Monday, August 29, 2011

Killing Them Softly With Our Brushes

If we're going to kill the Group of Seven in September, perhaps we might look at who they were and what their goals were as Canadian artists. Reading about their goals may encourage us to consider or reconsider what ours are.

Most of The Group of Seven were born in the 1880's and most went to art school, some in Europe, and then the majority worked for a commercial design company by the name of Grip in Toronto. Tom Thompson, incidentally, was not an official member of the group since he'd died before the group started, and neither was Emily Carr.

With the death of J.E.H. MacDonald in 1932, the Group of Seven disbanded. Most of the men continued painting although life's vicissitudes often got in the way and some succumbed to depression, alcoholism, and other maladies, including strokes. Most, however, managed to live into the 1960's and 70's, A.Y. Jackson living the longest, from 1882-1974. 

You can read biographies of members of the Group of Seven here:

Goals of The Group of Seven

The artists of The Group of Seven remain the most celebrated in Canadian history. Their ambitions went far beyond winning a market for their own paintings. What they set out to do was considerably more:
  • To foster a distinctive Canadian expression in painting and design
  • To show Canadians that art permeated all aspects of their lives
  • To reform the educational system so that it would train designers and artisans for employment in industries that would manufacture distinctly Canadian products, generating economic and social benefits for the whole of society.
  • To reform art education to counter academic teaching and instill a freer, more creative spirit into younger artists across the country
  • To convince collectors to take an active interest in and materially support the art being produced around them
  • To see public collections of Canadian art established in schools, libraries and galleries across the nation
  • To attain for Canadian art and for Canada an international audience
To these ends, they not only exhibited and circulated their own paintings, but consistently included the work of other artists whom they respected and wished to support in their Shows.
The artists banded together to make visible a unified message of individual expression and quality in Canadian art. Their collaboration represented a co-operative effort in the form of mutual support, intellectual stimulation and the sharing of ideas. This is what was at the core of the Group experience.

Yet each artist had his own history which coloured his art and intentions. As individual artists and together, they had a major and constructive influence on the development of Canadian art. Group members did not confine their interests to easel painting. They illustrated Canadian books, published portfolios, designed stage sets, decorated public buildings, painted murals, wrote poetry, worked with musicians, participated in folk festivals and inspired writers, dramatists, musicians, poets and a whole generation of younger artists.

No other group of artists worked so hard in Canada to bring their art and ideas to public attention. Their goal was effectively to change Canadian taste and values through the distribution of paintings, publications of articles, and encouragement of collectors of Canadian art. The Group of Seven defined a communality of spirit and argued for the appreciation and affirmation of Canadian creativity in all its forms.

Sources: The National Gallery and 'The McMichael Collection'

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