September 28: Joseph Légaré and Ex Votos

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Joseph Légaré was the primary focus of our lecture today, and we also began to examine the movement towards works of art being created that contained a sense of belonging within the land.  However, it was a topic brought up somewhat halfway through the lecture that caught my attention.

Ex-voto or votive paintings were painted by everyday people as a way of expressing their thanks for a disaster being averted.  Because most of the Europeans in Canada were Catholic at this time, there likely would have been many of these paintings seeing as they would usually be presented to the altars of Saints.  The concept of these paintings is quite interesting, the idea of expressing thanks to a higher power through art.  But if you think about it, many works have had religious or biblical tones over the entirety of European art history, such as the wealth of Madonna paintings from the 18th and 19th centuries.  Landscape paintings that included people were often inspired by Biblical or mythical stories.

The interesting thing about ex voto paintings, that separates them from paintings with religious connotations, is that ex-voto paintings were not executed by artists.  They are done by anyone, just everyday people like you and me.  Clearly, expressing thanks and gratitude towards God through art was very important to these people.  But also, these works allow anyone to be an artist and to express themselves through artwork.  Even though, when we look at these works, we would not necessarily classify them as masterpieces, there is something about the idea of a person who is untrained in art, and who does not see themselves as an artist, painting to express themselves that is very interesting.  I wonder if these people saw what they were doing as a necessity or if they chose to paint because they wanted to.  Painting a picture of thanks is not always necessary, as there are other ways to show the saint appreciation, either through candles or flowers or an offering of food to the poor.  Perhaps they found the painting to be therapeutic, if the event they had gone through was particularly trying.  Maybe ex-voto paintings were the beginnings of art therapy!

Ex Voto of a Drowning

This particular ex voto is one that I believe Gemey showed in class.  I can certainly see how working with paint would be soothing after going through such a trial!

Nowadays, people use art therapy for all kinds of different things.  One use I learned about in my Arctic Ethnography class last year, is that often, art therapists will work with First Nations people, using art as the medium.  I found a very interesting article on the University of Windsor website that talks about using holistic arts methods with Aboriginal women that you may want to take a peek at, if it interests you:

Well that’s all for now! Watch out for another post coming sometime this week!



September 23rd: Painting the New Land

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Ahoy, ahoy!

In lecture today, Gemey moved us forward to art created during the “contact” era of Canada.  This was a very interesting time in Canadian history, some good and some bad.  Primarily, our focus was on landscape paintings created mostly by military men from Great Britain.  The purpose of these paintings was to send them home to Britain to show others what the new world looked like, and also, in some cases, to demonstrate that it was a civilised place, not full of heathens or savages.  In this way, the superiority of British rule and the ability of the British influence to “civilise” the natives was effectively portrayed.

One thing Gemey said in lecture really stuck with me.  She said it was strange that these first representations other people saw of Canada were created by people who did not have a true connection with what they were painting.  The painters were the “other”, the artists were the foreign ones, painting this landscape the way they would paint one of their homeland.  Even the weather and climate that would be present in England was transferred over to these landscape paintings of Canada.  The only painting we looked at that seemed to have a sense of the landscape being “home” not just a view was one by Joseph Bouchette.

There are two things about this that I find interesting.  First of all, Joseph Bouchette was a French Canadian, not an English Canadian.  Secondly, he was a surveyor and played a very active role in defining the boundary between the United States and Canada.  To me, this seems like he may have actually identified more with being part of Canada, as he took an active interest in the topography and naturalism of our country.

Is a painting more authentic when it is undertaken by a person who is Native to that area?  Would someone from Saskatchewan produce a more realistic view of a rolling wheat field than someone who is used to the craggy rockfaces and seaside cliffs of Newfoundland?  When we look at landscape pictures, it would seem that it is important to know the background of the artist, before being able to evaluate it’s effectiveness and authenticity.  Before pondering over this prospect, I have to admit that I’ve almost always been inclined to appreciate the beauty of a landscape painting or be impressed by accurate detailing, but they have never actually intrigued me as a genre of works that is actually trying to say something rather than to just depict. I like this newfound concept and hope to explore it more throughout the course.

