Cultural Performance Indicators? Adding Value in Australian Social

Cultural Performance
Adding value in Australian social research on visual arts
Duncan McKay
PhD Candidate, Edith Cowan University
[email protected]
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. This paper seeks to examine some recent approaches to cultural production
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 brief consideration of empirical data and research methods associated
with my PhD research concerning the working lives of visual artists in Western
Australia. I will 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 reflect on my own research methods in order
to suggest some possible opportunities to develop a better understanding of the
workings of cultural value, with implications for the measurements and evaluations in
much Australian social research concerning artists.
Key Words: Australian Arts and Cultural Research,
Cultural Values, Indicators, Visual Artists
Cultural Policy Indicators
“They are expected to be utilised not only to measure
the realisation of policy objectives but also when
defining those objectives in terms of particular
achievement targets. The indicators are intended to
help in increasing both economic efficiency and political
accountability. The model is based on the assumption
that indicators build up confidence in public institutions
and enhance democracy by making public policy inputs,
outputs and outcomes visible to everybody and open to
debate.” (Karttunen, 2012,4)
Cultural Performance Indicators?
 Distinctive observable attributes, products or
performances of individual artists that researchers
have taken to be markers of certain less visible
cultural values.
“Variables that stand as proxies may always be seen as
imperfect substitutes for the real but unknown quantity
being measured; a given quantity may be proxied by
more than one indicator, and a given indicator may
serve to represent more than one quantity.” (Throsby,
Cultural Performance Indicators
 Sometimes indicators are identified prior to the collection of
data, eg for the purpose of defining a research sample.
 Sometimes indicators are identified within already collected
data as providing evidence of values not specifically sought in
the design of the research instrument.
 Indicators can be used as a means to create dichotomous
categories, such as distinguishing between an artist and a
 Indicators can also be used to index various cultural values
along a single dimension, such as providing a measure of
relative artistic excellence.
Illustrative Examples
 Anderson, P. (2001). Working Paper No. 8:
Professional accreditation for visual arts and craft
practitioners Visual Arts Industry Guidelines
Research Project: National Association for the
Visual Arts.
 Throsby, D. (2006). An artistic production function:
Theory and an application to Australian visual
artists. Journal of Cultural Economics, 30(1), 1-14.
doi: 10.1007/s10824-005-9001-4
Culture: Two Different Views
from the Sociology of Art
Structural Model of the Field of Cultural Production – Pierre
Bourdieu (1996)
An hierarchical space (field) in which individual artists (and
their works) compete for more or less dominant positions,
conceived in terms of the distribution of various forms of
Art as Collective Action, Art Worlds – Howard S. Becker (1982)
Art as the practical outcome of the combined social
interactions of all the individuals who must work together in
an art world in order to get things done to the optimal
satisfaction of all.
“Habitus”, “Convention” and the
Cultural “Situation” of Individuals
Three parts to a social actor’s engagement in
 Systems of Perception
 Systems of Social Practice
 These interrelated systems given by previous social
experience and cultural background
 Cultural agency: Cultural perception and cultural
production are intrinsically linked within specific
contexts and situations. (Becker, 1982,1995: Bourdieu,
1996: Znaniecki, 1969)
On Cultural Measurement…
 Cultural values are derived from nested, layered,
contextual and multiple systems of value (Znaniecki,
1965, 53).
 We should actively interrogate the things we measure
and the means by which they are measured.
 We should consider that the issue may be with the
“equation” rather than the measure.
Cultural Performance Indicators:
Creating Dichotomous Categories
Indicators based on Artists’ Activities in Four Areas
(Anderson, 2001,23)
Education, Training and Qualifications
Professional Practice
Employment, Occupation and Business
Peer Recognition
Cultural Performance Indicators:
Indexes/scales of Cultural Value
Measuring Quality of Artistic Output
 Using “independent evidence on the the level of an artists’
professional standing as a means of assessing the quality of
that artists’ work.” (Throsby,2006,4)
 Surveyed artists “nominating one [of the following] as their
most important achievement could be seen as having
achieved particular recognition by their profession”.
 Had a one person show at a major gallery (public or
 Had a work or works selected for exhibition at a major
 Had a work purchased or commissioned by a public gallery or
Some problems with these
 Assumption of a model of human social behaviour and
interaction drawn from neo-classical economics, in which the
universally conceived social entity depicted is not culturally
 Definitions and classifications are not established through
criteria that respond to necessary and sufficient conditions
based on research, thus compromising the “representation”
achieved by survey research.
 Other sources and kinds of social data could be considered, in
which social and cultural values are accessible and social
actors and their cultural products are culturally situated.
Education, Training and
 Professional Practising Artist – Completed Degree,
Diploma, Certificate IV, Certificate III, Completion of 4
year Honours Degree, Masters Degree or PhD. (plus
practice experience)
(Anderson, 2001,24)
Education, Training and
Qualifications… Cultural Values
 Access to the “professional” art world may have at least
as much to do with relationships (with staff, other
students and the industry) established during education,
as it has to do with the course of study undertaken.
