A new study seeks to pinpoint which of us like what, and why we like what we do.

A third of all Australians have no connection with the visual arts whatsoever according to a new survey by Western Sydney University. And although we possess highly disparate cultural interests, an individual’s age, class, ethnicity and level of education are, perhaps unsurprisingly, key in shaping cultural preferences.

Funded by the Australian Research Council, the survey was taken to a nationally representative sample of over 1,200 Australians. It was further augmented by boost samples for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, Italian, Lebanese, Chinese, and Indian Australians. The survey sought out a range of opinions on Australian and international art and artists, alongside questions measuring ‘tastes’ for art and art galleries. As a control, similar questions were posed with respect to television programmes and media personalities, music and literature, sporting activities, and heritage pursuits.

Lead investigator Professor Tony Bennett says the results help clarify which demographics are most interested in the visual arts. “This survey provides an unprecedented level of detail about who visits different kinds of galleries, and how these patterns relate to favourite art genres and artists,” he explains. By mapping the results onto different social backgrounds, “the survey has provided a new, detailed analysis of what divides the art tastes of contemporary Australians.”

Perhaps the most challenging finding that Professors Bennett and Modesto Gayo have come across is the fact that approximately a third of all Australians enjoy absolutely no involvement in the visual arts, and that level of education and social class chiefly determine individual taste. Those who are tertiary educated and belong to the professional and middle classes are more involved in the art world, as well as preferring different kinds of art from most other Australians.

The study also found that men and women tend to have similar tastes, especially where they share similar levels of education and class. However, women are significantly more likely to visit art museums and purchase books on art. Furthermore, older and younger Australians have markedly differing cultural interests. While younger Australians prefer pop and abstract art, their elders appreciate landscapes and Renaissance works more. Finally, respected Australian impressionists like Tom Roberts turn out to have relatively little appeal to Indigenous and migrant Australians.

Professor Bennett believes that the survey provokes relevant questions regarding the role of the arts in conversations about increasing levels of inequality in Australia. “It also provides gallery directors and curators with helpful information in seeking to make the arts more accessible to all Australians,” he says. 

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