone the first hour of the day. Also, many would talk of “visualisation”—vivid, extremely meticulous imagining of how you want your life to be. The creative designing of your desired future in your mind. I have found this proposed by people like Chase Jarvis (CreativeLive), Vishen Lakhiani (MindValley) and Mel Robbins (The 5 Second Rule).

The word itself might seem a little delusional, some kind of dubious New Age trend similar to the “Law of Attraction” popularised by the 2006 book and documentary The Secret, but it turns out, the concept is indeed rooted in neuroscience and psychology. The people who recommend visualisation also frequently mention that “the brain is pliable” and that “the subconscious can be reprogrammed”.

Former attorney and now a highly sought-after motivational speaker, Mel Robbins, who completely turned her life around after being broke and directionless, says that “visualisation is her secret to success”. She explains that our brains have a filter, a network of neurons, called the “Reticular Activating System” (RAS) that allows certain information and blocks out other information. And it is programmed by us and the people from our past. If we constantly feel that we’re unlovable, our RAS, going through the day, will point out every single piece of evidence that confirms that negative belief. We can use visualisation to reprogram our RAS so that our brains can start to spot opportunities for growth. This is done through a two-step method. Robbins provides an example. We must:

  1. Close our eyes and, in our minds, have a specific picture of what our life looks like when our self-worth has improved (see yourself speaking up at work, leaving bad relationships, defining boundaries, going to the gym, etc.).
  2. Consciously think of the positive emotions that we are going to feel when that situation has materialised (happiness, gratitude, etc.).

When we do this, we are training our brain to have a totally different filter. Our brains do not know the difference between something that actually happens to us (like the F in a 10th grade test) and the things we envisage happening to us (like an abundant and joyful social life), that is, between “real” and “imagined” memories. So when we imagine getting a raise or becoming physically fit or entering into a faithful relationship, the brain encodes these scenarios as real memories. Your RAS filter will change, your network of neurons will modify and, according to research, you may very well end up developing/improving the confidence and the skills needed to manifest those scenarios. So the next time you are in a meeting, instead of looking for all the reasons why you should not speak up, you might immediately spot an opportunity through your new filter and just present your opinions and findings with little hesitation—for you have already rehearsed the situation multiple times.

Colorado-based Patti Dobrowolski, a critically acclaimed comic performer, business consultant, illustrator and author, spends her time focussed on new neuroscience discoveries that leverage the power of imagination and visuals to actualise a vision of the future. She goes further than Mel Robbins, passionately inciting people (even outright non-artists) to “draw” their Current State and their Desired New Reality in all their messy and glorious detail, respectively. The bridge between the two being three bold steps: (1). See it, (2). Believe it, (3). Act on it. Dobrowolski explains the process in this TEDx Talk:

Of course, this technique isn’t magic. When we will make a strategic effort to alter our circumstances, we will face tremendous resistance from within ourselves. Our wild and inventive right brain will be thwarted by our critical and cautious left brain. In another TEDx Talk, Dobrowolski points out that when you start to make change, the amygdalae (almond-shaped clusters of nuclei located deep within the temporal lobes) get all freaked out and will do everything to slow or stop you. For this reason, she suggests participants take out some time daily to daydream, allowing our brainwaves to enter the “alpha” state. Here the soil is soft. It becomes easier for us to weed out thoughts that might inhibit action and plant those that might advance us towards our goal.

Dobrowolski ends with an energetic note. After you have drawn your future and cleared your mind by assuming the alpha state, learn everything about who you want to be, where you want to go, how you want to live, do everything. You now have to act loudly for that key to turn the lock – and chances are you will be positioned to do so just excellently!




Pam Hallandal – Paper Walls

Pam Hallandal, self portrait, 1983
Pam Hallandal, self portrait, charcoal, 1983

Pam Hallandal (1929 – 2018), Australian artist and Former Head of Drawing VCA, impacted the lives of many artists in Melbourne from the 1970s onwards, including our very own teachers here at MAC, Michelle Caithness and Michelle Zuccolo.

Glen Eira City Council Gallery is celebrating her legacy with an exhibition, Paper Walls, featuring her incredible work and her passion for drawing. The exhibition will also feature Pam’s past colleagues and students, including Rick Amor; John Scurry; Greg Creek; Allan Mitelman and Michelle Zuccolo.

