Monday, May 31, 2004

The Art of the Possible

I fail to see how a Lawren Harris work can possibly be worth this much. I mean, whatever the market will bear, that's great; but I can't help feeling that the price has been subtly inflated by decades of cultural conditioning. I dislike the Group of Seven. I really do. In high school, for the great music vs. art vs. drama tradeoff, I went with visual art; I was actually considering a career in animation at one point. (I changed my mind after spending a term doing a co-op internship at a local studio. I could see that while my work was good, it wasn't great, and "good but not great" seemed to be the hallmark of the animators there. Spending years working on mediocre Canadian content for cable and overseas distribution wasn't my idea of an interesting job. But I digress.) The section of each year's course devoted to art history varied in content, but I clearly remember an infuriatingly obsessive focus on the Group of Seven, Tom Thomson, and Emily Carr for most of two years. Familiarity breeds contempt, and all that; the result is, with a few exceptions, I just mentally grimace at the sight of one of their works. They're certainly not bad from a technical standpoint; many of their works, especially Harris', are beautiful in clean and very graphical stylization. But, of course, Technically Beautiful as they may be, I dislike them for another reason entirely. I resent that the Group of Seven are officially represented as Unique Canadian Artists Who Represent the Soul of the Country. I resent their place of prominence in the National Gallery. I resent that they've been appropriated by the official cultural establishment apparatchiks as mascots. I resent that their works are landscapes, landscapes, landscapes - as if we needed reminding that most of the county is rocks and trees and trees and rocks. (And water.) It's practically a designated Official Canadian Style, like the neoclassicism of the Academie Francaise in the 1780s and 90s. (See, I did learn other art history.) And if there's one thing I really resent, it's having matters of taste dictated from on high.


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