 This situation also implies that the indication of
“professional attainment” of a degree or other
qualification, as a cultural value, from one institution is
not necessarily equivalent to that from another.
Major Galleries… Cultural Values
 The term “Major Gallery” is “… well understood in the
Australian visual arts and craft sector to denote a high
standard of professional quality” (Throsby,2006,13)
 Exhibiting work at a “Major Gallery” is indicative of a
“distinctive degree of excellence in the artists’
work”.(Throsby, 2006,4)
 Is the concept of a “Major Gallery,” when “understood”
by Western Australian artists, indicating the same set of
cultural values as artists in other Australian states
“understand” it to be referring to?
Two “Major Galleries” in WA,
Measures from a study of CVs for
354 WA Artists
Distribution of total exhibition activities between two WA Art Galleries in the
Combined CV Data for 17 WA Commercial Gallery Cohorts
Art Gallery
Gallows Gallery
Boranup Gallery
Linton & Kay Gallery
Gadfly Gallery
Greenhill Galleries
Gallery 360
Elements Gallery
Stafford Studios
Gomboc Gallery
Jahroc Gallery
Gallery East
Perth Galleries
Goddard de Fiddes
Turner Galleries
Galerie Dusseldorf
Moores Building, Fremantle
1 17 10 19 11 24 16 10 21 33 12 18 14 40 57
Perth Institute of Contemporary
8 13 20 31 65 97
Total Activities in Data for
LK Contemporary Gallery
No. Artists in Gallery Cohort:
Two “Major Galleries” in WA…
 Each of these galleries may arguably be considered a
“Major Gallery” by some Western Australian visual
artists if they were asked to respond to a survey
 Patterns of distribution of exhibition activity in artists’
CVs for these two galleries suggests the differing
significance that these venues seem to have for
different groups of Western Australian artists.
 A further level of distinction relating to artistic
“excellence” is derived from the very different ways
that these venues are programmed.
Cultural Performance Indicators:
Culturally Situated Data
“…many, perhaps most, verbal statements combine the
character of social instruments with that of symbolic
expression of the subject’s experiences and
observations. On the one hand, we have seen that
statements of fact often involve valuations which are
manifestations of practical attitudes, and as such
constitute observable sociological data… On the other
hand, speech or writing openly intended as verbal social
activity usually contains theoretic information which
can be used as reliable second-hand material…”
Cultural Performance Indicators:
Approaches to Meaningful
“The quantitative data on [film] credits by freelancers
uncovered a deeply etched pattern of inequality, but
the meaning to freelancers remained unclear. The
“hollow curve” indicated that something was going on,
but not what that something was as experienced as
freelancers. The obvious implication was to work from
both kinds of data, blending methodologies so as to
compensate for the weakness of each and thereby
extend the insights of each”. (Faulkner,1982,89)
Cultural Performance Indicators:
 Cultural Performance Indicators should be the subject of
rigorous inquiry before they are deployed as markers of
cultural values in the context of large scale quantitative
research informing the development of Cultural Policy
 There are sources of data available that are potentially able
to offer the researcher some level of access to contextual and
cultural values, that can aid in developing an understanding
of artists’ work that is culturally situated.
 There is demonstrable scope for qualitative and quantitative
approaches to cultural research and measurement to work
together effectively, each “compensat[ing] for the
weaknesses of the other.” (Faulkner,1982,89)
Anderson, P. (2001). Working Paper No. 8: Professional accreditation for visual arts and craft
practitioners Visual Arts Industry Guidelines Research Project: National Association for
the Visual Arts.
Becker, H. S. (1995). The power of inertia. Qualitative Sociology, 18(3).
Becker, H. S. (2008). Art worlds: 25th anniversary edition, updated and expanded.
Berkeley: University of California Press.
Bourdieu, P. (1996). The rules of art: Genesis and structure of the literary field (S.
Emmanuel, Trans.). Cambridge: Polity Press.
Faulkner, R. R. (1982). Improvising on a Triad. In J. Van Maanen, J. M. Dabbs Jnr & R. R.
Faulkner (Eds.), Varieties of Qualitative Research (pp. 65-101). Beverley Hills: Sage
Karttunen, S. (2012). Cultural policy indicators: Reflections on the role of official
statisticians in the politics of data collection. Cultural Trends, 1-15. doi:
Throsby, D. (2006). An artistic production function: Theory and an application to Australian
visual artists. Journal of Cultural Economics, 30(1), 1-14. doi: 10.1007/s10824-0059001-4
Znaniecki, F. (1934). The method of sociology. New York: Farrar & Rinehart.
Znaniecki, F. (1965). Social relations and social roles: The unfinished systematic sociology.
San Francisco: Chandler Publishing Company.
Znaniecki, F. (1969). Methodological note. In R. Bierstedt (Ed.), On humanistic sociology:
Selected papers (pp. 53-124). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

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