It’s a new day in Canada
The cliché is apt since on October 19 we ousted the worst Prime Minister in Canadian history from office by giving the third place Liberals an overwhelming majority. Much debate has been hashed out over and over on social media and in the press as to why the electorate went centrist and not progressively left. If we wanted an alternative people cry, why did we go with the corporate minded Liberals? We don’t really have a left leaning party in Canada that could form a government, well, not any more. The NDP relinquished their socialist leaning policies a long time ago and the version of them that ran slowly shrunk like a balloon letting air out as the Liberal platform announced an anti-austerity stance and ran with the idea of keeping deficits in check, not eliminating them while spending money all over the place. The corporate Liberals also want to legalize cannabis which I am assuming should pay for their promises.
What has all this got to do with the arts? A lot. I have long thought that good jobs with security and benefits, ones that pay well enough to give people a peace of mind was the only way to help the arts. People with money and security buy/support the arts. Not just rich people; in fact wealth ususally contributes to false inflated and unsustainable markets. I am talking about people who have good incomes due to the fact they worked very hard to get where they are. Hard working people with a job in academia or technology or finance or medicine or the government or in a factory or entrepreneurial types etc. are people who are the section of the public that chooses consistently to agree with supporting the arts through taxes, buys an art gallery membership, puts their kids in art programs and purchases art work when they are able.
The Liberals ran on a razor thin idea that they were the party that would help the middle class; the people I describe above. And that is why they won not just because we had to get rid of that miscreant who had driven our wonderful country into a dark hole of military and oil sanctity. That their leader is the scion of our most cherished PM, Pierre Elliot Trudeau might have played a role in hopes of what is happening now: a kind of Canuck Camelot with the glamourous, pot loving, feminist Justin front and centre. We are all walking a little more upright now and ever so slightly chuffed; we have a leader who is going to the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris with all the premiers and Elizabeth May. As we say in rural Canada ‘f*kin’ eh!’
Such a backdrop plays nicely into that other Canadian icon generating excitement: the Group of Seven’s great benefactor and motivational leader, Lawren Harris. Harris’ work has been in the news recently because actor/musician Steve Martin has co-curated a traveling exhibition of Harris’ paintings in the United States. This almost never happens to a Canadian, let alone a Canadian visual artist. There is a marginal backlash from careerist curators and museum directors decrying that a celebrity is soiling their precious world with ‘personal taste’ but it is a tempest in a tea pot compared to what I believe will be a very popular art exhibition. Americans will love Harris’ austere, majestic works that emanate a glowing spiritual core, as if the landscape were praying. We love him and guess why? Because we have taste and good artists too. Thank you Steve Martin for recognizing a 20th century artist who is long overdue for the reverence shown toward O’Keefe and Wyeth.
Am I making too much of both events by placing our new PM in the same blog as Harris? I think not. Canada has long been of little interest in the world since we have the lopsided problem of being a huge land mass with a population similar to Algeria. Our resources have always overshadowed our culture. I feel that what is a foundational aspect of who we are is a unique sense of beauty which is illuminated wonderfully in Harris’ work. Harris was the real thing, born into wealth, studied abroad, fiddled with theosophy but then spent his money traipsing through northern Ontario and into the Arctic to observe and paint the Canadian landscape. The results are profound, as they also inspired generations of Canadians to get out into the woods and think long and hard about the natural world. As John Muir had done through advocacy in the US, Harris would do through visual art in Canada.
I am the product of Harris’ inspirational work; I come to my art practice through a deep and thoughtful relationship with the natural world. I can’t even imagine who I would have been if my mother hadn’t marched us into art galleries at a young age and made us learn the names of each Group of Seven member (including Tom Thomspon) and how to recognize each of their styles.
Canada is now a place that celebrates cultures from all over the world. Blended into our hoser-esque humility and rugged outdoorsy ways, we have become a nation of people who can as easily dance to bhangra as well as handle canoeing down a river. If you don’t think so just take a look at this new PM of ours, you’ll see he too is a product of this great, beautiful place called Canada.