How many hockey players does it take to make you feel dumb about Canadian art? If you said three, good guess. A recent poll showed that Canadians had no trouble coming up with the names of hockey players -- 97 percent of those polled could name three or more. I came up with ten, and I don't even care about hockey. Hey, put away those pitchforks and torches -- I promise, I WILL be a fan during the last game of the playoffs, if the Leafs ever make it that far. Or the Habs. Or ANY Canadian team.
The fact that Canadians -- even the least athletic or sporty among us, know the names of hockey players, is no big shocker. Canadians exhale Zamboni fumes. Baby Canadians drink in the names of hockey stars with their mother's milk. The more unsettling revelation that came from this poll is that 54 percent of Canadians couldn't come up with the name of a single Canadian visual artist, living or dead. And those that could, picked the usual (albeit incredibly talented and venerated) suspects: Emily Carr, Tom Thomson and two members of the Group of Seven, A. Y. Jackson, and Lawren Harris.
If there was a Conn Smythe Trophy for most valuable player in the visual arts, these four painters would surely have won it. Their impressions of the Canadian landscape are as much a part of the Canadian psyche as Paul Henderson's game winning goal with only 34 seconds left to play in the 1972 Canada-USSR Summit Series. When I think of Ontario's north, I swear, I see it like this:
The west wind, Tom Thomson - with permission from the Art Gallery of Ontario
In celebration of Canada Day, let's take a moment to consider some other Canadian visual artists. The hockey season is over. The winter Olympics are more than two years off. Light filled summer days are perfect for looking at these art books.
|David Altmejd, sculptor|
|The Beaver Hall Group|
|Edward Burtynsky, photographer|
|Alex Colville, painter|
|William Kurelek, painter|
|Doris McCarthy, artist specializing in abstracted landscapes|
|David Milne, painter, printmaker|
|Norval Morrisseau, artist|
|Daphne Odjig, artist|
|Christopher Pratt, painter, printmaker|
|Mary Pratt, painter|
|Jeff Wall, photographer|
Steve Martin, the American comedian/actor/musician/author/art collector -- let's just say, all round genius -- was so taken with the work of Lawren Harris, he curated an exhibition of his work. The idea of north: the paintings of Lawren Harris will be at the Art Gallery of Ontario from July 1 to September 18. Pick up a Sun Life Financial Museum and Arts Pass at your local Toronto Public Library branch, and you can go to the Art Gallery of Ontario for free. You can borrow the beautiful book The idea of north: the paintings of Lawren Harris from the Toronto Public Library.
National Post article, June 20, 2016: Over 50 per cent of Canadians can't name a Canadian painter; 97 per cent can name multiple hockey players