As a last note, I came across something rather amusing in The Argosy, Mount Allison’s student run newspaper.  In the Humour section this week, there was a list entitled “Top Ten Signs You and Your Roommate Aren’t Compatible”.  Number seven was “You’re in Fine Arts, and they major in Bio-Chem”.  Now readers, I understand this is a joke article but I just think this is ironic.  Here is a picture of two of my best friends (and roommates):

The Incompatible Roommates?

On the left, you have Liz, a Fine Arts student, and on the right you have Fiona, a Bio-chem major.  Roommates and fantastic friends, I’d have to say they are the farthest I’ve ever seen from incompatible 😉

That’s all for now!


September 21: First Nations Art

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Hello!  Today our lecture began with First Nations art.  Our beginning topic was a continuation of examining the photos taken by American photographer, Edward S. Curtis.  These photographs examine the idea of romancing the concept of the First Nations person and emulate the idea of capturing a “dying race”.  One thing I feel is important when looking at works like Curtis’s and also of the Canadian painter Paul Kane, is to remember when these photographs and paintings were excuted and what purpose they would have served.  People have a natural curiousity, and the “New World” would have likely have been of special interest to Europeans back home.  The Curtis photos present a dilemma.  On one side, they are helpful in examining how this culture existed at one point, as it does not exist like this today.  On the other hand, we know that Curtis did not always portray things exactly as they were.  Curtis was constantly searching to portray the “ethnically pure Indian” which is a stereotype that I feel even exists today.  People of non-First nations descent still see the culture of First Nations people as being interesting, fascinating.  Traditions within these cultures have been revived over the past few decades, and now we, as viewers, can see dances performed, with all the traditional elements of masks and costumes revived.  It is certainly quite different to see cultural items in use, rather than being displayed, which I think can be somewhat readily applied across all cultural studies done in different places throughout the world.  I think this is why newer anthropology and ethnography studies seek to authenticate themselves more through direct communication with members of groups, rather than relying solely on observation and interpretation from an outside perspective.  This new way of studying cultures attempts to challenge the view that one culture cannot effectively describe another.  When we were speaking in class about the romanticized view of the Indian, I was reminded of a clip from the Disney movie, Pocahontas.

This clip, I have to say, was a favourite of mine as a child, and as a Disney fan, I still enjoy the movie Pocahontas today!  However, this clip in particular reminds me of what Curtis was after in his portrayals.  People who were one with nature, who had a different, exotic way of life that was completely foreign to a European way of living and thinking.  I think Curtis would have likely have been quite satisified that this clip from Pocahontas would supply an image of a noble savage to the viewer.

We also talked today about how there has been a revival among First Nations communities in terms of the practice of First Nations artistry.  I’d like to just add a link in here to the Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art.  This school is the first of it’s kind, where it focuses on First Nations traditional art, and then developing these art skills into fine art.  It exists in my own hometown of Terrace BC!  It is a recently developed program in partnership with Northwest Community College and it is on it’s way to developing a degree program in First Nations Fine Art.  They’ve got some fantastic instructors and a gallery of student work up online.

Well that’s all for now!  I’d love to hear feedback, comments, anything!  Look out for another post coming this week!


Hello and welcome!

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Hi and welcome to Canadian Art! (name still under construction)  I’m Brit and I’m an anthropology/art history student at Mount Allison University in Sackville, NB.  This blog was created as a journal project for my Canadian Art History class.  Every week, I will be posting two responses to the lectures in my Canadian Art class.  My responses are allowed to be as varied as I like, so hopefully I’ll be posting things that will interest you!  Feel free to leave comments and feedback, it is greatly appreciated! Watch for my first “official” post as creativecanada coming soon in the upcoming week!