Sunday, 8 November 2009


The following is a transcript of Rowley Drysdale's thoughtful and funny as hell presentation at the Ceramics Triantiwontigongalope in Sydney this year.

Value of Exhbn- educational and didactic
Research by Quixotica Artspace- specialists in statistic free research
This is the last session of the conference, and you would by now have heard a lot of opinion, not necessarily truth. So I am going to simply deliver the results of this survey which, I will add, was conducted at considerable expense.
I’m pretty sure a good number of you here today will identify with at least some of the feedback this organisation has received regarding the value of exhibitions.
I will summarise these results briefly. I am going to begin by encapsulating the results of this research in one single sentence.
(Image one includes this entire paragraph)
Exhibitions graphically illustrate the masochistic, gambling, quixotic nature of ceramic artists (Image 1) quixotic: 1.taking on impossible odds with little regard to likely outcome or 2. (Ceramics) irrational economic aspirations accompanied by monosyllabic peer group commentary and little or no institutional criticism or regard.
That’s the assertion. Let me extrapolate.
I need to make clear these comments pertain more to individual solo and small group exhibitions, the like of which feature prominently in this triennalie.
Our research reveals ‘Blockbuster’ exhibitions like those you find in national and state galleries, and museums of modern art, need less explanation. They are predominantly “educapitalist” and are funded by your taxes. (Image 2) educapitalist: gained via events claiming educational status 2. (Ceramics) exhibitions with admission charges, usually featuring dead painter’s works
These blockbusters are supportive of a pyramidal network headed up by politicians and bureaucrats and also include, in no particular order of importance, security staff, storeman, packers , cleaners, a few living artists, and even fewer ceramic artists dead or alive.
However blockbusters do possess a strong pulse. Some research indicates they have benefited from a type of fiscal pacemaker with questionable sustainability, but inevitably they do come packaged in nice air conditioned buildings. (Image 3) sustainable: 1. durable economic growth 2. (Ceramic) archaic, quixotic aspiration
Enough about that genre, instead let’s scrutinise that phenomenon known as the solo exhibition.
Several respondents to this core research question replied in a manner more akin to a Monday morning police prosecutor faced with a courtroom full of drink drivers and footballers.

In their own words respondents were asked to list the problems exhibitions posed to artists.
They alleged the following:
1. Even before you load your clay and minerals into your hire purchase ute, or unregistered trailer, you pay the ceramics supplies shop
2. you then buy gas, electricity and wood
3. you turn down a real job, or take a whole lot of leave without pay
4. you then become antisocial for a few months
5. You veer towards divorce, disinheritance or just getting dropped
6. You hold back vast amounts of stock knowing you should in fact be widening market exposure
7. You turn your hand to being an events promoter, a designer, a packer, a courier
8. You go halves on opening night costs
9. 100 people get more than half pissed at that opening
10. Then you lose half of your sales on commission
11. The gallery takes six months to pay while they trade on the short term money market, or make purchases on the secondary art market
12. You wait around for a review
13. You then pay someone to pack the unsold pots, and pay return freight costs
14. You then get asked....(Image 4)How was the exhibition, what was the name of the gallery?

But today the question before this panel is the educational and didactic value of exhibitions. If like many of the respondents, you don’t throw the word ‘didactic’ into every second sentence allow us to be didactic and inform you it means, according to Microsoft word: (Image 5)1. with message Containing a political or moral message 2. fond of instructing or advising others Tending to give instruction or advice, even when it is not welcome or not needed

Therefore this research organisation, given its statistic-free policy, feels less inclined to comment on the educational and didactic, but more the social value of exhibitions.
Before doing so, it does seem important to note that an exhibition would have to be educational in that it would educate the uneducated viz those who have never seen your work before, little alone contemplated buying it.
Some respondents commented that an exhibition could be seen as an anthology of short stories, each part of it containing a narrative of methodology, material and maker’s intent. Better shows may even contain an over arching theme, connecting character and event, a bit like that great potter Tim Winton.
More evidence of exhibition’s educational value might also be found in educational institutions.
Graduate exhibitions (Image6: Sunshine Coast TAFE graduate exhibition) was cited by most respondents as being a particularly useful teaching and learning outcome.
Better graduate shows might demonstrate to family, friends and sundry creditors that participants have indeed gained technical and conceptual skills, and have communicated these artistically enough to deserve some patronage. This does the confidence and bank balance of graduates considerable good.
Finally, let’s return to the social value of exhibitions. All respondents, from ceramic artist to those tossers who normally can’t say a singularly intelligent thing about ceramic art, unanimously agreed exhibitions provide a pivotal point for the industry. (Image 7) pivotal: vitally important, especially in determining the outcome, progress, or success of something.
They act as a gathering point and not only as an excuse for a piss up.
One respondent colourfully compared exhibitions to the gathering of a tribe; exhibitions were essentially the campfire around which clansmen and clanswomen gathered.
When they did that, they enjoyed a sense of belonging, they enjoyed the stories that both the people and the art told.
It is not the point of this research to conclude didactically. However a few respondents did venture to outline best case scenarios regarding solo exhibitions. This company compiled a word picture and we have described it as accurately as we can.
Picture this
A well lit gallery, a boozy capacity crowd happily talking up a storm, the occasional shrill peel of laughter, beautiful work beautifully displayed....a sea of red dots.

A full transcript of this report can be purchased from its author at the conclusion of this session.