An Introduction to New Zealand Painting

Thank you for Francis Pound's thoughtful review of An Introduction to New Zealand Painting. It made a welcome change from the self-serving trivia to which this revised edition has been treated elsewhere. However, since Art New Zealand is a journal of record as much as anything else, there are some points I would like to make. I agree with Pound's fundamental premise about the work; revised edition or not, it is a work which belongs to 1967 and it wears the assumptions of that time. So it should. When Gordon Brown and I began to write the book, some 27 years separated it from any predecessor. There was no more recent attempt to provide some orderly account of New Zealand's post-settlement visual art than that fine and pioneering account of Eric McCormick's; Art and Letters in New Zealand. And worthy as that attempt was, art took very much a second place to letters and by later editions had disappeared from the work entirely. Other than McCormick's essay the only earlier chronology was the catalogue to the centennial exhibition of 1940. Not the least influence on my decision to write An Introduction (I cannot speak for Gordon Brown) was the reprinting of the centennial catalogue essay (with minimal additions) as the entry on art in the 1966 official Encyclopaedia of New Zealand. As Pound allows, we had little in the way of models in our attempt to impose some order on a mass of work and experience. We had, of course, the useful examples of the catalogues of Una Platts, published by the Auckland City Art Gallery from 1956, and the methodology of Peter Tomory. In those days art history was not the academic industry it has since become, but a subject barely acknowledged as an adjunct to the 'real art' activity of the two art schools. For that reason the book was not presented as any definitive history but only as an introduction that it has remained. In the first edition, in subsequent reprintings, and in this current edition, Brown and I have made clear our belief that the subject of New Zealand art since 1958 required a volume of its own. (Initially this cunning caution was designed to allow for the writing of a companion volume doing just that.) Such a work is desperately needed and no amount of art gallery publication or anthologising can remedy that gap in the literature of New Zealand art. Much of the criticism levelled at the revised edition of An Introduction has quite dishonestly suggested the book pretended to be something it is not. This may serve the needs of some curatorial orthodoxy, or that curious view that strips art of meaning or relevance to time and place in order to make a case for 'internationalism': but it adds nothing to our knowledge of our own culture.


Originally published in Art New Zealand 26 Autumn 1983