Review: NGV Studio’s First Thursdays

In my experience, any literary panel is spent half the time picturing how great it is to live the writer’s life. It usually starts off with brushing over the toil that went into every aching moment of rejection, skipping past to that wondrous day of getting the right call, or getting that fellowship they always wanted. Sitting in the audience, I marvel at these literary idols, brainstorming the right ‘to do’ lists to get ‘where I want to be’. A flurry of self-doubt, inadequacy, and welcome self-flagellation rightly ensues, when ambition and my actual work doesn’t necessarily meet on the same level.

So it was refreshing to see this avoided at NGV Studio’s First Thursdays panel. A new initiative introduced this year, First Thursdays is a series of panel discussions revolving around emerging artists, and what it is to be one (practically). This ties in with NGV Studio’s ethos, developed by Curator, David Hurlston’s promotion of younger, more experimental art illustrated no doubt, by the Top Arts 2013 exhibition currently on show.

This is a first for the Gallery, shifting the Top Arts program to the dedicated Studio in contrast to the Ian Potter showcases of previous years. Judging this recent move, this ties into the recognition that institutions like the NGV need to engage younger audiences. First Thursdays is a way to stimulate this.

Michelle Zhang

Contrary to the usual shenanigans one would expect from a literary talkfest, the panel didn’t romanticise a particular artists’ ‘collective’, or recount some humorous – but ultimately useless – tale from an arts festival past. Admittedly, if you’re a familiar with your local literary scene, you’re obviously cued into the nuances and fault lines of the egos, organisations, and resources that will get you ever closer to being published.

The theme for this talk was ‘Seen and Heard’ – a guide for emerging artists to get work published, or featured. Ronnie Scott (of Lifted Brow fame), 3RRR host and prolific arts blogger Ace Wagstaff, and artist Michael Fikaris comprised of the ‘industry insiders’ side of the panel, while Megan Patty presented for the NGV, as part of the publications team.

Aside from the usual ‘we’ve all been there’ anecdote, which is comforting for those of us who are still to scared to use the ’emerging’ tag, this was a panel of actual relevance.

But what was on show at ‘Seen and Heard’ is the stuff that those studying the ‘creative arts’ actually need. Scott nodded to the need to address quality of craft before networking. There’s been many times when I’ve stumbled upon a Facebook event (surreptitiously stalking through friends) where literary boffins whom I respect were going to be present. And you end up attending and feel like some needless PR as the amount of time fretting your body of work (or lack thereof) was wasted on making those perceived ‘connections’ that literary panels, lecturers, and online guides tell you, you need. So, it was refreshing to see that this panel acknowledge the fact that you can be the freak that sits at home penning cracking fiction all day, because that will cut through eventually. Like Colin Nissan says in McSweeneys:

‘Writing is a muscle. Smaller than a hamstring and slightly bigger than a bicep, and it needs to be exercised to get stronger. Think of your words as reps, your paragraphs as sets, your pages as daily workouts. Think of your laptop as a machine like the one at the gym where you open and close your inner thighs in front of everyone, exposing both your insecurities and your genitals. Because that is what writing is all about.’

But unlike you guys though, I’m not that guy, and I fear I’ll be a regular attendee on the panel circuit, constantly reassuring myself that there’s be at least someone who’d be willing to look at my work, only to go home, do nothing, and pretend to wait for that magical spark of ‘prolificacy’ to kick me into gear.

You can catch NGV Studio’s next First Thursday panel, ‘Selling Out’ on Thursday, June 6. Top Arts 2013 runs till July 7, 2013. 

Works used (in order of appearance):

Mietta Mullaly
The road ahead
colour inkjet print
90.4 x 120.0 cm (image and sheet) Star of the Sea College, Brighton

Michelle Zhong
fibre-tipped pen
56.2 x 76.5 cm (sheet), 56.0 x 76.5 cm (sheet) Box Hill High School, Box Hill



Alan Weedon edits nonfiction for Voiceworks. He doubles as a freelance writer/photographer, and also produces SYN Media’s arts program, Arts MittenCatch him, here.


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