October 28: Panel on Emily Carr

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Ahoy ahoy!  Happy Hallowe’en!

We had another panel last class, this time on Emily Carr.  The articles we read about Carr focused mostly on the fact that her work is often found to be incredibly controversial.  She has evolved to this mythical sort of figure in Canadian Literature and art.  But now, many people have begun to question the relationship that Carr had with the Native peoples along the Northwest coast of BC.  It was previously stated that she had this intense relationship with the different groups, but how can this be so?  She painted so many different groups and didn’t really seem to focus much on aspects of their culture, rather than just treating them as she would scenery.

I found this video online, it is a Heritage Minute from histori.ca (just copy the link into a new browser window)


In this clip, the narrator talks about the Native people consuming the life of Emily Carr.  The narrative from her says that she wants to see from the eyes of the totem, and mentions the mythic eye of the forest.  She says that she wants to express her country, and she loves it.  It says that she was in the first rank of Canadian painters before her death.  This minute long clip contains what the creators of these minutes evidently thought would be most effective in order to portray Carr in 60 seconds to the general public.  Is it accurate?  Or does it fall under the idea of portraying Carr in this “god-like” way, a fate that has appeared to befall the Group of Seven as well.  again, I return to the idea of context.

Context is something that comes up again and again.  It is important to remember that Emily Carr was not an ethnographer.  In order to place the images into the correct context, we must remember this.  Her paintings are not anthropologic works, though they are recordings of a culture.  They are interpretations of what she saw in front of her.  To say that Carr saw the Native culture as one that was dying is again, something you have to put into the context of when she was working and paintings.  Many Native rituals and practices had been banned, and the fact that traditional Native villages were falling into disrepair because of this was a reality.  To say she had a close affinity with these Native peoples is a stretch, but she did record what she saw happening, and it was a part of history.  Her style is quite interpretive, but are we just trying to find something bad to say?  Sometimes, critics need to stop looking for meanings.



October 26: Theosophy in Canada

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Ahoy, ahoy!  I can hardly believe the month is coming to a close in just a few short days!  This weekend, my house will be 6 plus one. as we have two visitors coming for the notable evening of All Hallows Eve!  Very exciting stuff.  I love Hallowe’en, maybe because it’s in Autumn (fave season) or because it’s just spooky and super fun!  There is always lots going on in Sackville for Hallowe’en, whether it’s a midnight showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show or a fun party at George’s, complete with a costume competition!  In the spirit (heh-heh) of all things mystical, magical and mysterious, let us examine theosophy in Canada!

thecanadaencyclopedia.com defines theosophy as follows: “Theosophy, philosophical system based on a belief in a universal, eternal principle fundamental to all life. The mystical overtones of its proposition of the fundamental identity of all “Souls with the Universal Soul” are similar to the doctrines of Buddhism and Hinduism”

Theosophy is quite all encompassing, and a student of theosophy can be of any religion, or none at all. The concepts it is based on redirect my thoughts to the ideas we examined earlier about the mythical qualities attributed to Aboriginal people in terms of their relation to Nature.  Theosophy in Canada had a great influence on the Group of Seven, especially Lawren Harris.  It is interesting that no matter what time period we are in, and no matter who seems to be painting, the important things to look at in Camada are products of the land.  Landscape painting has completely dominated almost all that we have studied so far, and theosophy often draws on interpretation of one’s surroundings in order to gain a complete experience of life within your surroundings.  Indeed, it is a very large concept to wrap your head around, but it is essentially based on comparitive philosophical, religious and scientific ideas.  It is very much about the quest for understanding.

Landscape painting is so much more than just a recreation of what you see.  For many painters who choose to work en plen air, their surroundings are where they discover themselves.  For Emily Carr, the forests of British Columbia were her sanctuary.  In her later years, she went to the forest to paint no just what she saw, but how her relationship to the trees and wilderness affected what she saw.  It is a feeling you get when you feel such a oneness with nature.  It is an incredible sense of connectivity and understanding, and for artists who feel this way, their brush and canvas are the best medium for capturing and expressing this feeling, in hopes to share it with others.  Personally, my feelings of oneness with nature have been most profound and impacting when I have been on top of a mountain in the wintertime.  As an avid snowboarder, the feeling you get when you climb beyond boundaries and into untamed ski area is unreal.  And when you have finally hiked high enough to see down the mountain, you get a feeling of being alone, in nature.  You are small, smaller than anything else around you and everything is so still, yet so loud all at once.


