This study offers an analysis of Brisbane’s art world through the lens of artists’ groups operating in the city between 1940 and 1970. It argues that in the absence of more extensive or well-developed art institutions, artists’ groups played a crucial role in the growth of Brisbane’s art world. Rather than focusing on an examination of ideas about art or assuming the inherently ‘philistine’ and ‘provincial’ nature of Brisbane’s art world, the thesis examines the nature of the city’s main art institutions, including facilities for art education, the art market, conservation and collection of art, and writing about art. Compared to the larger Australian cities, these dimensions of the art world remained relatively underdeveloped in Brisbane, and it is in this context that groups such as the Royal Queensland Art Society, the Half Dozen Group of Artists, the Younger Artists’ Group, Miya Studios, St Mary’s Studio, and the Contemporary Art Society Queensland Branch provided critical forms of institutional support for artists.
Brisbane’s art world began to take shape in 1887 when the Queensland Art Society was founded, and in 1940, as the Royal Queensland Art Society, it was still providing guidance for a small art world struggling to define itself within the wider network of Australian art. Increasingly, however, new groups began to emerge, dissatisfied with the Society’s role in the context of the growing presence of ‘modern’ or modernist art. The period between 1940 and 1970 was characterised by dynamic growth in Brisbane’s art world and artists’ groups provided the leadership necessary to bring about lasting change as it progressed toward modernity.
A great deal of art history is written around the creativity and dynamism of avant-garde artists’ groups which are seen as harbingers of change and the main drivers of progress in modern art. Much less has been written about the role of non-revolutionary, community artists’ groups, especially in underdeveloped art worlds and their progress towards building a mature, institutionally-rich art scene. Using Brisbane as its case study, this thesis argues that such groups have an essential role in sustaining and expanding art practice, art training, art appreciation and an art market.
By examining the infrastructure of Brisbane’s art world, and using social network analysis strategies such as “weak ties” and the diffusion of innovations to understand why the Brisbane art world lagged behind more developed art worlds, this thesis provides a more nuanced view of regional art worlds, and a fuller explanation of the role artists’ groups have within those art worlds. Non-avant-garde artists’ groups “till the soil”, cultivating cultural landscapes, and by encouraging many to engage in the practice of art making, they are continuously preparing and repairing the fabric of art worlds.