Further to my earlier reflection:
There is a lot of second-rate tourist-art around. Aboriginal desert art can be produced to a formula, and as long as it has the acceptable pattern of dots and makes use of some recognisable symbols it seems to be marketable. It is still bad art, or at best, mediocre. (which is really the same thing.)
We have, however, seen some wonderful and exciting art that builds upon the tradition and goes well beyond it. The colours are often brilliant, and full of energy, and it seems to me that the truly great indigenous artists have an innate sense of colour and composition.
That said, there are clearly gallery owners and dealers who are working closely with “stables” of artists, and are in effect coaching them according to what they know to be marketable. Statements such as “I’m trying to get so-and-so to do this in blue,’ rolled of the tongue of one dealer. Many dealers provide artists with workshop space, along with materials, and advise them as they work – eg. more of these, a big one of that, and can we have it in green.
Artists have always been open to doing their work as commissions, and court painters in the past have painted according to the desires of their patrons, so I guess that this in nothing new; but it does trouble me a little.
We have been in Alice Springs for three days, and have seen some great paintings. Some work by established artists (largely unknown to me) have taken my eye, and when we have enquired, we discover that they are priced accordingly, (one superb painting (probably about 180 x 120 cm.) was priced at $18,000). But there have been other very fine works by lesser known artists, some of which were priced very modestly, with some excellent smaller works under $1000. If only we hadn’t done the transmission on our way up!