October 21: Symposium of Art!

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Ahoy, ahoy readers, if I have any, that is.

Last class we spoke more about the Group of 7, Tom Thomson’s death and the evolution from the Group of 7 to the Canadian Group of Painters.  But I am more interested in an event that is going on in Sackville RIGHT NOW!  I’m talking about the Symposium of Art, that is put on by the Owens each year.  On Monday night, I had the pleasure of attending an Evening of Performance at the Sackville Music Hall.  I’d never been to the Sackville Music Hall before, but I have to say, what a venue.  It may be old and it’s glory days have been long ago forgotten, but this little space above Pickles and Blooms (German delicatessen and a flower shop) is enchanting in it’s new, rediscovered way.  It’s secret and tucked away, and though we were seated on plastic lawn chairs, looking at a sheet tacked to the wall for our viewing screen whilst shivering, it was truly wonderful.

The Sackville Music Hall- a Sackville hidden treasure!

The two film pieces that were shown were A Fool’s Errand and Bridge ProjectA Fool’s Errand was a documentary style movie made by Annik Gaudet of two people hitchiking their way to Gaspé (she was one of the two people).  The film was filled with scenic shots, shots of the road and some spoken parts that were updates of how the experiment was unfolding.  The two adventurers eventually made it to their destination, but the real point of the film was not the destination, it was the journey, as cliché as that may sound.  The interaction of the video with the surroundings of the Gaspé Penisula, interspersed with still photographs of the landscape was interesting to dwell on.  When one is hitchhiking, you’re going to be much more aware of your surroundings, in your stops than if you were in a car, and staying in hotels.  The environment and landscape around you becomes your home, in a sense, because you are truly living within it. Bridge Project was a collaborative work by Olivia McNair, a Fine Arts student at Mount Allison and Blair Ellis, a Music student.  I really liked this piece, as it was about the Bridge Street Bridge, which is one of many people’s favourite spots in Sackville, mine included.  The work had music created from people banging on the bridge, and it was overlaid with stories of people’s memories with the bridge.  Illustrations had been sketched to accompany the music, and were animated to move on the screen.  It was beautiful.

Landmarks can be so powerful for people, places that instantly jolt us to that sense of remembering, of being pulled back in time to a certain event, or person or instance.  What does the Bridge mean to you?  What do you think of when you think of the Bridge?  Olivia and Blair asked this of many people to help with their project, and though they only featured a small sample of the Bridge stories, I’m sure everyone they asked had something important to say.  I have my own Bridge memories too.  Sitting at the end of the old bridge, on a red blanket, eating a mixture of berries from a tall Tupperware container.  Making fun of you because you had forgotten to wear an actual jacket, and wrapped your torso in the blanket, then put your sweater on over top.  We stopped at Bridge Street Cafe for a small hot chocolate and peanut butter cookie each.  I bought them for you because you never carry cash.  You were worried people would know there was a blanket under your sweater.  I just laughed and ate all the whipped creme off your hot chocolate when you weren’t looking.

A landmark can be anything.  It just has to hold meaning to you.


October 19th: Panel Discussion on Group of Seven

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Ahoy, ahoy there!

Today’s class was a different format than our other ones, we had a panel on the Group of Seven, presented by three of my classmates, and it got me thinking, what do people think about the Group of Seven?  One girl presenting said that she really disliked the Group and didn’t find their work to be overly impressive.  I truly adhere to the idea that the Group has been somewhat romanticized, but I do believe that happens with all artists everywhere.  Once you’ve made it into the canon, you’re a celebrity, you’re famous.  You’ll die and people will still be talking about you, analyzing your work, and trying to find newfound meanings and messages in your work.  There will always be a new theory, a new viewpoint that someone will be “discovering” because art is so subjective.  How we interpret things and how they hold meaning to us is so dependent on our own experiences with people, places and things.

A few people in class said that the Group’s paintings were not representative of how Canadians interact with their environment.  I would have to disagree.  It was pointed out that “we all live in cities or near cities that hug the USA border”.  For me, this is not true.  I come from a tiny northern BC town, and one of the biggest allures of tourism up north, is the fact that there is no one around, it’s not near big cities and people are able to truly appreciate nature and landscape for what it is.  I think that the Group wanting to portray this landscape to others as how Canada is isn’t really a case of it being “false”.  When you look at tourist photographs or postcards from Northern BC, so often they are scenic pictures of mountains, trees, rivers…without a soul to be seen.  The Group’s work reminds me of an early tourism, they have even said themselves that they “love this country, we love exploring this country”.

