Section 3 - Notes on YES and NO
3.0 Why can you see daylight through Ned Kellyís helmet? Because Ned Kelly has become the name of a thing.
3.1 Take Sydney Nolan, the Australian mid-to-late twentieth century painter, and his Ned Kelly paintings. How are they Australian art? What do these paintings imitate? What is the thing that came before the paintings? The folk history of Ned Kelly? Horses? Australian desert? Nineteenth century things? Pictures of all of these are in the paintings. That is, copies of these objects are in the paintings. All of these things came before the painting, that is, they existed in the Australian world before Sydney Nolan took them up, but his taking them up in his paintings did not make the paintings art.
3.2 What Australian thing did Nolan mean when he said: ď The abstract square is a symbol which has been floating around in modern art for some time: all I did was put a neck on the square.Ē
3.3 What is the significance of the rapidity of these works, in that they are a big group done in a short time? What is the meaning of the naÔve style, with its skewed angles? And conspicuous Ripolin paint? We are being drawn as much into the ways and means and logic of painting as we are into something Australian.
3.4 Why are these aspects of the works easily overlooked? Why do they not assert themselves as primary, as highest in the meaning of the pictures? It is because of invisibility of art and the pull of nationalism, the hunger for there to be Australian art. A familiar narrative here (the recognition of skull-size, say) wraps an already-read around a strange one.
3.5 Why does modernismís allegory of discordance in these paintings, the equivalence of Kellyís and paintingís lawlessness, never get discussed? Never get fully seen? Again, it appears that this reading is flattened in the gravity of the clamour for national things.
3.6 Nolanís is Australian art just as the Sydney Opera House is Australian architecture. Why does this correct equivalence seem queer? Is the Opera House the imitation of the harbour and the objects in and on it, or are they now the imitation?
3.7 Nolanís is Australian art but it is in the service of, it is a stage-setting of, the story of painting. Did Nolan imitate anything with this art? There are two answers. No: his was an original representation and it became ĎAustralian artí, it named something recognisable, after he had painted, and not before. Yes; his paintings took up the character and tragi-comedy of an Australian folk-narrative.
3.8 †But this imitation was not an accurate report upon experience. Nolan did not experience Ned Kelly out there with sky in his square head.