The gallery will showcase the breadth of her artwork and highligh some of the themes she depicted including portraits, contemporary life in Melbourne (shoppers, casino patrons, workmen) and other images exploring the human condition. Pam was a visionary teacher and mentor, employing a wide range of emerging and established artists to work with alongside her, educating students through their shared passion for drawing.

Many have been fortunate to benefit from the rich experience of Pam’s teaching practice (1970s to 1994). Others have simply enjoyed viewing the quality of her drawings, prints and sculpture which now belong in national and state gallery collections, as well as in universities and library collections throughout Australia. Pam’s career highlights included winning the Australian Dobell Drawing Prize for excellence in drawing in 1996 and 2009 (the only female to do so). Pam has been included in “Backlash” at the NGV in 1986, in many major drawing related exhibitions at Heide, Mornington Peninsula, Gold Coast City Art Prize, The Centre Gallery, S.H. Erwin Gallery, Sydney, Kedumba Invitation Art Award, Australian Drawing Biennial, ANU and a recent major solo exhibition at Ballarat Art Gallery.

Two teachers at MAC studied drawing under Pam Hallandal, and are also represented in this exhibition. Michelle Zuccolo was employed by Pam for five years in the Drawing Department, Victoria College of Art and Design, Prahran. Michelle has been included in the Australian 7th Drawing Biennale, Drill Hall, ANU, Canberra and has been a finalist five times in the Adelaide Perry Prize for Drawing, PLC, Sydney. She received an Honourable Mention by judge, Aida Tomescu in 2017.

Michelle Caithness recently participated in invitation-only the Keduma Invitation Drawing Award, NSW and is currently a shortlisted in the Dobell Drawing Prize, to be shown at the National School of Art, Sydney. Floor talks are scheduled throughout the exhibition, and Michelle Caithness will be discussing her drawing practice at midday on Friday 8 March at the gallery in Caulfield.

Exhibition details:
Dates: 7-24 March
Time: Monday to Friday, 10am–5pm. Weekends, 1pm–5pm.
Location: Glen Eira City Council Gallery, corner Glen Eira and Hawthorn Roads, Caulfield
More information here.

Written by Michelle Zuccolo.

Meaning and society

Jean Genet 1954 or 1955 by Alberto Giacometti 1901-1966
Jean Genet, Alberto Giacometti, oil on canvas, 1954 

Alberto Giacometti’s painting of the writer Jean Genet, shows a figure isolated and deep within the framed space. If a portrait is about knowing the nature of the subject, then Giacometti appears to have consciously held back from bringing about any resolution. Or perhaps he knew not to try.

Painted with approximate dabs and lines that have been drained of colour, the figure of Genet in the painting is visually restrained and inaccessible. It is as if there is half-hearted struggle to represent Genet which stalemates into locating him instead. We as the viewers are here and he is there, but there is an impenetrable distance between.

This impenetrable distance typifies the ravaged twentieth century and a resultant struggle around identity and meaning. Whilst that century began with massive optimism about the technological achievements such as the electric light, the aeroplane and the motor car; within two decades those same technological achievements enabled slaughter on an industrial scale. Looking at this painting, I associate it with the experience of the debasement of humanity which began en masse a few decades before and has never really left us. In previous centuries, art displayed a certain confidence in being able to represent reality; whether it succeeded is beside the point. But most of the twentieth century was spent without an assurance about what reality was and how to find it. The location of ourselves in relation to others, the world and common values became, at best, approximate and speculative. It is from this speculation that I think Giacometti worked on his portrait. Genet’s outsider status, that of being homosexual and having formerly been a thief is also a consideration in reading this sense of distance; but distance, per se, is common to much of Giacometti’s work.

Giacometti’s figures are often alone, as they are in his work ‘Piazza’, where they appear to cross a town square, but no-one appears to connect or meet. Those isolated figures, emaciated but erect seem to indicate even more about the nature of the human experience. They are elongated, like some of El Greco’s figures which lift upwards, like the spire of a Gothic cathedral pointing to heaven. Giacametti’s figures seem to not belong entirely to the earth and if they do, they are not entirely earth-bound; in both senses of that last word. Whereas the cathedral houses and contains human figures, the twentieth century skyscraper by comparison isolates figures from each other in a drama which is beyond the human scale. Giacometti’s figures stand alone like the skyscraper, but also aspire to something grander and more meaningful, like the Cathedral. It’s an absurd contradiction that is present in the writing of Giacametti’s contemporary, Albert Camus who initiated the idea of the absurd. For Camus life is void of meaning, or an inability to know any meaning, if it were to exist. So the emaciated sculptural figures seem to indicate a hunger for, but an inability to have satisfaction in meaning.

