Patrick McCaughey, former director of the National Gallery of Victoria and the Yale Centre for British Art, has kindly allowed his letter protesting the slashing of art history from La Trobe to the Vice Chancellor of La Trobe university to be published.
Some colleagues have contacted me recently about the possible closing of the art history program at La Trobe University. If this is the case, I write now to urge you to re-consider the matter.
Everybody would recognize that times are tough for Australian universities in general and for the humanities in particular. Having to close down good academic programs and limiting the offerings of the university must be an unpleasant aspect of academic administration. You have my sympathy.
The discipline of art history in Australia in general is practiced at a particularly high level amongst the humanities. It is no intellectual slum and its graduates find a surprising number of vocational opportunities to put their academic knowledge to good practical use in educational institutions, the art market, journalism and in the ever proliferating public art museums and galleries across the country. The soundness of Australian art historical scholarship, its originality and its robust connections to museums and galleries and to artists in the field have given it international distinctiveness. It has made a substantial contribution to the wider culture beyond the groves of academe.
Whether it treats of Australian art, both that of indigenous people or that of white settlement, or takes European or Asian topics, Australian art historians work at a level indistinguishable from their counterparts in Britain or the USA. This is all the more remarkable given the distance from cultural sites and sources. Indeed Australian art historians frequently surprise scholars at major institutions overseas with the quality and liveliness of their scholarship.
These generalizations about the discipline can be readily applied to art history at La Trobe since its founding by Professor Peter Tomory four decades ago. I have always regarded the La Trobe art historians as a rather a formidable group with a track record of major publications behind therm. It seems a terrible shame and an intellectual injustice to disband a discipline which has contributed so notably to the reputation of La Trobe University and made such a substantial contribution to Australian artistic and intellectual life. I do hope you will re-consider the issue.
Remember to sign the petition protesting the cuts here.
Disclaimer: Lisa Beaven is one of the directors of the Melbourne Art Network and also a lecturer in the Art History department at La Trobe. Her partner David Marshall is also a director of the Melbourne Art Network.