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TWO ASPECTS OF ART
The ways of a nation are reflected in the ability
of the artist.
In a truly democratic state the artist's outlook should be strongly
progressive and individualistic.
The vision and technique of the artist should
be as distinctive
as adult hand-writing, and mass-mind painting of schools, groups of
movements, strictly avoided.Much fine pioneering, however, has been done by groups. In Canada the impact of the Group of Seven jolted Canadian art from its
smug foundation of Europeanism. The task of injecting life into the
art of this country was, perhaps, beyond the power of one man. It
was a service nobly performed and chiefly responsible for the present
healthy condition of Canadian painting.
One of the main obstacles to development of character
is the student's inclination to copy the master. Admiration of the
instructor's work causes him, unconsciously, to adopt the same
outlook and mannerisms. Modern instruction seeks to eliminate this
tendency and the individual must strive to assist this end in every
Another pitfall to be avoided is exhibitionism.
that are full of meaningless brush swaggering attract the eye but
have no lasting interest for the mind. The early years of the
student should be devoted to the practice of rapid and accurate
draughtsmanship. Together will intellectual development, the
foundation of future skill is thus laid. With the command of drawing
at his disposal, the artist's mind is free to concentrate on the
intellectual message of his work. Only for this purpose should
dexterity in handling be encouraged, not as an end in itself.
In judging art, the lay mind is inclined to favour
photographic realism. The attitude is reasonable, because very few
are endowed with a natural ability to draw and thus this talent is
admired and popular. The persistence of this esteem is largely
responsible for the common difference of opinion, between the artist
and layman, on the true purpose of art.
At no time in life should one have a closed mind
on any thought
or style of painting. Experiment should be encouraged, not derided.
Our viewpoint on art may be diametrically opposite a few years hence.
The economic position of the fine artist has always been unsound.
By this statement I do not wish to conjure up the age-old conception
of a starving aesthete in an attic. The Canadian artist of today is
down to earth. Fortunately, he has not adopted the affectations and
super-intellectual in populous centres. In appearance he cannot be
distinguished from his fellow-citizen, but economically he lacks the
organization of other fields of endeavour. Due to the social
insecurity of living by painting alone, a large percentage of our
artists are "Sunday Painters". The "Sunday Painter" has to cram; he
seeks to accomplish in fifty-two weekends what the professional
artist can do in fifty-two consecutive days.
The dearth of Canadianwar painting can be laid at the door of this lack of time, not lack of talent. Despite a belated, but welcome, lifting of the official
blackout on war painting, it is not to be expected
that the needs of
our wartime art will be instantly nourished. Our artists are only
too eager to do their share in this war, but not until official
facilities are also extended to the part-time painter, can we hope
for a diversified fulfilment of this end. A solution might lie in
the issuance of passes to responsible civilian artists, or art
students, to various centres of military or wartime activity. Any
exhibition contains a large number of works from the "Sunday Painter"
group and their efforts should be no small item in the contribution
to Canadian war painting.
It is unfortunate that a great deal of art talent
is hampered, or
lost, by economic insecurity. A personal experience of a few years
ago pinpointed for the author the tragedy of lost talent. While
sketching in the outskirts of Hull I was approached by a youth of
about eighteen years whose conversation revealed a remarkable
knowledge of art. I gathered that his father was unemployed - had
been so for a number of years - and that he, himself, was not in very
Taking me to a shed in the yard of his home, he
some examples of his art work. Pieces of sacking had been used for
canvas; paint had been "bummed" from leavings in a nearby railway
yard; a discarded piece of lead piping had been hammered into a fine
symbolic figure. His work was imaginative and ambitious. Lino
prints on cheap paper were one of his untutored endeavours, and when
he generously offered his last print of one of these I regret now
that I refused to deprive him of it.
After this absorbing visit, it was my intention
to return without
delay. Unfortunately, several weeks elapsed and when I did return I
was shocked to hear that he was dead. He had died from physical
Officialdom, in Canada, is slow to realize the
the artist. Numerous fine public buildings have been erected in
Ottawa in recent years. In only one, the French Legation, was the
artist thought of. Art work in this structure was considered, not as
a mere decoration, but as an integral part of the edifice. The
French government sent artists from France, a muralist, a sculptor,
an engraver and their various assistants. How much could Canada have
gained had our government showed similar initiative!
Until such time as the government and public are
conscious, social insecurity for the artist will prevail, and the
progress of Canadian art will be correspondingly handicapped. Let us
all ensure that our energies are constantly directed to the
correction of this blemish as we strive, with true artists'
enjoyment, to make Canada's art outstanding.
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