Alberto Giacometti, Piazza
Alberto Giacometti, Piazza, bronze, 1947-48

For the remaining twentieth century there was much discussion about the operatives of power that led to war, colonisation, and genocide, especially power as it relates to language and culture. Those discussions have tended to deconstruct common narratives and meaning, and have enabled a new pluralism, which host multiple identities, narratives and meaning. So, meaning is now more individualised and tends to orientate around what the individual decides as one’s identity. So, in some ways our response to the absurdity described by Camus, has been to find meaning, and a cause, within our own tribe. However, the danger is that we do not connect, like the figures in the piazza. Finding meaning in one’s identity without considering how we must relate to others and difference, risks throwing us into a post-truth world. This is a world where there is no longer a reliable means to communicate across difference in a society; where how we govern is subject to the loudest voice or most popular cause of the moment rather than tested processes, and common values of discourse.

Written by Marco Corsini


Setting creative goals in 2019

Sabotaging your new year’s resolution is almost expected.

Let’s look at setting goals in a different way.

Have you made a conscious decision to focus on your creativity this year? You might want to learn how to draw, join an art class, or produce a body of work for an exhibition. Whatever your intention, it is important to set goals and be accountable. This may not sound very “creative”, however many successful artists have goals and rigid daily routines to ensure their practise is central in their lives.

Write it down

Writing goals is something that we should be taught in school. They are so underrated and are key to achieving your dreams.

A great way to begin writing your goals is to start with the big one. What is it? To earn a living painting? Become a portraiture artist? To enter the local art exhibition? Or learn how to paint with watercolour?

Once you have established your overarching goal, you can break it down into smaller medium-term and short-term goals to see what you need to do to achieve it. This will not only make it more manageable, it will show you just how much work is involved (which might surprise you)! Use the points below to help you create your short-term goals.


Artist Joan Miró adhered to a strict daily routine. He began the day at 6:00am with rigorous exercise, then would work in the studio until midday. He then took a five-minute nap, which he called “Mediterranean yoga”, then dedicated some time to his business affairs. Miró would then return to the studio until dinnertime at 8:00pm.

Women and Bird in the Moonlight 1949 Joan Mir? 1893-1983 Purchased 1951

Structure in your day is very important if you are serious about achieving your goals. Now, most of us don’t have the luxury of spending our entire day in the studio like Miró. We have jobs, we need to pay bills, and our lives may be busy. To ensure that you dedicate some time each day to your creative goal, write out your current routine and see where you can fit in time for your craft. It may be as little as 45 minutes. This shows just how important routine is, because after we finish our compulsory daily tasks, that time in front of the TV seems appealing. It’s easy to lose days, weeks and years without really dedicating time to something you ultimately want to do!

The right information

It’s easy to suffer analysis paralysis with the multitude of books, online tutorials, art schools, techniques and advice out there. Don’t spend time absorbing mediocre information. If you are reading a book about technique and don’t like it, don’t read it.  Do your research; read the great books, attend art schools that align with your journey with quality teachers and artists. Don’t stop learning, but be selective.


This is a tough one; we can be our own worst enemy.

Only compare your work with your older work, not someone else’s. There will always be an artist who is better than you. The journey is long, and you won’t always produce work you like, but that’s part of the journey.

And what you must remember is that you have something to offer the world, too. Your journey is unique and just as important, and there are people in the world who will enjoy and want to buy your work.

You will also experience plateaus and blockages during your journey. This is normal and part of the practice – it allows for periods of creative abundance. Don’t be hard on yourself, read books like The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, listen to music you don’t normally listen to, or shake-up your daily habits (like walking around the block the opposite way).

Turn up

Artist Gerhard Richter spends weeks in his studio planning his paintings, or rearranging items in his studio, until he feels an internal crisis and need to paint. Then it pours out.

This is probably the most important lesson to take away. Turning up. Once you have written down your goals and established how much time you can dedicate to your art, you must turn up.

Picasso would spend hours standing in front of his paintings every day. Just like Richter, the act of turning up and spending time planning, reviewing and being with their work was key to their processes. Most of us don’t have the time to do this, so we must be more conscious of how we use it. Go to where you create during the time you’ve set aside and stay there the entire time. Don’t make excuses. Just go there and surround yourself with your creative tools and your work. You will eventually want to put pencil to paper. But don’t beat yourself up if this doesn’t happen for a while!