And indeed they did explore it, and capture what they saw and felt in paint.  Maybe I’m a bit too romantic or lenient or soft in my critique, but I do think that the Group was just trying to simply paint–I just can’t see there being ulterior, supremacist motives, or instances of them trying to make it look as though they were outcasts of the art world.  I think they really were just 7 guys with a few friends who liked painting and the outdoors.  Canada was new, it was an adventure waiting for them, and off they went.  To record what they saw and to bring it to you.

North Shore of Lake Superior by Lawren Harris

The West Wind by Tom Thomson

And now with these images, I bid you goodnight!


October 14: Revisionist Art History and the McMichael Collection

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Ahoy ahoy!  It’s been a blustery weekend here in Sackville– autumn is out in full force, it would seem.  It’s my favourite season.  Cozy sweaters, apple pies, the smoky smell of leaves burning…and of course the leaves themselves!  Coming from a land of evergreens, the sight of the leaves changing here in the Maritimes is truly a sight to behold! And on that note, I’m going to dive into the discussion we had last class about the Group.

The articles we had a read for class on Thursday were centred around the Group, but in a very critical way.  Two articles we looked at were from a position of revisionist art history, which resulted in some very in depth and serious critique.  The other article looked at the concept of ownership in regards to the McMichael collection..

These first two articles pegged the Group as creating art for a “nation” that they felt only included white males, as the Group was only made up of white males.  They critique the group as being marginalizing to minority groups and women and racist.  They say that there is clear influence of European painting style and technique in the work, which makes the concept of it being “art of Canada” ironic and contradictory.

The main issue I have with revisionist art history, is the fact that neither one of these authors seemed to pay any attention whatsoever to the fact that, during the times when these works were being created, marginalizing women and minority groups was generally accepted as not really that big of an issue.  I’m not saying this is right, at all, but I do feel that taking things out of context can be detrimental to the way other people look at it.  Do we even know for a fact that this was the aim of the Group?  The intentions that have been derived from their work has more been formulated in the way it has been presented to the public.  The entire McMichael Canadian Art Collection is devoted to preserving a sense of nationalistic purism, even going so far as to refuse particular pieces because they weren’t seen as fitting with the unified Canadian image that the collection was supposedly wanting to portray.  The National Gallery, too, has put on shows of the Group’s work and the exhibitions have always seemed to be centred around portraying a “nation’s art”.  Who is more at fault, the Group for wanting to create art out of theire love for exploring the Canadian landscape, or the galleries, who have perpetuated this stereotypical image of the Group and their contemporaries?

The Group was known for wanting to portray a pure landscape, often painting over houses and other aspects of civilisation in their work.  The want to portray a landscape void of human contact does not necessarily transfer over to wanting to portray a purist Canada.  It’s important to remember that these paintings were meant to be going into peoples homes, the Group wanted to create work that would be enjoyed by everyone, which is why they worked with such small canvasses.  The criticism put onto them by these two articles is interesting, due to the fact that so often, when we reflect on the past, it seems that issues that were never present in the work beforehand are created.   Have we put the Group on too much of a pedestal as a cornerstone for the foundations of Canadian art, or are these articles merely the more extreme negative side of the critique surrounding the Group’s work?  We can’t know for sure, but it definitely cannot be denied that the Group got the ball rolling for recognition of a newer style, though it is influenced by European paintings.  However, doesn’t every movement grow out of something that came before?  Food for thought, my readers!

That’s all for now!


October 12: The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson

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Ahoy ahoy!  Time to talk about the Group and T-squared!

“Drumroll, please.”

This was the joke Gemey made when it came to speaking about the Group in class yesterday.  And we all laughed.  Indeed, for most people, the Group is to Canadian art what milk is to cereal.  It’s all the first thing they think of! While consequently missing out on considering other things, like, oh cereal with marshmellows, baked as a treat or cereal incorporated into Mom’s homemade bits and bites.  There are other things to be had in Canadian art, besides the Group, just like cereal can be used for things besides just a quick breakfast with milk.

I digress.  So, for all you non-Group-groupies out there here is a quick overview of all of them:

J.E.H. MacDonald, the silver fox.

Franklin Carmichael, the ankle-biter of the bunch.

