The Group of Seven depicted the Canadian landscape for what it was: rugged, wind-swept and resolute against the relentlessness of the elements. Their work created a Canadian art scene that diverged from American and European artists, while also representing the adventurous spirit of explorers and frontiersmen who ventured through the territory when it was called British North America.
A Mainstreet Research poll found that 54% of adult Canadians cannot name a single Canadian visual artist, living or dead. In contrast, the poll also found that 97% of adult Canadians can name at least three Canadian hockey players. Are we really so divorced from art a majority of us can't name Emily Carr, Tom Thomson, Jean-Paul Riopelle or Norval Morrisseau?
I was partly inspired to write Viewing Tom Thomson, A Minority Report by my own ambivalent feelings towards the iconic painter, not for his brilliant art, but for his status as a representative of what it means to be "Canadian." In multicultural Toronto, or multilingual Canada, to whom does he speak, or speak for, now?
There are signs that the Group of Seven is finally hip with the Canadian people, even those who don't go to art galleries. At the end of last week's taping I took the TV crew to see the Group of Seven cemetery. We got there and I found that someone had taken the time to write fan letters to the long-dead artists and placed them in front of their rough-rock headstones.