We are here to help

So, to recap:

  1. Write down your goals
  2. Establish structure
  3. Source quality educational tools and teachers
  4. Keep your mindset in check
  5. Turn up.

Melbourne Art Class offers a supportive, creative community for artists who thrive when working with other creatives. Learn new techniques and share ideas with other artists in our group classes or focus on your journey with our one-on-one tutoring. If you’re not interested or ready to join a class, we have a wealth of free resources on our blog, monthly newsletter and Facebook page.

Now it’s up to you – start writing down your goals, and make 2019 count!

Written by Lauren Ottaway.

Calculated risks and the creative life

“The greater the risk, the greater the reward”, many of us have heard this or something similar to this line multiple times. It is often assumed that those who break new ground – entrepreneurs, innovators, revolutionaries – in any field do so after exposing themselves to huge amounts of danger and uncertainty. Surprisingly, after closely examining highly creative personalities in business, sports, arts and other areas, Wharton professor and organisational psychologist Adam Grant came to a different conclusion. In his bestselling 2016 book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, Grant notes:

Originals do vary in their attitudes toward risk. Some are skydiving gamblers; others are penny-pinching germophobes. To become original, you have to try something new, which means accepting some measure of risk. But the most successful originals are not the daredevils who leap before they look. They are the ones who reluctantly tiptoe to the edge of a cliff, calculate the rate of descent, triple-check their parachutes, and set up a safety net at the bottom just in case. As Malcolm Gladwell wrote in the New Yorker, “Many entrepreneurs take plenty of risks—but those are generally the failed entrepreneurs, not the success stories.”

In other words, original thinkers and actors always carry a balanced risk portfolio. That is, if they are taking extreme risks in one arena, they will offset them with extreme caution in another. Take Bill Gates, we all know him as the “Harvard dropout”. But consider this—when Gates sold a new software programme as a sophomore, he waited an entire year before leaving school. And even then he didn’t drop out, he actually applied for a leave of absence that was formally approved by the university, and then he asked his parents to bankroll him. He was ready to go back to college if things didn’t work out.

In the realm of the arts, T S Eliot is a great example of measured risk. Hailed as one of twentieth century’s most significant poets, Eliot continued to work for a bank and later, a publishing house even after gaining wide recognition for his creativity. Far from distracting us, having some kind of stability, fixed attitude and sense of security in one area of life allows one to be freer in another. Grant continues: “By covering our bases financially, we escape the pressure to publish half-baked books, sell shoddy art, or launch untested businesses.”

So that’s about risk in the general sense, at the level of one’s profession/occupation. How much risk should one take within their creative work, particularly artists? Just how familiar or how novel can they afford to be? How can they best communicate their literary or visual narratives? In my view, Man Booker prize-winning New Zealand author Eleanor Catton has a very interesting point to make in this regard. In a Guardian article from 2014, she writes:

Creative influence can have a positive or a negative charge, either imitative (“I want to try that!”) or defiant (“I want to see that done differently”). Both kinds of influence are vital for the health of an idea. Too defiant, and the idea will be shrill; too imitative, and the idea will be safe. For me, the moment when these two charges first come together – when I connect, imaginatively, something that I love as a reader with something that I long for as a reader – is the moment the idea for a story is born.

Scene from Battleship Potemkin / Head VI, 1949, Arts Council collection, Hayward Gallery, London (Fair Use)

The space between “imitation” and “defiance” is again carefully calculated risk. The simple pursuit of what has already been tried and tested before can make one seem stale. On the other hand, being wildly unique can cause one to appear incomprehensible. It is useful, therefore, to pick up some pattern from the past that the intended audience can easily recognise and then present the narrative in a way that has never been attempted before. A small example that comes to mind here is the painter Francis Bacon, who developed a whole series of screaming mouths (in his own style) modelled after a famous image from a scene in Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 silent film Battleship Potemkin. Memorable signs, symbols and structures, however tiny, within a seemingly innovative work of art make it more accessible to the viewer/reader and reduce the likelihood of loss for the artist.

Written by Tulika Bahadur


As a teacher, at this time of year I lead a privileged life of receiving Christmas season gifts from kind students. So far this season, I have been taken to lunch by some of my class, received cards, been given homemade fruit bread and kombucha, also chocolates and panettone.

