From Will Owen:

Having stayed at home this year, I don’t have much of substance to say about the 26th National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards that hasn’t already been said elsewhere. I’ve never been terribly fond of winner Danie Mellor’s style; personally it’s too fuzzy and too cute for my taste. But I don’t have much patience for the protests that break out every time someone like Mellor or Richard Bell wins the award, complete with suggestions that there ought maybe to be two awards so that we can recognize “traditional” artists every year and not lump “urban” artists in with the “Aboriginal” artists. And if you really have problems with a blue-eyed winner, I’m sure you can reach Andrew Bolt at the Herald Sun for companionship and commiseration.

Plus, I have to admit that my attention was distracted a little by the arrival in the mail of catalogues from the Art Gallery of Western Australia from the 2008 and 2009 Western Australian Indigenous Art Awards.

If NATSIAA began as “a few tinnies and a pissup,” a party for the artists that has grown into an institution, perhaps the WA award had a loftier (if not necessarily worthier) genesis. Writing in the inaugural catalog essay in 2008, Susan Lowish of the University of Melbourne pondered the problem of establishing an Indigenous aesthetic. Echoing Eric Michaels’ question of twenty years earlier, Lowish wonders how we distinguish good Aboriginal art from bad, how we incorporate the meaning invested in these works by the artists themselves into a set of judgements about their quality.

As Lowish points out, it is a vexed question, and never more so than in the context of an awards program, be it WA’s, the NATSIAA, or the now sadly defunct Xstrata Emerging Indigenous Art Award.