Art Essays

Newsletter 266

Published December 22, 2018
Journalism today

Judith Neilson’s $100 million Christmas present to Australian journalism could hardly come along at a more crucial time. The recent “merger” between Fairfax and Channel Nine has set everyone on edge as to what will happen to those vestiges of quality jourmalism that remain in the Australian press. We’ve declined a long way over the past decade or two, with the rise of social media assisting the tabloidisation of the print media. In 1988 my weekly art column was 3,000 words. It’s shrunk by degrees until today it’s a tick over 1,000 words.

Admittedly 3,000 words was excessive, but 1,500 would be nice. I can’t bring myself to write any more about the travails of art criticism, which is becoming an ever more marginal literary form. The real worry is the decline in investigative reporting and the reliance on cribbing news from press releases and last night’s TV programs. It’s kind of sad when the Sydney Morning Heraldboasts about Kate McClymont as their “investigative journalist”. Not so long ago almost everyonewas an investigative journalist. There are very few of those experienced hands still working at the papers today, although the ones that do remain are first class. The SMHstill has its stalwarts. The Australianwould be a better paper if it relied more on its journalists and less on its opinion mongers – the Fox News model that the Murdochs seem to favour.

Judith Neilson has stated that her proposed Institute of Journalism will have no political or ideological agenda. This may be an impossible goal because journalism is written by flawed, opinionated people, but it’s a principal worth defending.

The entire enterprise is almost unique example of a wealthy Australian putting their money behind their convictions. It’s hard to imagine most of our billionaires giving a dollar to journalism unless it was to ensure favourable comment on their business ventures. The size of the Neilson bequest is startling enough, but if it’s truly disinterested that’s a latter-day miracle.

This week’s film review picks up on the thorny issue of truth in politics, which is one of the flash points of jourmalism today. Adam McKay’s Viceis a devastating portrait of Dick Cheney, the man most responsible for the Gulf War and numerous other atrocities, when he served as Vice President under the bird-brained George W. Bush.

There’s an obvious warning to viewers about another corrupt incumbent, and the consequences of putting too much power in the hands of one man.

Cheney is an utterly colourless character, which poses a problem for Christian Bale who has been beefed up and balded to play this role. It’s a remarkable transformation.

More remarkable transformations are discussed in the art column, looking at the NGV’s Summer blockbuster, Escher X nendo, in which the work of M.C.Escher is presented in a futuristic display designed by Japanese firm, nendo. Once again the NGV has shown itself to be a world leader in exhibition design. I doubt if viewers will have seen anything, anywhere that resembles this show. It not only encourages us to engage more deeply with Escher’s cerebral prints and drawings, it allows us to journey through 3D versions of them. The process is the very opposite of contemporary journalism, where we’re in danger of losing a dimension.