Sunday, April 26, 2015

Ann Elias on Flowers and Australian Art

Cover of Ann Elias, Useless Beauty (2015)
Art historian Ann Elias, Associate Professor of Theoretical Enquiry at the Sydney College of the Arts, The University of Sydney AU, is well-known for her writings on art and camouflage. Now she has produced a book (see cover above) about aspects of the significance of the representation of flowers in art, and especially Australian art. Titled Useless Beauty: Flowers and Australian Art (UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015), go online here to find out more. Below are two recent statements about this thoughtful, interesting book.

Professor Ted Snell, AM CitWA, Director, Cultural Precinct, University of Western Australia—

Ann Elias convincingly argues for the "useless beauty" of flowers and their significance in constructing a comprehensive and inclusive record of the art of Australia. Dancing elegantly through history to elucidate the role of flowers in imparting complex narratives of social life, celebrations, remembrance, attitudes to death, notions of gender, sexuality and cultural difference, she covers a wide territory with elegance and precision. Underlying her thesis is a deeper question about beauty and whether there is value in attending to its undoubted allure when making art, about flowers or anything else. The many illustrations prove her point.

Professor Su Baker, Director, Victorian College of the Arts (VCA), University of Melbourne—

Who would think the flower painting genre could tell such a dynamic history of western art and elucidate the contradictions, social and political conditions of Australian culture. Through this clear and very readable account of the flower painting traditions in Australia, Ann Elias reveals the way these forms of "useless beauty" give us insights into the moral and aesthetic polemics, the anxieties, desire, ambitions and aspirations of Australasian art and culture. This book takes us on a journey through the 20th century, recalling the roots of European traditions, the measures of taste and beauty that were dominant allegories for good living. Elias outlines the gendered political separation of art (useless beauty) and science, the true nature of things.  All the more surprising is that artists such as Tom Roberts, George Lambert, Hans Heysen and Arthur Streeton gave such serious attention to the motif of the flower. We hear from Elias her rich insight and the many examples of the work of these heroic Australian painters, and see the care with which they attended to these gentle subjects.