Study Discovers the Cultural Tastes of Modern Australians

Visitors view art at an art gallery.

A landmark survey from the Institute for Culture and Society has uncovered significant divides in the cultural tastes of Australians, with class, level of education, age, and ethnic heritage the key drivers behind Australians' cultural preferences.

The Australian Research Council-funded study surveyed over 1,200 Australians about their cultural activities. In a paper (opens in a new window)(PDF, 555KB) published by the Institute's Occasional Papers, Professors Tony Bennett and Modesto Gayo discuss the findings relating to the visual arts.

Who visits art museums? Who doesn't? In asking these questions, the survey also investigated and categorised the types of art people like, and their favourite Australian and international artists.

Lead investigator Professor Tony Bennett says the results shed a new light on Australians and the 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," says Professor Bennett.

"By connecting these patterns to different social backgrounds, the survey has provided a new, detailed analysis of what divides the art tastes of contemporary Australians.'

Key Findings

Key findings include:

  • Roughly a third of Australians have no involvement in the visual arts
  • Level of education and social class are the key factors differentiating Australians' art tastes. Tertiary educated members of the professional and middle classes are more involved in the art world, and also like different kinds of art from most other Australians
  • Men and women tend to have the same tastes, particularly where they share similar levels of education and class position. But women are significantly more likely to visit art museums and buy art books
  • Old and younger Australians have sharply divided tastes. Younger Australians prefer pop and abstract art, whereas older Australians enjoy landscapes and Renaissance works more
  • Australian Impressionists like Tom Roberts have relatively little appeal to Aboriginal and migrant Australians
  • Professor Bennett says the survey opens up important questions about the role of the arts in debates 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.

The findings are presented in the Occasional Paper 'For the Love (or Not) of Art in Australia' (opens in a new window)(PDF, 555KB) by Professors Tony Bennett and Modesto Gayo and have been reported on by the Sydney Morning Herald (opens in a new window).

For more information about the Australian Cultural Fields study see the project website.

About the study

The survey formed part of the project Australian Cultural Fields: National and Transnational Dynamics, funded by the Australian Research Council (DP140101970), and was conducted by Tony Bennett (Project Director), David Carter, Modesto Gayo, Michelle Kelly (Project Manager), Fred Myers, Greg Noble, David Rowe, Tim Rowse, Deborah Stevenson, Graeme Turner and Emma Waterton.

Original media release by Western Sydney University News.

Posted: 14 September 2016.