Naturally, I am honoured and grateful for the thought, but I also sometimes stop for a moment and think about the decision surrounding what it is, to give a gift. With no obligation to do so, the giver has chosen to give. I may have received a gift as someone’s teacher and perhaps there is a recognition of my striving to give in that role through the year, but regardless, when I get a gift, I believe that the giver intended that I receive it as a recognition of my value to them or as a valuing of the relationship that has been formed. And I do feel valued as a person and I do feel the relationship recognised and strengthened.

If chocolates make me feel valued and recognised  then what of everything else I have received? If I begin counting the gifts I have received since birth I have to recognise that I was born into gift. My limbs alone would count as an invaluable gift.

How much is a limb worth? I think most would agree that it is worth far more than all their possessions. Almost all of us are born with limbs and many other equally valuable physical assets. So, whilst some of us are born into wealth and some aren’t, our physical bodies alone are immensely more valuable than our material wealth, and that is not to mention every other attribute we have such as our mind and our consciousness.

We are born into gift.

When we were in the womb, we did not knit together any of our limbs.

We did not even choose the circumstances of our birth.

We did not earn what we have received because it does not originate from us.

We did not earn what we have received because it does not originate from us. Even the greatest of us with incredible achievements do not make themselves or their circumstances. They orientate themselves towards a possibility and are therefore able to receive. A runner did not make their legs, rather, they use their legs. In a way, they fully receive their legs. The more they use them, the more they fully receive their legs. If we extend this metaphor, it can get very uncomfortable for us, because the moment we see everything as gift we have to begin to question our response. And locked in with response, is responsibility.

This is all without mentioning the natural world and the contribution to that world of those who went before us. Somewhere along the line, somebody risked something to improve their own lives and the lives of their children and we are those children. All gift.

We might complain about the circumstances of our birth, about our height or the colour of our hair but if you think about it, it was all gift, a few perceived shortcomings here or there but all gift. Of the bad bits, some have even said that in hindsight it was those experiences that helped form who they were to become, and that they are grateful for that. So arguably, even the perceived shortcomings are gift.

Yes, we groan and there probably are many who at least part of the time, ‘lead lives of quiet desperation,’ but even desperation does mean we do not live in gift. A prisoner still groans for and desires freedom as the fullness of their existence. A prisoner still values what they have and seeks its fullness.

The danger of gift is that we do not recognise that it is gift. Rather we begin to see it as an entitlement. Imagine that if I as a teacher received many gifts and walked away saying to myself something like, “I earned the gift through my hard work. The gift is a reward for my hard work.”

Something has broken down in this hypothetical scenario. The intended honouring of a person and relationship has been subtly manipulated into a transaction. What was given in kindness has been received with pride. The act of giving was for the other, but this form of receiving has been for the self. The only way the receiving can be equally for the other is that it recognises the gift as a gift, not as a transaction based on entitlement.

A gift is unconditional and therefore founded in love. As with love, what is intended as an affirming of the receiver and an affirming of the relationship can be lost and even worse manipulated by an inability to recognise gift. A gift elevates and affirms while bringing together persons, but when a gift is not properly received, the gift is destroyed or used by the receiver to empower themselves, destroying the original relationship.

I think it is appropriate that we have a season where we celebrate with the giving of gifts and the birth of an obscure child in an obscure stable, a child born to be king. The obscure child reminds us of the nature of love and the nature of gift, given in the humility of a stable. The stable does not coerce us with glitz or glamour, rather it leaves us free to choose to receive.

The gifts I have recently received challenge me to recognise the many more gifts I have received through the year, many of them being people I have met. Have I recognised these gifts?

Have a wonderful Christmas break.


David Palliser – Deep Sneeze

Deep Sneeze, David Palliser

One of Australia’s most extraordinary abstract artists – David Palliser, who we are fortunate to have teaching painting and abstraction at Melbourne Art Class, is showing his new body of work – Deep Sneeze – at Hunger Rozario in Fitzroy for the month of June.

“It’s been 4 years since I’ve had a solo painting show in Melbourne. Much has evolved and surprised me in the studio since then and I’m looking forward immensely to getting this work onto the walls of my new gallery Hunger Rozario. Hope you can come in and have a look over the course of the exhibition.” – David Palliser

For more information, please see the Hunger Rozario website. If you get a chance to go to the exhibition (which we highly encourage), we hope you enjoy it!

Exhibition dates: June 1 to June 30
Times: Tuesday – Friday: 10.00am-5.00pm, Saturday: 12.00pm-4.00pm and by appointment
Location: 143 Bunswick Street, Fitzroy