Editor's note

Over the past few years arts coverage in newspapers and magazines has been shrinking. Staff cuts have hit arts journalism hard, with expert writers and critics disappearing in alarming numbers. Yet considered criticism is vital to the health of many art forms. An informed critic can explain and contextualise a work, contributing to its appreciation and to our wider cultural conversations.

At The Conversation, we are working to help fill this gap. Our national team of specialist arts critics have decades of experience in their fields – visual art, theatre, film, music, to name just a few – and are given the space and freedom to write at length.

Our focus is on new Australian work in particular. We believe our nation’s cultural offerings deserve serious attention, for the insight, provocation, originality, energy and sheer pleasure they can bring. As theatre historian Julian Meyrick, one of our regular commentators, has put it, arts criticism is “an identifier and definer of national identity”.

Today, Sasha Grishin offers a nuanced review of a major exhibition of Ben Quilty’s work at the Art Gallery of South Australia. Quilty, at 45, is a passionate, prolific artist, known for his engagement with issues such as the plight of refugees, the impact of war and the death penalty. His works are exuberant and urgent, writes Grishin, but there is a sameness to these “huge slabs of oil paint”.

Another of our regular writers, Joanna Mendelssohn, is a former winner of the prestigious Pascall Prize for Australian “critic of the year”. In this superb essay, she considers the fate of artist Nora Heysen, the first woman to win the Archibald Prize, who continued to be overshadowed by her more famous father throughout her lifetime.

Australia’s creative minds are tackling some of the nation’s most pressing moral questions. Our coverage of the Perth Festival recently wrapped up with Stephen Chinna’s review of Speechless, a new opera by composer Cat Hope that is a response to the Australian Human Rights Commission’s 2014 report into children in immigration detention. And as The Adelaide Festival continues, Julian Meyrick will review Manus, a piece of agit-prop theatre in which interviews with Iranian asylum seekers in limbo on Manus and Nauru are relayed verbatim by a cast of actors. On a different note, look out this week for our reviews of Arbus & West, a new play from Australian playwright Stephen Sewell, and Two Feet, a work by acclaimed Australian dancer and choreographer Meryl Tankard.

At a time of widespread disillusion, our artists continue to surprise and delight us – and ask the hard questions. We hope you enjoy reading about their work, and that our critical engagement enhances the relevance and urgency of their art.

Suzy Freeman-Greene

Section Editor: Arts + Culture

Top story

Installation view: Quilty featuring Pancreatitis (Kenny), The Last Supper (Bottom Feeder) and Farewell virginity by Ben Quilty, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2019. Photo: Grant Handcock.

A noisy, passionate show from an artist in a hurry, Quilty has just one emotional pitch

Sasha Grishin, Australian National University

Ben Quilty is the next big thing in Australian art. Will he be allowed - and will he allow himself - to explore and find his true potential as an artist?

The journalist in the XY case covered traumatic cases such as that of Arthur Freeman, who threw his daughter Darcey off West Gate Bridge. Joe Castro/AAP

Media companies on notice over traumatised journalists after landmark court decision

Matthew Ricketson, Deakin University; Alexandra Wake, RMIT University

In a landmark ruling by a Victorian court, a former Age journalist has successfully sued for damages after consistently covering traumatic cases in her job.

Politics + Society

Health + Medicine

  • Are you at risk of being diagnosed with gestational diabetes? It depends on where you live

    Rae Thomas, Bond University; Clare Heal, James Cook University; Julia Lowe, University of Newcastle

    Sarah and Donna are 26 weeks pregnant and have the same blood sugar levels. But while Donna is diagnosed with gestational diabetes, Sarah is spared from the label. It comes down to where she lives.

  • Curious Kids: how much does a brain weigh?

    David Farmer, Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health

    An adult brain weighs about 1.5kg. It's mostly water with some fat, protein, sugar and a dash of salt. Sounds like pancakes, I know, but I once tried chicken brains and, well, pancakes are tastier.


Science + Technology

Environment + Energy

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Business + Economy

Arts + Culture



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