Frank Johnston, blink and you’d miss his prescence

Arthur Lismer, the influential philanthropist

Frederick Varley, the plucky portrait painter

Lawren Harris, the rich playboy.

A.Y. Jackson, the stranger who came to town.

Also, the artist Tom Thompson was heavily associated with the Group, though he died a mysterious death in 1917, 3 years before the group was formed, and they often included his work in their shows.  So now that I’ve set the stage for a good HBO show with all of these different personalities, it is interesting to think that so often, people will just know “Group of Seven” and not the actual names of the artists who were a part of the group!  Even further, the Group underwent numerous revisions to their lineup, people came and went.  Frank Johnston, for instance, was really only officially a part of the group for one year!  But I have decided to list the original members for you in hopes that the interesting descriptions I’ve applied to them will encourage you to seek out more information about them.

Group of Seven has come to be an iconic symbol in Canadian culture.  People who don’t even know what a painting by a Group member looks like will know WHO they are, which is actually pretty crazy!  That’s some pretty high-status celebrity right there!  I know this was a short post, but trust me, there is going to be so much more Group info coming your way very soon!

Also, when googling “Group of Seven”, I found this Canadian indie band called Group of Seven!  They have some cute songs.  This one is called Tahiti Treat:

Thats all!


October 7th: Canada’s Landscape, from Sea to Shining Sea!

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Ahoy, ahoy!  First of all, Happy Thanksgiving weekend!  I celebrated with a quesadilla from Jungle Jim’s. Very different from a big celebratory feast, but I was among friends, so the experience as a whole was actually quite lovely. Anyways, I know this one’s a bit late going up, but it’s been a bit of a holiday for the past two days…time to get back into reality!

Our focus last Thursday was the Canadian landscape, yet again.  Going into this course, I wouldn’t have thought we would spend so much time focused on the Canadian landscape painting.  I’m unsure of what else I though we would be learning about, but when you think about it, it actually makes quite a bit of sense that so much Canadian art would be inspired by our landscape.  In this lecture in particular, Gemey mentioned that the landscape was what Canadian artists realized they had to “sell”.  Other industries realized this as well, and with the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway, one could travel from one end of the country to another and take in all of the natural beauty our country has to offer.  Tom Thompson and the Group of Seven would later reinvent landscape painting, and those who first forayed into the field painted everything from Banff’s mountains to exciting canoe scenes of river rapids to the great cedar forest of British Columbia.  The terrain seemed to be pure and unharnessed by man’s industrial touch.

Emergent artists today are still very much involved with interaction between themselves and the land.  This weekend, I had the pleasure of going to the Confederation Centre in Charlottetown and going to the art gallery.  A new exhibition by Hannah Claus was being installed and I find that she is an artist who draws on landscape in a much more subtle way in her work, but it is still there, quite present.  Hannah came to speak with my film and photography class about her work, and her artistic style is influenced by her Mohawk background.  There were a few pieces at the Charlottetown exhibit that stuck out to me as interaction between landscape and the artist.  The first piece was a projection of a blue china pattern dish of water onto river rocks  The projection is obstructed every few seconds, by a drop of water into the dish.  This projection of a European china pattern onto rocks, signifies an interesting correlation between the artist’s Mohawk heritage and European heritage.  Is European influence merely a projection onto the Canadian landscape?

This is the clearest image I could find of the installation.

The concept of European presence in Canada as being a temporary thing is absurd to most people, laughable even.  We most definitely believe we, those of European descent, are here to stay.  Is our country not often described as a melting pot, or a mosiac?  Canada’s culture and people are described as being a fusion, a blend, a mixed bag of any sort of combination or possibility.  Surely European presence is more than just a projection?  Yet, in another country, similar to Canada in it’s history of colonization, and also a member of the Commonwealth, is New Zealand.  The ongoing controversy of who owns the coastline of New Zealand was addressed in the Foreshore and Seabed Act of 2004, which declared the land to belong to the Crown.  However, in June 2010 the Act was repealed.  Will the Maori people of New Zealand gain control over the coastline?  It’s a very real possibility, and the prevailing presence of the European New Zealand citizens may actually come to an end.  While their influence may never be completely eradicated, it is quite the concept to consider that the control may be taken away from them and given back to original inhabitants of the land.  To learn more about the current status of the Foreshore and Seabed Act, visit http://www.justice.govt.nz/policy-and-consultation/foreshore-and-seabed

Well that’s all for tonight!  Hopefully everyone had a lovely Thanksgiving!


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