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Canadian Artists – A Talented Lot, but Poor at Math

December 15th, 2008 · 1 Comment · American Humor, Art History, British Comedy, British Humour, Canada Humor, Canadian Art, Canadian Painters, Charming, Cute, General Humor, General Interest, History, Human Nature, Jokes, Lifestyle, Literary, Offbeat, Romp, Screwball, Sweet, Whimsy, Witty, Zany

Alex Carrick

What’s with the Canadian obsession for categorizing our artists according to numbers? There’s the Group of Seven, Painters 11 and the Regina Five, for starters.

 

We’re not the only nation to do this. The Americans had The Eight and I am sure there are many other examples around the world. However, we may be unique in not being able to count.

 

They were only painters (and yes, I’m deliberately trying to sound condescending to make a point), but the Group of Seven should have been able to calculate their own number right. More accurately, they could have been described as a group of 10 or 11, depending on when and where they exhibited.

 

Thomson, Casson, Fitzgerald and Holgate were variously substitutes and add-ons to the original members that consisted of Harris, Jackson, Macdonald, Carmichael, Johnston, Lismer and Varley.

 

To be fair, a couple of deaths confused the issue – Thomson’s before the Group officially formed in 1920 and Macdonald’s about a year before it disbanded in 1933. And Johnston’s early defection, after only a brief period of time, led to Casson’s invitation to come on board.

 

The Americans had The Eight, but many of those artists also overlapped into a grouping with a more colourful name, the Ashcan School. I’m concerned that English Canadians, at least, have a love of order that precludes the exciting and daring. It may be our bean-counting Scottish heritage. I know that plays a role in my own work, with my love of lists.

 

Our lady artists have not fared much better on the name front either. The most famous congregation of Canadian women artists is in the Beaver Hall Hill group. Now there’s a gentle but hard-working name with an unfortunate connotation. Actually, it’s based on a wealthy enclave in Montréal where the local residents made most of their money from building the Canadian Pacific railroad.

 

Consider some other names in art history. Britain had the pre-Raphaelites. That could hardly sound more decadent. Impressionism, cubism, abstract expressionism, post-painterly abstraction – these are all great titles with some wild and crazy overtones.

 

Our Québec artists did better on this score, choosing to ride under more original banners such as Refus Global (which translates as Total Refusal), Prisme d’Yeux, automatistes and plasticiens.

 

It’s not that our artists were staid or boring. Painters 11 and the Regina Five were risk takers with the best of the international scene. In fact, it was a professor at the University of Saskatchewan who coined the term hallucinogenic for the mood-altering drug LSD. The Regina Five were willing experimenters and day trippers.

 

The influential New York art critic, Clement Greenberg, took up the cause of both Painters 11 and the Regina Five early on. He became one of the first guest lecturers at the Emma Lake Workshops that were annual summer art classes held in Saskatchewan.  

 

But once again, this highlights the problem. Emma Lake Workshops sounds like something hosted by a musty old grand aunt. The U.S. had its Black Mountain College for aspiring artists in North Carolina. That name suggests a touch of villainy, the very thing necessary to get the artistic juices flowing.

 

The seminal moment in U.S. art history came at the Armory Show – a muscular name, if ever there was one – in 1913. Cutting-edge art from Europe received exposure in a traveling forum that started in New York and moved on to Boston and Chicago

 

The propensity for the innocuous pervades more than just the Canadian art scene. Let me give you another example. The U.S. has its Thunder Roads and Tarnation Alleys in cities and counties across the nation.

 

In Canada, outside Barrie, Ontario and running past the military’s Base Borden, a stretch of highway has just been renamed “Peacekeeper Way”. Sheesh! Be still my heart!

 

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Of course, there’s that most iconic of Canadian fast food chains and this story derives its energy from an incident that occurred at one of the branches: The Timbit Affair and a List of Bogus Firings.

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For my first book, “Two Scoops” Is Just Right, please click here for the paperback version and here for the Kindle e-book version.

For the sequel, “Three Scoops” Is A Blast! (with the award-winning “Size of the Skip”) click here for paperback and here for Kindle.

For “Four Scoops” Is Over The Top (containing Hemingway short-listed “Caboose Follies”) click here for paperback and here for Kindle.

And finally, for my latest book, “Five Scoops” Is An Addiction!, please click here for the paperback and here for the Kindle digital version.

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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Karen - Wall Flower Studio // Jul 30, 2010 at 7:40 pm

    Excellent post, Alex!
    I enjoyed it very much and chuckled all the way through it!
    Being an artist, and a Canadian for that matter, I can tell you, that at least in my case, not much has changed in the math department! ; )

    Wishing you much success with your book…
    K

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