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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Canadian Art

To the dismay of our friendly neighbors just to the north of us, American's tend to think of Canada as a woodsie backyard, a place to sometimes go and play in the heat of the summer, but most of the rest of the time, a somewhat "bland", ordinary plot of land very easily ignored. And, for better or worse, there are far more similarities than differences between the two countries. Of course you wouldn't dare point this out to the French Canadians of Quebec Province who pride themselves on not only being different from the U.S. but being different from the rest of Canada as well.

Red Maple by Canadian artist,
 A.Y. Jackson, 1914
A Canadian friend recently pointed me in the direction of Canadian art and that of Quebec in particular. I tried to approach the subject with an open mind but in the end, as I mentioned above, found many more similarities than differences in the history, philosophy, content, style, and beauty in comparing the two artistic communities. And, at the risk of starting something of a cultural war, I must say I found really very few differences between the art of Quebec and the rest of Canada...or the U.S. for that matter. There are sectional differences of course, as one finds amongst the different geographical areas of this country. I dare say there are more differences between New England and Southwest art than between New England and Canadian art, especially in the area of landscapes. But of course, this is as one might expect.

Cornish Hills by American artist
 William Metcalf, 1911
What did strike me as unique to Canadian art was the more pronounced European (both English and French) influence in work created during most of the nineteenth century at a time when American art was well on its way to becoming an independent entity deliberately isolating itself from Europe. Americans still studied in Europe, but in returning, they tended to maintained a distinctly (often fiercely) American quality to their work. Having become a political entity separate from Great Britian about 90 years after the U.S. did, without the animosities engendered by a war of independence, Canadian artists seem not to feel the need to be different for the sake of being different. I suppose, this too, one might expect. I must confess, I didn't expect it. Today in Canada, there are those who bemoan the fact that Canadian culture is not different for the sake of being different, not from Europe, but from their overbearing neighbor to the south.

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